Boxing fans (and media) are a notoriously fickle bunch. As a fighter, you’re often only as good as your last performance. An elite-level performer or “can’t miss” prospect one day could be “overrated” or “untested” the next, depending on a fighter’s most recent outing.
This is the case with rising welterweight star Jaron “Boots” Ennis.
The 25-year-old Philadelphia fighter was riding high on a wave of positive buzz coming into his January 7 bout with the Ukraine’s Karen Chukhadzhian. He had stopped his last 19 opponents, delivering first-time career KO/TKO losses to four of his five last on-the-books foes.
“Boots” was a next big thing and was generating the kind of attention emerging stars receive.
Then, he went a full twelve rounds with Chukhadzhian and didn’t quite look like the dominant, all-purpose destroyer he was billed as being. Despite winning every minute of every round and sweeping all three judges’ scorecards against an opponent who proved to be trickier than expected and not all that eager to engage, the critics came out in droves, fierce with “I told you he wasn’t that great” energy.
Media obsessed over Ennis’ “falling stock” and now, fans opined, he had proven himself, most definitely not ready for current welterweight top dogs Errol Spence and Terence Crawford.
Former two-division world champ and current ESPN analyst, Andre Ward, however, stepped up to once again be the voice of reason.
“No, I think the last fight was exactly what ‘Boots’ needed,” Andre Ward said. “I think the hype was real, and ‘Boots’ was the next wave. I said this before, and I’ll say it again, Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, they’re not going to fight Jaron ‘Boots’ Ennis; they’re just not.
“It’s not about anybody being scared. Everybody is a fighter, and they’ve been fighting since they were babies. This is nothing new, but it doesn’t make business sense.
“I think him going the distance and fighting the guy [Chukhadzhian] he just fought, which was very, very crafty and better than I thought he was. He actually fought above his head because when I looked at the tape of Ennis’ opponent, I said, ‘It’s not going to go past three or four rounds.’
“That’s what he needed. It’s a good lesson for ‘Boots.’ ‘Boots’ has good teaching, but sometimes experimentally, you’ve got to go through it. So it was good for him to land some shots and for his opponent not to go down.
“It was good for him not to have to go through some things and now fight a different style where now he has to track a guy down who is being defensive.
“He’s a very tough guy to stop, but those 12 rounds, I couldn’t tell you how valuable that’s going to be for Boots Ennis psychologically, physically, and mentally. Let me say this. Even the backlash he’s getting on social media and from the media, which I don’t think is warranted, it’s good for him.
“It’s a good early test and a sign to let him know that not everybody is going to like you. One day they’re with you, and the next day, they’re not. So stay focused, and live your life in the middle.”
Wise words from a man who’s been through that exact same “We love you-we hate you, you’re the greatest-you’re a bum” public relations dynamic.
Jaron Ennis is still the same fighter he was before this last bout. If anything, the young man could’ve been guilty of reading his own press clippings too much and pressing too hard to live up to the hype against an opponent who everyone felt would be easy work for him. It happens to the best of men.