‘ShoBox’ hopes the third Ennis is the charm
It has come to pass that, often times, a debut on “ShoBox” equals the unveiling of a future world champion. The Showtime mainstay is masterful at uncovering future stars, with 74 current and former world champions making their first impressions on the platform. Sure, this ShoBox tripleheader (featuring six prospects with a combined record of 82-1) may not have much fanfare, in terms of name recognition, but, for competitive matchmaking, ShoBox can’t be beat. The feature fighter, this time, is Philly native Jaron Ennis 20-0 (18), unless he is upended by fellow unbeaten prospect Armando Alvarez 18-0 (12). This is a real possibility, given ShoBox is responsible for handing the first career loss to around 150 boxers! Which bracket, winner or loser, Jaron Ennis falls into tonight will likely determine his world title aspirations.
Tonight’s battle of unbeaten welterweight prospects (10 p.m. ET/PT, WinnaVegas Casino & Resort, Sloan, Iowa) is slated for 10 rounds, making it a big step for Ennis, who has never been past six rounds. This should not surprise, given Ennis is on a 10-fight knockout streak. Putting punches together to finish off the opposition was learned in the Philly gym wars, and the amateurs, in which Ennis became a National Golden Gloves Champion. Ennis had a standout amateur career, notching an impressive record of 58-3 on the tough East Coast circuit. In 2015 Ennis was the No. 1-rated amateur at 141 pounds, narrowly missing out on a chance to represent the United States at the 2016 Olympics, losing a box-off to Gary Antuanne Russell, at the Olympic Trials.
Reserved and likable outside the ring, and a bit brash inside it, Ennis just turned 21 and is trained by his father Derek “Bozy” Ennis. The Ennis family has been represented on ShoBox before, with Derek Jr. winning in 2007, while Farah Ennis suffered his first career defeat to Badou Jack, in 2013. Jaron appreciates the history of ShoBox, “It’s great to follow in my brothers’ footsteps, and I am ready to take the Ennis last name to the next level. This is the opportunity I have been waiting for. I can’t wait to show the world my talent. A win on this platform would mean everything. From here on out, I want to fight only the big names in the division. I feel grateful for this opportunity to show the world my talents and skills.”
In March Ennis was honored in his hometown, receiving the Bennie Briscoe Award for most promising young boxer. John DiSanto, founder of the Briscoe Awards, was effusive in his praise for the last Ennis, “Jaron Ennis has every Philly boxing fan excited. He is the real thing, and, at the rate he’s going, he’ll be fighting for the title in another year.” Only two years ago Jaron was on the same stage accepting the “Amateur of the Year” Award, and was named “Rookie of the Year” last year. Ennis was humble, and looking forward to more awards, “I want to thank God, my family – Mom and Dad and my brothers. I wouldn’t be where I am today if they hadn’t led me the right way. 2018 is going to be a good year.”
Local promoter Chris Middendorf told The Ring Magazine’s Francisco Salazar that Ennis seems a notch above everyone he meets in the ring, “The exciting part is seeing anyone develop as a pro, and that is what I see in Jaron. He’s 20 years old but his speed and strength are increasing. His overall skill set, at his age, is impressive. I’ve been around boxing a long time, where you get excited to see fighters when they accumulate a 15-0 or 16-0 record but then they plateau. I don’t think Jaron is going to stop getting better anytime soon.” As importantly, in Middendorf’s opinion, “What I’m more impressed with is how Jaron has his head screwed on straight. He’s a terrific kid, so the pressure is on us to continue his development, and to see how far we can push him.”
That next push is facing an undefeated opponent for the first time. Ennis enters on a high, scoring the best win of his career, with a second round stoppage of former junior welterweight contender Mike Arnaoutis. A focused Ennis never allowed Arnaoutis’ experience to come into play, starting in an aggressive fashion. He pushed the Greek veteran back from the opening bell, with a great jab, and befuddling speed. Arnaoutis never confused or deterred Ennis, as a flurry of punches dropped Arnaoutis in the second round, putting him into survival mode. Ennis did not allow Arnaoutis to recover, keeping great distance, using his 5-foot-10 frame to drop Arnaoutis a second time, prompting the corner to throw in the towel.
Armando Alvarez, a native of the Florida Keys, enters the fight on a similarly impressive knockout streak, as Ennis has stopped six of his last seven opponents. However the level of opposition was weaker but the 28-year-old Alvarez has repeatedly stated his physical maturity will see him through. Alvarez will need some kind of advantage, as he lacks Ennis’ pedigree, only posting a 26-4 amateur record but winning the the Florida State Championship, and came to the sport late, at age 18. Alvarez is cognizant that he needs a big win to launch his career, “This is the biggest opportunity I have ever received. This is it. It’s on. Ennis is a great young fighter but I think he has stepped out of his league. He is just a kid. The world will find out who Armando Alvarez is on July 20.”
There is a blue-collar intensity to Alvarez, a local hero with eyes firmly on a prize outside his zip code. Alvarez confidently told Sara Matthis of the Keys Weekly website, “This is definitely a life-changing event. We are both the toughest competitor either has ever faced. He is a better boxer than me but I’m going to run him over. I’m the bigger guy. I’m gonna get on top of him, and run him over.” Alvarez is correct about his superiority in size, entering with a three-inch reach and height advantage, but the question is whether Alvarez has the boxing IQ to put that to good use against a well-schooled Ennis.
In the main support, American Thomas Mattice, 12-0 (10), takes on Armenian import (now living and fighting out of Los Angeles) Zhora Hamazaryan, 9-0 (6), in a lightweight match-up that has the real possibility to steal the show. Mattice graduated from street fighting, as he puts it, to excelling in the red-hot Cleveland amateur scene, with a 72-18 record. A three-time state champion, Mattice earned a bronze at the U.S. Nationals and showed resilience in his ShoBox debut, sweeping the late rounds before a TKO stoppage of Rolando Chinea. It was his fifth straight knockout and Mattice is looking for more, “I am excited for the opportunity to showcase my talent again on ShoBox. “I’m going to go out there and do what I did before. I’m going to get a win, hopefully in knockout fashion. This guy (Hamazaryan) doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into.”
Unfortunately for Mattice, Hamazaryan does know what he is getting into, and should be prepared, given an amateur resume of over 200 bouts. This is Hamazaryan’s second fight in America, after reportedly turning down the opportunity to represent Armenia at the 2016 Olympics. Hamazaryan is confident, despite a four-inch disadvantage in height, “I am very excited to be fighting on national television in America. I know Mattice is undefeated but I normally don’t look at my opponent. I’m just looking to put on a great performance, and make a statement for fans in the U.S. I prefer to not look at any tape of my opponents. I look at this as just another fight. I want to get in there, win the fight, take care of business, and move on to the next one.”
The opener between junior welterweight prospects Montana Love, 11-0 (5), and former national amateur champion Kenneth Sims Jr., 12-1 (4), has the makings of a chess match. Both Love, another Cleveland product, and Sims are making their second ShoBox appearances. Love has better memories, winning his debut, “I am excited and happy to be back. I want to put on another great performance. Sims and I grew up as amateurs together. He’s a good fighter but I am hungry, and want to keep rolling. I can’t let anything get in my way.” Sims had a valid excuse for his ShoBox setback; an elbow injury hampered him, and he is ready to redeem himself, “This is my chance to prove that I’m back, and that the loss on ShoBox was a fluke. I remember Love from the amateurs, and I know I have what it takes to beat him.”
It should be an entertaining tripleheader for viewers, and, if it lives up to previous ShoBox episodes, it will give fans an exciting look into the future.