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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Crawford wants to fight Spence. Jaron Ennis may get to face him first.

Jaron Ennis, right, won his previous fight, a May 2022 bout with Custio Clayton, in two rounds.


Welterweight boxing contender Jaron Ennis has 30 wins, 27 knockouts and one simple request: to face an opponent who can withstand his punches.

Fulfilling it is trickier than it seems.

Sergey Lipinets, a rugged Russian boxer, was supposed to be such a foe. Ennis, a fast-handed puncher from Philadelphia, dismantled him in six rounds in April 2021, dropping Lipinets with a thunderous right hook and left hand. The referee waved the fight off without even counting.

In May, Custio Clayton came into a bout against Ennis with an unblemished record and Olympic pedigree, having represented Canada in 2012. Ennis starched him in two rounds, knocking Clayton woozy with a looping right hand to the ear.

Even after a lopsided unanimous decision victory over defensive-minded Ukrainian contender Karen Chukhadzhian on Saturday night in Washington, D.C., Ennis reckons boxing fans have seen only a fraction of his skill set. He said the two welterweights he has targeted for later this year are durable enough to bring the best out of him. Those fighters, Errol Spence Jr. and Terence Crawford, would be on his ideal schedule for 2023.

Spence (28-0, 22 knockouts) owns welterweight titles from three of the four major sanctioning bodies, while Crawford (39-0, 30 knockouts) has the fourth belt. They are the principals in a hypothetical super fight that has been discussed, debated and negotiated but never finalized. Fans and media have clamored for the bout, and Crawford and Spence each profess to want a showdown later this year.

But Ennis has the boxing-industry leverage to disrupt those plans.

The International Boxing Federation has ordered the winner of Spence’s springtime bout with Keith Thurman to face Ennis or vacate the title. Ennis also has a broadcast contract with the cable network Showtime, which would simplify negotiations for bouts against the Showtime-aligned boxers Spence and Thurman.

Neither bout would be the matchup fans have most coveted, but given Ennis’ relentless rise and the delays in pairing Spence and Crawford, it might be the title bout the public receives.

“They’re just holding it up,” Ennis, who is nicknamed Boots, said in a recent interview, referring to Spence and Crawford.

He continued, “Hopefully they do fight each other. If not, so be it. They need to fight me or go ahead and move up to 154,” he said, referring to the next weight class, super welterweight.

In this sense, pro boxing resembles major college football in 1997. Spence and Crawford are that year’s Michigan and Nebraska, who both finished with undefeated records and atop a major poll and ended up being considered national champions without playing each other.

Ennis, however, is more like Central Florida in 2017: undefeated but shut out of the title chase.

For now.

“We’re gonna deal with them,” said Derek Ennis, Jaron’s father and trainer. “Knock them off till they come to their senses. You either fight us or you move up. One or the other.”

For his part, Chukhadzhian (21-2, 11 knockouts), a Ukrainian who is now based in Germany, insisted he signed to fight Jaron Ennis because he believed he could win.

“I’m very motivated, and I have a lot to prove,” Chukhadzhian said via a translator in an interview with Showtime’s Brian Custer.

Still, Ennis was the Saturday bout’s A-side and the boxer around whom Showtime is building long-term plans. It was Ennis’ ninth appearance on the network and his first on a pay-per-view card.

Placing him in the cofeature spot on a card with a lightweight-title main event between Gervonta Davis and Héctor Luis García (which resulted in a TKO victory for Davis) should position Ennis to vault into the next phase of his career: headlining a pay-per-view world title fight.

“That’s the only question any knowledgeable boxing fan is asking about Boots,” Stephen Espinoza, Showtime’s president of sports and event programming, said in an interview. “What happens when he fights one of the world champions? We’re going to see that happen, I believe, in 2023.”

Showtime signed Ennis after his promoter, veteran boxing power broker Cameron Dunkin, suggested the network feature him on ShoBox, the network’s series of fights between top young prospects, in 2018. But the current structure of big-time boxing makes such deals, between an individual boxer and a broadcast platform, rare.

Davis, Spence and other fighters who appear on Showtime do so because they’re signed to Premier Boxing Champions, the managerial outfit that supplies most of the network’s boxing content. If boxing is like college football, PBC could be the Big Ten Conference. That setup would make Top Rank, which partners with ESPN, the boxing equivalent of the SEC. Together, they dominate the sport’s television broadcast landscape in the United States.

In this scenario, Ennis is sort of like Notre Dame — independent, yet still valuable to a broadcaster.

“I have the platform now,” Ennis said. “I’m a main-event fighter.”

But where Notre Dame has cultivated a large and loyal following over decades, Ennis, at 25, still lacks the profile of his rivals, who are in their 30s. Spence has 936,000 Instagram followers, and Crawford has 850,000. Ennis’ Instagram following, as of Thursday night, numbered 255,000.

Espinoza, for his part, said Ennis is poised for a breakthrough in the welterweight class, one of boxing’s marquee divisions, and fights with a crowd-pleasing style that will earn mainstream sports fans’ attention if he keeps winning.

Ennis blends quickness, craft and punching power, and like Crawford is equally comfortable boxing orthodox or as a southpaw. He has recorded 21 knockdowns in his last 12 bouts.

“What speaks for him is his performances in the ring,” Espinoza said. “That’s something that builds you a following. Those are all things that boxing fans react to. Boxing skill, excitement, stoppages.”

Ennis figures his fan base will grow if he can force top-tier welterweights like Spence and Crawford to face him and haul the welterweight division back to its early 1980s glory days.

“Back in the day, everybody used to fight everybody. Hearns, Leonard. They all fought each other,” he said, referring to Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard. “Why not start now and bring that back?”

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