ATLANTIC CITY - They say first impressions count the most, and maybe they do for those going on job interviews and blind dates. But the reverse often tends to be true in boxing; the fighter who finishes strong often is perceived to be more worthy of victory than the guy who starts fast and fades down the stretch.
Teon Kennedy's unanimous decision over Jose Angel Beranza Saturday night at Bally's Atlantic City, which enabled the North Philadelphian to retain his USBA super bantamweight championship, was less satisfactory than it probably should have been to a pro-Kennedy audience. When the bell ending the 12th and final round sounded, a jubilant and mostly unmarked Beranza, clearly expecting the title to change hands, was hoisted onto the shoulders of one of his handlers while an exhausted Kennedy, both eyes nearly swollen shut, trudged to his corner to await the judges' verdict.
Their tabulations - Waleska Roldan had Kennedy winning, 115-113, while Robert Grasso and John Stewart had the defending titlist ahead by identical scores of 117-111 - elicited confused murmurs among spectators and an incredulous reaction from Beranza that suggested he'd just learned his life savings had disappeared in a Ponzi scheme.
Even Kennedy's promoter, J Russell Peltz, who fidgets and frets whenever one of his fighters finds himself in a tough scrap, seemed surprised by the scorecards submitted by veteran judges Grasso and Stewart.
"I had it 6-5-1 [in rounds] for Teon," a relieved Peltz said after Kennedy (15-0-1, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak.
Wade Hinnant, who trains Kennedy, 23, also thought the fight was closer than the scoring suggested.
"I was a little bit surprised by the separation of those two [wider] scores," he said. "I know we won some of the early rounds, but the fight was closer than that. The 115-113 was about what it should have been."
What shouldn't have been was Kennedy's apparent determination - contrary to the jab-and-move strategy crafted by Hinnant and his brother, Randy - to stay in front of the 34-year-old Beranza (32-18-2, 25 KOs) and swap bombs. While Kennedy got the better of the exchanges in the early rounds, it soon became apparent that Beranza, from Santa Ana, Calif., by way of his native Mexico, would not be worn down or discouraged easily.
"Absolutely not," Wade Hinnant said when asked if Kennedy had followed the fight plan. "He started out boxing the way we trained, but sometimes young fighters get away from that, especially after they get a devastating knockout like Teon had his last fight. You start looking to throw one or two [big shots] instead of putting combinations together, like we trained to do. He's got to be a lot more disciplined than that."
That "devastating" knockout to which Hinnant referred most certainly was that, resulting in Kennedy's 10th-round stoppage of Francisco "Paco" Rodriguez for the vacant USBA 122-pound crown Nov. 22 at the Blue Horizon. Rodriguez, who underwent emergency surgery for a brain bleed, was taken from the ring on a stretcher and died 2 days later after being removed from life support.
Kennedy said his performance against Beranza was not hindered or affected by what happened in the Rodriguez fight, and maybe it wasn't. He wouldn't be the first Philly fighter to be drawn into a stand-and-trade type of bout that was not in his best interests because, well, Philly fighters often feel a primal need to demonstrate their toughness. And it's not just a relentless pain-absorber like Matthew Saad Muhammad who regard the full frontal assault as a personal badge of honor; guys with more refined styles, like Meldrick Taylor and Ivan Robinson, frequently yielded to the temptation to meet fire with fire.
"He made it a little bit tough for me to box, so I had to slug it out with him," Kennedy said as co-manager Jim Williams applied enswells to each puffy eye. "I don't mind that kind of fight, but I could have made it easier than what it was."