Wladimir Klitschko wasn’t nearly as dominant as the 14-1 odds suggested he’d be Saturday night. The long-reigning heavyweight champion beat Bryant Jennings by unanimous decision in a 12-round title fight at Madison Square Garden, but it was much more competitive than experts expected. Two judges – Robin Taylor and River Vale’s Steve Weisfeld – scored Klitschko a 116-111 winner. The third judge, Max DeLuca, credited Klitschko with a wider win than the action indicated he deserved (118-109).
The huge Ukrainian retained his IBF, WBA and WBO titles, but acknowledged it wasn’t easy. “He didn’t give me a chance to throw the right as much as I wanted,” Klitschko said. “He’s very confident and very athletic. … Bryant’s a great athlete and he would’ve beaten a lot of top heavyweights [Saturday night]. I welcome him to the top of the heavyweight division.” With just 20 fights on his record, Jennings is inexperienced compared to Ukraine’s Klitschko (64-3, 53 KOs). Klitschko turned pro after winning a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and has held a heavyweight title for nine years. You wouldn’t have known it if you watched them box. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jennings’ athleticism troubled Klitschko for much of the fight and referee Michael Griffin didn’t allow the 6-6, 241-pound Klitschko to hold for nearly as long as he has held opponents during many of his title defenses in Germany in recent years. Griffin even deducted a point from Klitschko for holding early in the 10th round. The point deduction and his skill weren’t enough, however, to prevent Philadelphia’s Jennings from falling to 19-1. “Every time I started to work, he held,” Jennings said. “When he was holding, I was hitting him to the body. I must’ve hit him with a hundred body shots. I didn’t hit him much to the head, but I thought the scores should’ve been closer.” Though he struggled at times, Klitschko’s victory galvanized a loud, Klitschko-crazed crowd of 17,056 at The Garden. Klitschko hadn’t fought at The Garden since he beat Russia’s Sultan Ibragimov by unanimous decision in an extremely boring bout seven years ago. Klitschko controlled the action for the first three rounds, but Jennings began making the fight more competitive in the fourth round by continually landing shots to the body and making Klitschko uncomfortable. He rocked Klitschko with a right hand near the ropes in the sixth round, which caused Klitschko to hold as he regained his composure. Klitschko resumed control of the fight in the seventh round, but Jennings landed a lunging left hook early in the eighth round that also got Klitschko’s attention. Jennings also landed power punches in the ninth round and often made Klitschko retreat. Klitschko, 39, extended his winning streak to 22 fights and made an 18th consecutive defense of the IBF heavyweight title he won against Chris Byrd in April 2006. He hasn’t been beaten since Los Angeles’ Lamon Brewster stopped him in the fifth round of their April 2004 heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas. Jennings, who’s promoted by Totowa-based Gary Shaw Productions, suffered the first defeat in a pro career that began just five years ago. The 30-year-old Jennings didn’t even try boxing until January 2009.