Courtney Pennington doesn’t have a lengthy amateur background to fall back on, but at least one of his fights from his short amateur career might help guide him through his latest challenge next month at Twin River Casino.
On Saturday, Feb. 4th, 2017, the Brooklyn-born Pennington faces reigning Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) junior middleweight title-holder and Worcester, Mass., native Khiary Gray (14-1, 11 KOs) in the eight-round main event of CES Boxing’s 2017 season opener, a rematch of their 2012 amateur fight at Gleason’s Gym in New York in the annual Long Island Amateur Boxing Championships.
Pennington admits he didn’t realize Gray was a former adversary until after he had already accepted the rematch, but now that his memory has been jogged, he remembers winning that night and also remembers how and why his opponent struggled, which he says is a pattern he’s picked up on since watching Gray as a pro, most notably in Gray’s loss to Ian Green on ShoBox: The New Generation in July.
“I saw him have trouble with the jab just as he had trouble in our fight in the amateurs,” Pennington said. “There are some things I see. Fighters have tendencies. There are a lot of areas where he’s the same fighter. We’ll be looking to capitalize on that.
“He gets a little over-aggressive, which is another thing we like to capitalize on. A fighter can punch as hard as he wants and be as fast as he wants, but that boxing skill to maintain your distance and not overshoot your punches, as you grow up to fight a higher caliber of fighter, that definitely starts to get exposed.”
Gray’s trainer, Kendrick Ball, remembers it differently.
“Khiary really wasn’t a busy fighter at the time, but he was making the kid miss like crazy,” Ball said. “He really didn’t touch Khiary. I thought we definitely won the fight, but they gave him the win because he was from there. That’s OK. We’ll make up for it now.”
Gray’s International and Northeast UBF titles are up for grabs in the Feb. 4th headliner, promoted by CES Boxing in association with Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing.
Tickets are priced at $47.00, $102.00, $127.00 (VIP) and $152.00 (VIP) and can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com, www.twinriver.com or www.ticketmaster.com, by phone at 401-724-2253/2254 or at the Twin River Casino Players Club. All fights and fighters are subject to change.
Trained by Mustafa Marconi at Brooklyn’s Jamiva Boxing, the 30-year-old Pennington considers himself a thinking man’s fighter, a student of the game who pays attention to the opposition in his weight class and watches as much boxing as possible to hone his craft.
Like many New York-born fighters, he’s been forced to adapt in recent months as new insurance regulations passed by the state assembly have priced out many mid-level regional promoters; Pennington’s promoter, Star Boxing, a fan-favorite in the metro area for its long-running fight series at the Paramount Theater, hasn’t promoted a show in New York since August. Pennington himself hasn’t fought there since April.
“The New York situation has everyone on edge,” he said. “Everyone is looking for fights, especially in our area because, of course, we want to build our fan base locally, but we’ve had to adapt to whatever has been brought to us.
“I look at boxing in this generation like this: In the beginning of a boxer’s career, yeah, you have to move carefully and manage the fighter. You don’t want him to face any tough competition in the beginning, but the only way to truly develop as a fighter is to challenge yourself. I want to develop to the best of my abilities, so that’s why I’m willing to challenge myself. Of course, I’m realistic. I’m not ready to fight Canelo [Alvarez] right now, but I’ve fought a lot of tough fights.”
One of them occurred just a few months ago in November when Pennington took his act to Connecticut and stopped 14-1-1 Boyd Melson in the seventh round of a scheduled eight-round fight, a big lift for Pennington following his narrow loss to fellow New Yorker Patrick Day in April.
While Pennington wouldn’t go as far as to say the win over Melson was a confidence-booster – “the confidence was never gone,” he said – he’s aware of the difference in each of his last two fights and how his success ultimately hinges on his ability to execute the game plan.
“Even though I lost the Patrick Day fight, just how the fight went, I knew if it was a longer fight I could’ve won the fight, or if I had done what I was supposed to do from the beginning,” Pennington said. “We knew why we lost. It wasn’t because he was a better fighter.
“I was a little too complacent in the beginning of the fight. That’s what had me behind on the cards. If we did what we had to do that night, we’d have won the fight. I didn’t care about having a tune-up fight or an easy fight next. I wanted a tough fight because I know my abilities and I know who I’m supposed to be.”
After stepping up to face Melson on foreign soil, Pennington again travels north to Rhode Island, which has become Gray’s home base since he turned pro in June of 2014. On paper, Gray is likely considered the favorite based on his dazzling 14-1 record and knockout ratio, but Pennington warns against judging fighter’s based on their record, particularly his.
“My record is deceiving,” he said. “Of course, having been in some tough fights we have some losses we don’t like that don’t look good on my record, however, we’re doing great as far as attracting fights we want.
“My last fight, I feel like if I was undefeated, [Melson] wouldn’t have accepted the challenge. It put me in a great position to do what I had to do. I train with one of the best trainers. I’m in New York, so I have access to a bunch of great sparring. I spar with the best in New York. I’m ready. I feel great about this fight.”
New York and Boston-area sports teams have gone toe-to-toe for decades, whether it’s the Yankees and Red Sox or Giants and Patriots, and Feb. 4th is the latest chapter in the ancient east coast rivalry as the Brooklyn-born Pennington heads north to face the hard-hitting Bay State native Gray. The stakes are much higher this time around.
“I didn’t have a big amateur career career, so it took a little time for me to get my groove and be confident in the ring,” Pennington said. “When a boxer is confident in the ring, you can see by his composure. He’s relaxed, able to channel the crowd out and focus on the fight at hand. That’s when a fighter is at his supreme best. I feel I’ve been able to relax and I’ve been able to focus. I’m ready to go.”
The Feb. 4th card features an additional title bout as New Haven, Conn., vet Josh Crespo (7-4-3, 3 KOs) faces unbeaten Timmy Ramos (4-0-1, 4 KOs) of Framingham, Mass., in a six-round bout for the vacant New England Super Featherweight Championship.
In a battle of unbeatens, Hartford, Conn., prospect Jose Rivera (2-0, 2 KOs) faces his toughest test to date in a six-round junior middleweight showdown against New Bedford, Mass., vet Ray Oliveira Jr. (6-0, 1 KO) and fellow undefeated prospects and decorated amateurs Jamaine Ortiz (2-0, 2 KOs) of Worcester, Mass., and Canton Miller (2-0, 1 KO) of Saint Louis, Mo., square off in a four-round lightweight battle.
Framingham’s Julio Perez (4-1) ends his nine-month layoff in a four-round intrastate showdown against Salem vet Matt Doherty (5-3-1, 3 KOs), who returns to Twin River for the first time since July of 2015. Following a busy 2016 in which he fought six times in seven months, Worcester’s Kendrick Ball Jr. (4-0-2, 3 KOs) faces Minneapolis’ Kenneth Glenn (3-2, 1 KO) in a four-round middleweight bout, and Framingham middleweight Christopher Davis-Fogg (2-0, 1 KO) makes his Twin River debut in a four-round bout against Anthony Everett (1-4) of Lawrence, Mass.
Taunton, Mass., welterweight Marqus Bates (0-1) aims to bounce back from a loss in his professional debut in a four-round battle against Providence, R.I., native Aaron Muniz, who makes his debut. Junior welterweights Khiry Todd (1-0, 1 KO) of Lynn, Mass., and Anthony Marsella (3-0, 2 KOs) of Providence will be featured in separate four-round bouts. Both appeared on the 2016 season finale at Twin River with first-round knockouts wins; Marsella stopped Devante Seay for his second consecutive knockout win and Todd dominated Patrick Leal in his professional debut.
The Feb. 4th card will also feature two special CES Ring of Honor ceremonies inducting famed boxing trainer Kevin Rooney, who worked with world champions Mike Tyson and Vinny Paz in his storied career, and the late Manny Lopes of Marshfield, Mass., a former light heavyweight prospect who fought his entire career with CES Boxing until retiring undefeated in 2010.