THERE WERE TWO absolutely perfect punches that were thrown and landed late Saturday night, or, more precisely, very early Sunday morning.
The latter of those takeout blows, an overhand right from Juan Manuel Marquez that landed flush to the face of Manny Pacquiao, put the Filipino superstar down and out in the sixth round at Las Vegas' MGM Grand as a live audience of 16,348 and a global television audience in the millions reacted with shock to the dramatic suddenness of the outcome, and struggled to grasp its more far-reaching implications.
Approximately 2,450 miles to the East and a half-hour or so earlier, rising heavyweight contender Bryant "By-By" Jennings electrified a comparatively cozy turnout of 1,853 in Temple University's Pearson/McGonigle Hall, and an NBC Sports Network viewership that also figures to be miniscule in comparison to those tuned in to Pacquiao-Marquez IV. It might not appear to be the case at first glance, but the ripping right uppercut that Jennings (16-0, 8 KOs) employed to starch Bowie Tupou (22-3, 16 KOs) in Round 5 of their scheduled 12-rounder might ultimately come to be seen as nearly as consequential to the boxing world as Marquez's shot heard 'round the world.
Within the brutal confines of the fight game, the death knell of a celebrated career can occur at more or less the same moment that the birth notice of another fighter's arrival as a major force is heralded. Those announcements frequently come with the speed and concussive force attendant to the most emphatic ending in sports, the one-punch knockout.
"If my guy hits anybody that clean, 98 percent of them are going to go to sleep," Jennings' manager-trainer, Fred Jenkins, said of the trip to lullaby land the IBF's fifth-ranked heavyweight had sent Tupou with a blow that snapped the recipient's head back with whiplash force. "I don't care who they are. Bryant is a tremendous puncher, and he put on a tremendous performance. He took his time, tried different things. Not everything worked, but he didn't lose his composure. He progressed each round until he saw his chance and he took it."
Not that the 253-pound Tupou is anybody's idea of the ultimate litmus test. All three defeats incurred by the Los Angeles-based native of Tonga - his small coterie of supporters included Channel 10 sports anchor and former Eagles kick returner Vai Sikahema, who also hails from the southern Pacific archipelago - have been inside the distance, and none of the four most widely recognized world sanctioning bodies rate him among their top 15 heavyweights.
But Tupou packs a decent wallop of his own, and he did send Jennings to the canvas with a right hand to the top of the head in the third round, a seemingly legitimate knockdown that referee Blair Talmadge incorrectly ruled a slip.
"It was definitely a slip," insisted Annette Jennings, Bryant's wheelchair-bound grandmother who enthusiastically conducted an impromptu postfight press conference alongside her grandson.
Bryant knew better. "The guy was strong," said Jennings, a North Philadelphian who was fighting in his hometown for the seventh time. "Did you see his legs? I don't know what he was doing in Tonga. After I took a couple of shots I thought, 'Damn, I can't do this [lose] in front of my city. It ain't gonna happen.' "
Had the bout gone to the scorecards, a loss by Jennings was highly unlikely. He led, 40-36, on the tallies of all three judges through five rounds and his advantage in speed and tactical adaptability were apparent from the outset.
The result of Jennings' latest victory figures to be a bump up the IBF ladder, presumably nearer a mandatory challenge of IBF/WBA/WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko, and possibly entry into the ratings of those sanctioning bodies that as of yet have snubbed him. All in all, not a bad evening for the former Ben Franklin High football standout.
It was also a festive occasion for West Philadelphia junior lightweight Eric "The Outlaw" Hunter (17-2, 9 KOs), who filled in for the injured Teon Kennedy and easily outpointed the previously unbeaten Jerry Belmontes (17-1, 5 KOs), of Corpus Christi, Texas, in the televised co-feature. North Philly super middleweight Jesse Hart (5-0, 4 KOs) easily outpointed Steven Tyner (3-9-2, 2 KOs), of Akron, Ohio, in a much-anticipated four-rounder.
"Nice crowd, nice fights," co-promoter J Russell Peltz, who celebrated his 66th birthday on Sunday, said of the second boxing show ever staged at Pearson/McGonigle. The first was on Feb. 15, 1993; the main event was future WBA heavyweight champion Bruce Seldon's fifth-round technical knockout of Al Shoffner.
Not long after Jennings dispatched Tupou, the 39-year-old Marquez probably snuffed any hope of a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. matchup, while at the same time thrusting himself into the lead position for 2012's Fighter of the Year.