James Tennyson: Rebuilding The Assassin
By Ian Aldous
On an autumn evening in 2018, James Tennyson (28-3) left Boston a defeated man. A fifth-round stoppage loss to then-IBF super-featherweight world champion, Tevin Farmer put a sudden stop to his blistering run of five consecutive wins inside the distance. Little did he know, at the time, that the disappointment would push him towards a new path.
“Before the Farmer fight, I think it was the Martin J Ward fight (a fifth-round TKO win in which ‘Tenny’ claimed European and Commonwealth titles), my trainer Tony (Dunlop) talked to me about moving up in weight, but for me it was my biggest opportunity,” the twenty-seven year old says of taking the 130-pound world title shot. “I thought I could do the weight, there was a lot at stake, so it’d be worth the risk.”
Farmer expertly exploited his weaknesses at super-featherweight; it was time to reassess and seek pastures new at lightweight.
‘The Assassin’ quickly rekindled not only winning ways, but his briefly interrupted KO streak kicked back into full throttle. Two second-round wins on shows in Belfast, promoted by his manager, Mark Dunlop, preceded a welcome return to the bright lights of Matchroom and the Sky TV cameras in 2019.
“I was confident once we moved up in weight,” Tennyson said. “I knew things would take off for us again. I knew we’d got a nice, close relationship with Matchroom, so I think it was just a matter of me moving up in weight and getting back to myself and performing. When I was at super-featherweight, the performances weren’t really happening. I was a wee bit sapped for weight, so it was hindering my performances.”
The reconstruction was gathering pace as both Atif Shafiq and Craig Evans were despatched before the final bell. A vacant British title was subsequently claimed, last summer in Eddie Hearn’s back garden against Gavin Gwynne, by knockout, of course. Then, just prior to Christmas, the undefeated yet overmatched Josh O’Reilly was seen off in slightly over 120 seconds of a savagely one-sided world title eliminator. All six wins since that defeat to Farmer have seen the Belfast man require zero use of the ringside judges.
“You go into fights and you don’t really know what to expect. I never really expect to go in and blow these guys out of the water, but it seems to be happening and I’m not complaining at all! All going well, it will continue.”
Armed with a 77% knockout ratio, and a fast-growing reputation as one of the best finishers in, not just British, but world boxing, Tennyson has been rewarded with a shot at redemption for his efforts. This Saturday, live on Sky Sports Box Office, as part of the Chisora vs. Parker undercard, he’ll battle Mexican southpaw, Jovanni Straffon for the vacant IBO lightweight world championship.
“He’s sort of an unknown name. I think he’s a small 5’6″ southpaw and he has a bit of a bang,” Tennyson admits. “He’s a few knockouts on his record, but I’m not too sure on the opponents he’s been facing. I don’t really know how highly rated his opponents are, so come fight night those questions will be answered. How good is he? For me, it’s sort of the unknown. I just know that he’s a southpaw. Obviously the Mexican reputation speaks for itself, they’re tough guys. I’m not expecting an easy night here.
“Getting this IBO world title means everything to me,” he continued. “I’ve been working my whole life; I’ve been boxing from seven years of age to get me to this point. So, you know, first crack at a world title, I fell short; I’m not going to leave anything to chance this time around. It’ll mean the world to me to win this title, and everyone around me. I’ve been in camp for a good, long while. I’ll be ready to lift this world title.”
A win on Saturday is just the genesis of what Tennyson and his team hope to achieve as soon as possible. Teofimo Lopez, Vasyl Lomachenko, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia are the A-list opposition that they will be chasing and expecting to beat in the near-future.
“I just need my opportunity to be able to prove myself with the top names in the lightweight division,” he said. “When the opportunity comes, you’re going to see me victorious. With winning this IBO world title, it’s going to put me in line for big fights with the other lightweight champions. That’s what I’ve been working my way towards, being able to face the top names in the lightweight division and prove myself.”
“It’ll be good to win this IBO world title and it could maybe set up a big unification fight. The IBO is a title them other lightweights haven’t got. Maybe it could entice them into a big fight.”
Should he prevail, Tennyson will be the sole possessor of an IBO 135-pound world title.
“When my fight was announced, I was reading a lot of comments from people saying about how there’s so many titles in each organisation. WBA have a few; WBC have a few. With the IBO, they’ve only got one world title. You win that, you’re the IBO world champion, there’s nobody else in the same weight category that’s going to be IBO world champion, you know? There’s a lot of belts floating around. In a way, it does give fighters the opportunity to get up there, but I believe an organisation should have one world title rather than having so many apiece.”
Tennyson vs. Straffon is part of a huge night of action in Manchester, Derek Chisora (32-10, 23 KOs) and Joseph Parker (28-2, 21 KOs) collide in a huge Heavyweight clash, Irish star Katie Taylor(17-0, 6 KOs) defends her Undisputed Lightweight crown against former amateur rival Natasha Jonas (9-1-1, 7 KOs), undefeated WBA Light-Heavyweight World Champion Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KOs) puts his Title on the line against Craig Richards(16-1-1, 9 KOs) and Chris Eubank Jr (29-2, 22 KOs) returns against Marcus Morrison (23-3, 16 KOs).