By Gary Purfield
Opening the televised portion of Saturday’s big Pacquiao-Bradley PPV card, Teon Kennedy (17-1-2, 7 KO) hopes to complete an up and down journey by winning his first world title. The talented Philadelphia Super Bantamweight was noticed early on his career as someone with the potential to win a world title one day. Known as “The Technician” the early part of his career, fights often played out with Teon picking his opponent apart with fantastic boxing skills.
Then, somewhere along the way, the technician became the warrior. The boxing skills were still present but suddenly every one of his fights was turning into a knockdown, drag-out brawl. Not that this style was a problem for the fans or Teon’s record. He continued winning and was quickly becoming a crowd favorite.
The high mark for excitement very well might have been his sensational fight with Jorge Diaz in March of 2011. On the undercard of the Yuriorkis Gamboa-Jorge Solis card, Kennedy overcame Diaz’s pressure to win a brutal but exciting bout, where Kennedy took the unanimous decision and dropped Diaz twice in the fight.
This Saturday, Kennedy will have the opportunity to display all of his skills and potential when he meets WBA Super Bantamweight title holder Guillermo Rigondeaux. Kennedy will get his first title shot on one of the major PPV cards of the year, underneath the Pacquiao-Bradley main event.
But it has not been a perfect ride to Saturday’s fight for the talented boxer-brawler. Kennedy has dealt with his ups and downs, in and out of the ring. In 2009, Kennedy engaged in one of his famous ring wars when he battled Francisco Rodriguez and came out with a tenth round TKO. Unfortunately after the bout, Rodriguez collapsed in the ring and would be taken to the hospital for emergency brain surgery. Two days later, Rodriguez would pass away.
Kennedy felt the obvious grief that would come with this occurrence. He visited Rodriguez in the hospital shortly before the fighter passed and gave his condolences to Rodriguez’s family. Then a year later Kennedy accepted the Briscoe Award for Philadelphia Fight of the Year alongside Rodriguez’s family members in what was described as an awkward scene. Kennedy has been able to move forward with his career understanding that tragedy is a possibility in this sport, but he understandably still thinks about Rodriguez at times.
“Ya, ya, he do enter my mind. I look back and see how I fought him and stuff like that. Sometimes I do.”
Kennedy would win three in a row after the Rodriguez fight, including the Diaz brawl to remain undefeated. The Diaz fight looked like it would catapult Kennedy into the mainstream. The day after the card, virtually every ringside reporter wrote about the fight of the night being Kennedy-Diaz and what a shame it was that HBO did not televise the bout.
Two months after the Diaz win, with a headlining date in Atlantic City scheduled for August 13, 2011, Kennedy saw his entire career and life in jeopardy. He was arrested for attempted murder on May 30, 2011 after he was identified by the victim in a shooting. Two weeks later, Kennedy would be released from prison after the victim recanted his statement, but the charges were not dropped. Kennedy was free to train for his August 13 bout, but would do so with felony charges hanging over his head.
When Kennedy fought slick boxing Alejandro Lopez, who was named the opponent just two weeks before the fight, it was clear Kennedy was not fully himself inside the ring. The technical boxer seemed in left field and the brawler was unable to corner his opponent. Kennedy was left to get out-boxed as he followed Lopez around the ring and suffered his first loss by unanimous decision.
Kennedy then looked to bounce back in January this year, taking on fellow contender Chris Martin on ESPN Friday Night Fights. Since that time, the charges from the arrest in May had been completely dropped and Kennedy was cleared of any wrongdoing. Again, though, Kennedy did not appear to be at one hundred percent as he fought to a draw with Martin.
This time around Kennedy appears to be free from distraction. The legal matters are done and over with. He left Philadelphia to train in seclusion in Newtown, PA where he could focus solely on fight preparation. A clean slate and focused camp could not come at a better time as Kennedy prepares for the biggest bout of his career.
John Disanto of Philly Boxing History and I caught up with Teon and co-trainer Randy Hinnant (who co-trains Kennedy with his brother Wade Hinnant) last week at his training camp in Newtown, PA as he put the finishing touches on the preparation for Saturday’s title opportunity. Kennedy has enjoyed having the distractions behind him, being away, and believes his ups and downs have prepared him for this Saturday.
“Camp’s going great. Doing a lot of running. Running six miles, running hills, training. Everything’s been going good. It’s always good to get away. I feel great. I can’t wait to get in the ring and show the world my skills.
“I believe everything I’ve been through like the trial, the Francisco Rodriguez thing, the loss, the draw. I think that prepared me more for this fight.”
Hinnant was extremely pleased with his fighter’s preparation for the upcoming fight and believes having the distractions out of the way have made all the difference.
“Wow, he’s on another level right now. When he was going through what he was going through, the problems, he was trying to fight through that. He just wasn’t himself. Then weight was an issue. Not getting it off quick enough. It all factored in there. But this time he’s right on schedule, right on point, and his head and his mind are really into this fight. Camp is great. Couldn’t ask for a better camp. He’s in the best shape of his life.”
The team knows bringing home the WBA 122lb world title will not come easy. They face Guillermo Rigondeaux (9-0, 7 KO) Saturday night, a two-time gold medalist and one of the greatest Cuban amateur fighters of all-time. Rigondeaux stormed into the pros after defecting from Cuba by winning the WBA interim title in his seventh pro fight. Rigondeaux was even more impressive in his two defenses thus far. In the first defense he blasted out Willie Casey in Ireland in one round. He then won the WBA regular title at 122lb when he steamrolled Rico Ramos in January, stopping him in six rounds.
To take the title back to Philadelphia Kennedy will have to be at the top of his game in every way. The Cuban is a master boxer, but he can punch with serious power as well. Kennedy has respect for his opponent’s abilities and expects Rigondeaux to attack just as he did Casey and Ramos.
“The first couple of rounds I think he’ll probably try to bring it to me. I seen his previous fight and that’s what he did first couple rounds. I guess he try to scare you and then box. Like I said, I think he’s gonna try and come at me first couple rounds. He has very nice abilities. He’s very composed in the ring. He’s very comfortable in the ring. He’s got quick feet and also got quick hands.”
Kennedy and Hinnant believe they know what it will take to get the upset. Kennedy had no issues with being the underdog and is ready to bring pressure to take the Cuban to deep waters.
“I been the underdog a couple times before so it ain’t nothing new.
“I got quick hands. I got quick feet also. I have to bring it to him because he’s not used to that type of fight. Pressure him, do some smart pressure and stuff like that. Just keep the jab on him. Figure I’m going to get set so just keep the jab on him. Keep him off guard. I feel more comfortable taking it to him cause he like to box so I want to get him out of his comfort zone.”
Hinnant talked about their talented opponent’s skills, but believes Teon can fight a fight that will take Rigondeaux out of his comfort zone as long as Teon is smart and follows his plan.
“Rigondeaux is a puncher. The thing is, I haven’t seen anyone make him feel uncomfortable. How is he going to react when we make him feel uncomfortable? So we definitely gonna make him feel uncomfortable. He seems like the type of guy that needs to be relaxed and do what he wants to do. We want him to do what we want him to do. That’s what’s gonna happen then.
“We definitely need to go to the body. That’s key and I think the jab is a problem for him too. So we like to invest in the body early and put some money in the bank for the later rounds.
“He just needs to stay tight, keep moving. You get done punching go back on defense. Just don’t stay in front of the guy. Give him angles, you know what I mean. Basically that’s it.”
Hinnant is confident that Rigondeaux doesn’t want to be in a war with Teon. He sees Rigondeaux wanting to fight a comfortable boxing match and believes Teon can make it tougher that anything the Cuban has seen before. While Rigondeaux has the long boxing background, Teon is the one who has proved he can handle being in the roughest and toughest of fights at the pro level. Hinnant sees that at some point a war will break out and his man is better prepared for this situation.
“I don’t think he want to engage, but he gonna have to fight if he want to keep his title. At some point, like I said before, a fight’s going to break out. So we gonna make him fight. I just hope he will be willing to fight as much as we want to fight. We know he’s gonna try and grab and do a little stealing on the inside. Try to tie him up and touch him. We know that.”
Kennedy doesn’t hide the fact that he is thinking about the moment and has nerves about the big opportunity. Kennedy and Hinnant’s honesty about their feelings on going for a title is refreshing when most people in the situation try to play off any anxiety about such a big career opportunity.
“It always happens. Especially when I’m just laying there watching TV. I start thinking about the fight. I get nerves and stuff like that. Ya, ya, ya, every time I hear the words in my head, new WBA champ I get a warm feeling inside.”
When talking about butterflies, Hinnant stated, “Ya, (laughs) definitely. The butterflies are not there yet. It’s probably just before the fight and all that. After the first couple rounds, actually after the first round. See how things are going and then that goes away. But ya, we go through it too.”
Hinnant also talked about the difficulty a trainer faces once the bell rings and they are left to sit and watch their pupil attempt to execute what they have been taught.
“Ya I know, you just have to bite down and come on, come on, let’s do this. You know what I’m saying. We all have to stay focused. Even in the corner. We can’t panic in the corner cause the fighter can’t see that. The fighter should see guy’s in the corner that’s confident. You know you gotta keep a poker face too. Even though you thinking one thing you can’t have the fighter see that. That’s a mistake.”
Hinnant is well aware that even the most disciplined fighter can get caught up in the moment. First world title shot, Las Vegas, a Pacquiao card, all things that could cause Kennedy to get caught up in the moment and stray from the game plan. Hinnant has had two fighters before in title bouts and plenty of other big fights so he is ready to settle his man down if the need arises.
“That could happen. That’s when you got to take control of the fighter. You got to calm him down. Say hey, it’s just another day in the office here. Don’t get caught up in the crowd and just stick to the plan.”
Kennedy has received plenty of support in the Philadelphia area during his career and for the big shot that awaits him. While some Philly fighters have received mixed reactions in the tough sports town it seems everyone is behind the quiet and likeable fighter. Hinnant talked about what he has seen from the fans and boxing insiders within the local community.
“Ya, I have heard a lot of guys say man, I really, really want this for Teon. Teon deserves this. This kid been doing this thing since he was six years old. He grew up in this sport. He put his time in. He really deserves this. He’s been through a lot. Adversity, overcame it, and I think it made him a better person, you know what I mean. He definitely, definitely is a warrior. He’s not lacking in being confident. I don’t see him being over confident. I just see him, you know, very focused and he knows what he gotta do. This might be his last opportunity. You never know. You got to take it when you get it. You can’t say awe, I’ll get another shot. You don’t know that.”
For Kennedy, he has the biggest opportunity of his boxing career in front of him Saturday night. A world title and exposure on one of the major PPV cards of the year. The fighter, though, keeps it simple when talking about what will happen if he wins and how he will react to the moment. He is man of few words who prefers to do his big talking in the ring.
“Ah man, I guess the sky is the limit after that.
“I’m ready for action. I try to go in there like any other fight but it’s probably going to change a little bit once I get there and once I see the lights. I guess I’d rather wait and see. I think I’m very good with that anyways (staying composed) so just got to stay to myself and do what I been doing.”
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