TALKING to Jaron Ennis is a nightmare. Barely a sentence leaves his lips before a queue of doe-eyed well-wishers are fawning over him, eager to eulogise his recent performances and snatch a morsel of his attention. His reaction to the love shown is truly heart-warming; “Boots” appears genuinely touched by the affection Philadelphia is showering him with, acutely aware of the life he could have had were it not for the escape tunnel boxing dug for him.
“Nine times out of 10 a young black man in Philadelphia don’t make it,” the undefeated 23-year-old tells Boxing News. “A lot of bad things are going on here. But I never got caught up in anything. I just stayed focused, kept doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And that’s win. Be in the gym and keep bettering myself every time. When I’m in the gym I’m in my ‘happy place’. I don’t gotta worry about nothin’. I’d rather be in the gym than anywhere else. When you grow up here you gotta have heart, toughness, and you gotta stay hungry to survive.”
Sporting success has remained a treasured commodity in a city awash with gun crime, opiate addiction, and a spiralling murder rate. From Joe Frazier to Bernard Hopkins, the hope their achievements spark in this troubled but resilient community is not lost on Ennis, who remains unhesitant in placing himself alongside these local legends.
“I know that I’m gonna achieve what I want. And that’s becoming a world champion. A unified undisputed world champion in each division that I’m in. I wanna build a legacy, have a Hall Of Fame career, and go down in history as one of the best,” he declares. “I’ve been around this my whole life. Both my brothers were professional boxers, they fought on TV, the cameras were always around. I was already addicted to the lifestyle, it was nothing new to me, that’s why I’m so comfortable fighting on TV.”
Far from being merely ‘comfortable’, the decorated amateur has obliterated all-comers, meaning only two opponents have heard the final bell from his 26 victories. Many now view the powerful switch-hitter as the best prospect on the planet, but it’s a tag he balks at emphatically.
“I’m a contender now. I’m definitely not no prospect no more. Only time will tell but I’m gonna show the world. I was ready two years ago to fight anybody and everybody. Top five guys, world title eliminators, world titles. Anything. I can fight right handed, I can fight lefty, I’m slick, powerful, I have speed. Whatever you need, I’ve got it!”
Indeed, most fighters with a record as exceptional as his would be expecting big money fights with the division’s A-Listers to be just around the corner. But Ennis has suffered the same ‘high risk, low reward’ curse that many an up-and-coming fighter has had to contend with in boxing, struggling to find opponents willing to chance their reputation without an inflated payday to soften the blow.
Despite these frustrations he’s remained philosophical, keen to highlight how crucial a strong mentality is if a boxer’s to persevere through the sport’s political jiggery-pokery. “Resilience, that toughness. You either have it or you don’t. You can’t train for it. Everybody has their path to a world title. Mine is just taking a little longer. But it’s gonna be worth the wait. A year from now I believe that I will be a world champion. I’m destined to be great.”
With such declarations come the inevitable comparisons with the current leaders of the welterweight division, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jnr. His desire for a statement victory remains at the heart of his short-term ambitions, with Ennis firstly sounding out former WBA champion Yordenis Ugas as an opponent he’d like early next year before turning instantly bullish at the mention of the current belt-holders. He reserves particular barbs for Crawford before dismissing both him and Spence as any sort of threat.
“It’s facts. I’m bigger, faster, stronger, smarter. Whatever he [Crawford] can do I can do better. But fighting both will be the same result. Me going in there, having my fun, frustrating them, and doing damage like I always do. Breaking them down mentally and physically,” he insists.
Ennis puts much of his success down to the work his father/trainer, Derrick “Bozy” Ennis, has put in with him. Bozy was himself a pro back in the 70s and 80s, leaving the sport with a 12-1 record before going on to mentor all three of his sons in the ways of the noble art. These days he’s still a fierce competitor in the gym, demanding as much from himself as he does from any of his fighters. Ennis says the unique bond they share is the catalyst that pushes him beyond his limits.
“Whatever he says I do. And we always come out victorious. Everything’s easy between me and my dad. He’s more like my brother cos he still be working out with me, training and running. He’s like a sidekick with me, everything I do he can do. In my last camp he had me spar a heavyweight! Izim Izbaki, 3-0 with 2 KOs. He like 6ft 6!”
With another impressive knockout (over Juan Carlos Abreu) under his belt in recent weeks Ennis is expected to fight once more this December before targeting 2021 as the year he begins his reign. And for those devotees who’re already proclaiming his greatness, Ennis has good news. “I haven’t got out of first or second gear. I feel like I haven’t really got into my bag of tricks yet, I’ve only shown the world about 20-30 per cent yet, because I really haven’t had to. They haven’t seen nothing yet.”