Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko goes by the nickname of "Dr. Steelhammer." He never got to drop it on awkward Byrant Jennings, but Klitschko recorded his 18th straight title defense by a comfortable unanimous decision Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Judges Steve Weisfeld and Robin Taylor scored it 116-111 for Klitschko, and Max DeLuca had it 118-109. Klitschko was a 116-111 winner on Newsday's card.
Klitschko's 27th heavyweight title fight tied a record set by Joe Louis, and Klitschko (64-3, 53 KOs) has made 23 overall defenses, counting five defenses from his first reign as champion. Both numbers are second only to the 25 straight defenses by Louis. The loss was the first for Jennings (19-1, 10 KOs).
The inexperienced Philadelphia fighter made it tough for Klitschko to get in a groove by throwing lunging punches and the champion had a point deducted for holding in the 10th. But Klitschko generally controlled the fight with his jab, and he removed any shred of doubt with a dominant 12th round in which he rocked Jennings a couple of times with the right hand.
Both fighters put up their hands in triumph at the final bell. Jennings became only the 14th of Klitschko's 67 opponents to make it to the finish upright.
"He didn't give me a chance to throw the right hand as much as I wanted," Klitschko said in the ring after the bout. "He's very confident and very athletic."
When he arrived at the postfight news conference, Jennings' confidence was undented, and he came away feeling he had proved as much in his one loss as in the previous 19 wins. "I ain't down; I ain't upset," Jennings said. "Tonight, I fought all 12 rounds. I'm hoping I gained some respect.
"Let's do it again. I saw him huffing and puffing. Wherever that 'Steel hammer' was, it didn't penetrate this inexperienced, small fighter."
The fight was the first in seven years in the United States for Klitschko.
His last appearance was a unanimous decision over Sultan Ibragimov at the Garden in February 2008. At that point, he and older brother Vitali were reigning co-champions in the heavyweight division.
Vitali retired in 2012, ending his career on a 13-fight winning streak, and subsequently went into politics in Ukraine, winning election as mayor of Kiev last year. He was in the Garden on Saturday night along with a throng of loyalists waving Ukrainian flags.
The fight started slowly as Jennings found it difficult to get close and was too wary to come out of a crouch that often resulted in the 6-6 champion tying him up and leaning on him. Klitschko found his range with the jab in the first couple of rounds and backed it up with some solid right-left combinations.
In the third round, Jennings managed to get off a flurry of body shots in one clinch, but Klitschko maintained control with his jab. Power right hands from Klitschko in the fourth round roused a crowd that was behind him solidly.
Jennings landed some lunging punches in the fifth and ticked Klitschko's chin with a short left in one clinch. "The clinching didn't really bother me," Jennings said. "I think I dealt with it pretty good . . . When he was holding me, I hit him to the body. I must have hit him with 100 body shots."
Promoter Gary Shaw said Jennings was a good enough athlete to make the NFL as a linebacker if he wanted.
Jennings started the sixth coming in low with his head as if to tackle Klitschko, drawing some "USA" chants. He succeeded with a solid left-right combo in midround and came in gamely again at the end of his best round to that point.
Jennings was strong again in the seventh, rocking Klitschko with a right uppercut in a clinch. The champion landed a hard three-punch combo in midround, but Jennings shook it off and mugged.
Klitschko regained a measure of control with his jab in the eighth, maintaining his distance after running into an early right hand. Relying on the jab again in the ninth, Klitschko managed to come straight down the pipe with a hard lead right that stung Jennings.
"His jab didn't have nothing on it," Jennings said. Asked why he had to lunge to get past it, Jennings added: "It didn't feel like it looked. That jab didn't set anything up. That wasn't the dominant Klitschko jab."
In the 10th round, the referee deducted a point from Klitschko for holding after warning him repeatedly earlier, but Jennings never capitalized by putting punches together. Still, he was standing there at the end.
"By looking at it," Jennings asked the media, "was there anything that said it was a mismatch?"
He was entitled to that much.
Notes & quotes: The feature fight on the HBO undercard was Brooklyn welterweight Sadam Ali (22-0, 13 KOs) scoring a unanimous 10-round decision over Francisco Santana (22-4-1, 11 KOs) of Santa Barbara, California. Two judges scored it 97-93 for Ali, and the third made it a 100-90 shutout that seemed unwarranted.