No disrespect to the other matches on Saturday’s boxing card at the Liacouras Center, but Philadelphia promoter J. Russell Peltz, who is putting the event together, thinks the fight to watch is the heavyweight bout, Bryant Jennings against Joey Dawejko.
It’s the sort of boxing clash you don’t see a lot anymore, what they used to call a “neighborhood war.” In this case it’s a fighter from North Philly (Jennings) versus one from Tacony (Dawejko). Neither of these big guys is a weakling opponent imported from out of town to make the local kid look good.
Both Jennings (22-2, 13 knockouts) and Dawejko (19-4-4, 11 KOs) are on the edge of contention in the heavyweight division, at the stage when a loss could really hurt. The two have the kind of history that neighborhood guys have: Dawejko beat Jennings years ago, when they were amateurs.
“This is Philly bragging rights, like Big Five basketball,” Peltz said this week in a telephone interview.
“We sold a lot of tickets in the neighborhood,” Dawejko said Tuesday at the Joe Hand gym in North Philadelphia.
It’s one of the three televised main events on Saturday’s boxing card at Temple’s basketball arena. The undercard bouts will start at 4 p.m. and the ESPN telecast at 7 p.m. The whole show is a bit of a throwback, a coproduction between Peltz and Bob Arum, the 86-year-old promoter whose Las Vegas-based company, Top Rank, has worked with fighters from Muhammad Ali to Marvin Hagler to Manny Pacquiao.
In the old days, when Arum’s stable included Philly fighters such as Mike Rossman and Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, the promoter brought fighters to Philadelphia and Atlantic City to fight in Peltz shows. Now, Arum has Jennings and Cyclone’s son, super middleweight Jesse Hart. So, it made sense to bring this card to Philadelphia.
“With Atlantic City not being as robust for boxing as it once was, the action has moved back to Philadelphia,” Arum said in a telephone interview.
The TV money from ESPN is enough to pay all the fighters, Arum said, so he has the flexibility to stage the show wherever the promoters might make a little money on the live gate. The Liacouras Center can seat about 6,000 for the event.
Atop the card is a super-bantamweight (122 pounds) world championship — the sort of thing that doesn’t normally take place in Philadelphia. Champion Jessie Magdaleno of Las Vegas will defend his title against Isaac Dogboe of Accra, Ghana. Both are undefeated.
In the other cofeature, Hart, 28, will fight Demond Nicholson of Laurel, Md., at 168 pounds.
The heavyweight bout is billed as the Pennsylvania state heavyweight championship. That’s an oddball prize that promoters dust off when it might look good on a poster. According to the boxing database boxrec.com, there have been eight matches for the Pennsylvania heavyweight title, the first in 1935 and the second not until 1972, which was a Peltz promotion at the West Philly Arena. The billing usually signifies a tough turf battle.
“We got a beautiful trophy for the winner,” Peltz said.
Jennings, 33, is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, and a former high school football and basketball standout. He’s cerebral and muscular. Peltz called him “a sculptured athlete. Very athletic. Not the hardest puncher in the world, but he’s always in shape, and he beats a lot of guys because of his mind-set and his athletic ability.”
Jennings was 19-0 when he challenged Wladimir Klitschko for the world heavyweight title in 2015 at Madison Square Garden. He gave then-dominant Klitschko a game fight but lost by unanimous decision.
By contrast, the 27-year-old Dawejko is 5-foot-10 and usually fights at 235 to 240 pounds. He occasionally has resembled a Wing Bowl champion.
“He knows I call him the Pillsbury Doughboy,” Peltz said.
But Dawejko has nine first-round knockouts on his resume and moves well for a big guy. “Joey is a much harder puncher. He can really crack,” Peltz said.
Conventional wisdom says the longer the fight goes, the more it could favor the athletic Jennings. In a Tuesday workout, Dawejko wasn’t so doughy — even svelte at about 230 — after months of training. Asked whether he was excited to go 10 rounds, Dawjeko said, “No. I’m gonna knock him out. I don’t want to do 10.”
But he quickly added: “I can if I have to. I’ve been doing more running, more conditioning, more everything.”
Jennings said, “If he comes in shape, it will be a whole different Joey Dawejko. Joey has skills, he has talent. He beats himself sometimes.”
Peltz said he wants more Philly guys in the ring against each other.
“You don’t want to see Duke play Lehigh,” he pointed out. “You want to see Duke play North Carolina. It’s not rocket science.”
Saturday’s Liacouras Center card
Time: Undercard bouts begin at 4.p.m., main events at 7 p.m.
Ticket prices: $100, $65, $35.
TV: Undercard bouts will stream on ESPN+ and the ESPN app (4 p.m.). Main bouts televised on ESPN (7 p.m. live) and ESPN Deportes (10 p.m. delayed)
Jessie Magdaleno (25-0) vs. Isaac Dogboe (18-0) for the WBA super-bantamweight (122 pounds) title
Jesse Hart (23-1) vs. Demond Nicholson (18-2-1) for the vacant NABF super-middleweight (168 pounds) title
Bryant Jennings (22-2) vs. Joey Dawejko (19-4-4) for the Pennsylvania heavyweight title
Undercard bouts include Philadelphia bantamweight Christian Carto (14-0), Philly welterweight Marcel Rivers (4-0), and Newark featherweight Shakur Stevenson (5-0) , a 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist.