James Tennyson takes out Gavin Gwynne in turf war

James Tennyson takes out Gavin Gwynne in turf war

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

By Dewi Powell: Trelewis’ Gavin Gwynne (12-2, 2KO) saw his second challenge for the British title end in heartbreak and backfire at the explosive hands of Belfast’s James Tennyson (27-3, 23KO).

Tennyson had been stopped on three occasions at featherweight and super-featherweight, most recently in an IBF world title challenge against Tevin Farmer. Gwynne believed his size, as an established lightweight, would play a part in the fight and his gritty performance led to a thumping six-round clash on Matchroom’s first show since boxing returned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gwynne and Tennyson shared some similarities. They were both hard working family men who started on their respective local small hall scenes. However, there was one gaping gap between them and that was how hard they hit. Whilst Eddie Hearn’s pre-fight claim that Tennyson was ‘the most exciting pound-for-pound puncher in world boxing’ was an example of blatant promotional hyperbole, it was the Northern Irishman’s immense power that made the difference.

“I had to be on my game because, at any given time, he could’ve landed and knocked me clean spark out,” said Gwynne in acknowledgment of his uncomfortable assignment. “He was the hardest hitting person I’ve ever been in with and I’ve been in with super-middleweights. I can honestly say, he hits like a super-middleweight, that kind of power.

“He hit me with a jab early and I thought it was a backhand. I was so surprised at the amount of power he was generating. I was catching shots on my gloves and, honest to God, I’d never felt anything like it.

“As the fight was getting on, I was getting quite comfortable and I switched off for a couple of seconds. I got hit with a right hand, a hook to the side of the head, and everything went grey. I couldn’t see at all and that’s when I took a knee.

“I could hear the referee go ‘five, six…’ and I had to get up. It was still all blurry and all I remember is the ref saying ‘what’s your name?’ and I was thinking ‘what’s your name?’ I didn’t know where I was. He’s a fierce finisher and he got the job done.”

The show was the first instalment of Hearn’s inventive ‘Fight Camp’ series based in the garden of Matchroom’s headquarters, a multimillion-pound mansion in Brentwood, Essex. The expensive experiment spanned four weeks and was reported to cost £5m. A canopy was erected, the type seen at stadium fights, and it was accompanied by fireworks and pyrotechnics. The extra trimmings transformed the scene into a striking outdoor venue and it resembled a luxury garden party, especially with the London skyline in the background.

There was such interest in the unique concept that plans were underway for it to become an annual occasion. The lawn might’ve needed relaying but Hearn, ever the opportunist, was happy the ambitious operational venture paid off, especially when talk of a television documentary series surfaced. 90 people spent the week in the ‘bubble’ at a nearby hotel and they were joined by a further 90 people, mainly broadcast and operations staff, on fight night. It was a boring but safe arrangement, plus it saved the boxers the effort of running around to sell tickets as usually happens in the chaotic final days before a normal show. Barry Hearn, head of the family, was banished from the garden because of recent heart operations. Instead, he was said to be watching through an upstairs window of the mansion that was once his family home.

As one of the first boxers to get the Fight Camp treatment, Gwynne was full of praise for the landmark setup. He said: “It’s one to tell the grandkids. I don’t think it’s ever going to happen again. Being on the first show as well was a surreal experience, all of it.

“It was unbelievable, something you’ve never seen before. It was like walking out on a movie set, that’s what it was like. He pulled it out of the bag. He brought boxing back.”

After the boxers emerged from specially constructed changing rooms, they jabbed from long range for all of 30 seconds. Then, as expected, both squeezed up their guards and got stuck into each other – it didn’t take long. At six foot, Gwynne had the height and reach to avoid a tear up but not the tendency, which suited Tennyson’s tactics. Their heads came close to bumping, a symptom of the eagerness to land first, and Gwynne’s facial features were further reddened by Tennyson’s heavier shots.

Tennyson made a strong start to the second round and his pressure pushed Gwynne on to the ropes, whose right cross response dislodged Tennyson’s gumshield. Gwynne, like countryman Craig Evans in November, was busier and had no problem finding the target. He pumped short straight punches and then introduced even shorter hooks around the sides, followed by uppercuts through the middle. It irritated Tennyson who was soon warned for using his head by referee Phil Edwards.

Gwynne continued to chip away in the third and fourth rounds, even though Tennyson’s pressure was relentless and he simply didn’t stop coming forward. ‘The Assassin’ produced 18 of his stoppages within three rounds and Gwynne was happy to get through the most dangerous part of the fight. However, Gwynne’s constant output came at a cost and there was visible damage to his left eye approaching the mid-rounds.

Tennyson, a former Commonwealth and European champion, didn’t appear to be getting through Gwynne’s defence very often but whenever he did, the punches made their mark. He stayed composed amidst an intense pace and concentrated on damaging Gwynne, rather than outfoxing him or banking rounds. For example, Tennyson barely threw a jab in the fifth round and Gwynne tried to take advantage, bloodying his nose and pushing him on to the ropes before the bell rang. Again, the offense came at a cost for the Tony Borg trained contender. It left an opening and Tennyson landed two hard uppercuts to cause another cut, this time below Gwynne’s right eye.

Sky Sports’ commentary team offered backhanded compliments but Gwynne could’ve argued that he was narrowly ahead after five rounds. Tennyson recognised that time was ticking away and he picked his shots with more precision to start the sixth round. Springing on to the front foot, Tennyson stepped in with forceful hooks and they landed when Gwynne tried to change direction. The 30-year-old still made admirable attempts to resist Tennyson’s attacks, only to be moved backwards more easily than before. Gwynne’s own energy levels, usually so dependable, were being put to a test he hadn’t faced before and so was his reputable toughness.

The breakthrough came when Gwynne held his left hand out to fend Tennyson off and left his chin unprotected. Tennyson’s fast twitch muscle memory instantly reacted and he took the opportunity to detonate a clean right cross. It took a second or two but Gwynne eventually succumbed to the shot, kneeling for a count and the temporary chance to recover. Tennyson is a natural finisher and he rushed Gwynne when he rose, twice pinning him to the ropes and swinging in hurtful hooks. It forced the referee to end the fight as Gwynne was trapped on the ropes and unable to escape.

“I think I should’ve stayed on the inside a bit more. When I was moving away, he caught me when my hand was down, it’s my fault really,” said Gwynne in his post-fight breakdown of the rights and wrongs of his performance. “I think if I stayed in there [up close], he could’ve tired. I hit him with a body shot in the second round and he told me he felt it. It was only 20 seconds left and the bell went.

“I thought the tide was turning and I backed him up to the ropes. I think he gave me a false [sense of] security, sort of thing. That’s all down to his experience. It was only my 14th fight and he’s probably had more championship fights than I’ve had fights, y’know what I mean? I’m still learning the game.”

There was no shame in the loss and Tennyson’s power could problem anyone at domestic level. Gwynne only recalls being hurt once before, during a spar with a welterweight, and it’s difficult to prepare for it happening mid-fight when the cameras are rolling. He was unlucky in the sense that his two British title challenges, against Joe Cordina and Tennyson, came against opponents headed for world title contention. In the latest fight, Gwynne was also without the home support originally planned for 9 May.

Hearn and Gwynne shared a few conversations in the outside area afforded to everyone in the bubble and the promoter took a shine to the Welsh champion when they were isolated together. That support could be as influential as an arena full of fans given Hearn’s role as a major powerbroker. Afterwards, he was full of praise for Gwynne’s heart and other opportunities could be available in the future. There were still plans to come back to Cardiff for Lee Selby’s world title eliminator in October and Gwynne was well-positioned to feature on the undercard. The Commonwealth title was vacant and it suited everyone’s agenda.

“We were having some chats and I think he does like me,” maintained Gwynne. “He knows I’m a genuine guy, I’m a hardworking guy. All I want is that belt and to try [financially] secure my family. He likes that sort of fighter and he knows I’m not cutting no corners. I’ll put the hard work in and I think he’s going to give me another shot and an easier opponent.

“Being on them shows, it raises your profile massively. Two of my last [three] fights, I’ve been on two of the biggest Matchroom shows and I’m not even a Matchroom fighter. I bet Matchroom fighters are getting on to Eddie and asking him ‘what’s the craic?’ He knows I’m game and I always give a good, exciting fight. It sells to the public because of my kind of style.

“I’m not about being all brash. I’m not one of them type of guys, loud mouthing and calling people out. If they offer me a fight, I’ll fight anyone, anywhere.”

As a self-employed tradesman, Gwynne insists it was worth taking unpaid time off work for the shot at becoming British champion. The father-of-one used his savings to fund family commitments during his training for Tennyson and he can always say he was a part of history. Fight Camp will certainly be one of the most unique sections of his scrapbook but Gwynne was uneasy about looking back at it too fondly, mindful that he doesn’t want to be remembered for taking part, he wants to be remembered for winning.

“A lot of people thought I was going to pull the upset off. That’s why I was gutted, letting people down… but I think I done myself justice,” said Gwynne as he came to terms with the conflicting feelings of pride amidst inevitable disappointment.

“I still feel young and I still feel like I’ve got plenty of years left. I haven’t had wars. This is probably the only time I come out of the ring bruised up.

“I give all respect to James. He’s a really nice guy and I just hope he goes on and wins a world title, if I’m honest. He deserves it and I have full respect for him.”

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

Image by Matchroom.

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