The big men are back in Madison Square Garden this weekend! For the first time in seven years, the main arena of the historic venue will stage a Wladimir Klitschko fight. The Ukrainian, who has a record of 63-3, 53 KOs, has dominated the division for the best part of a decade. He will put his WBA, WBO and IBF belts on the line against American Bryant Jennings (19-0, 10 KOs), an unbeaten contender from Philadelphia who will try and shock the world this Saturday night.
Men's Fitness caught up with someone who will be watching these two men very closely this Saturday night. Harold Lederman is HBO' s unofficial ringside scorer and is part of the broadcast team this weekend. Fight fans know him from his insights into how he is scoring a fight and his analysis on what the judges should be looking out for. Lederman started his career as a boxing judge in 1967 and has been bringing his boxing nous to fight fans on TV since 1986. We spoke to him about this weekend's matchup, the state of the heavyweight division in general, and the small matter of the biggest fight of the century coming up on May 2 between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
Men’s Fitness: How do you think the Wladimir Klitschko/Bryant Jennings fight might transpire? Will Wladimir just use his jab to break down another fighter and then use his right hand to finish?
Harold Lederman: You never know with heavyweights. He (Klitschko) hasn’t fought in New York in a long time and hasn’t been in the United States in a long time. You never know what he’s going to do, but Wladimir is smart. Like you said, he’s going to throw a lot of jabs and set his opponents up for his big right hand – he’s got a huge right hand. I think if he wins next Saturday night it’ll make, what, 18 successful defenses of his title and he wants Joe Lewis’ record, which is 25 successful defenses. So I think that’s his aim right now. Bryant Jennings has to fight a smart fight. He’s got to move his head, circle if he can, and stay away from him. He needs to get inside and land a few hard right hands of his own. Klitschko is known to possibly be a little shaky when he gets hit. So I think that's what it's going to boil down to. I think Klitschko will jab primarily, and then look to use his right hand to knockout Jennings. Jennings, on the other hand, is going to look to throw an overhand right and hit Klitschko on the jaw and do the best he can to stay away from Klitschko's jab. You don't want to stand right in front of Wladimir, because if you do, you're going to get knocked out.
MF: The last time Klitschko fought at MSG was against Sultan Ibragimov. There was a fantastic atmosphere at MSG but it wasn't a great fight. Have you seen in the past couple of fights that Wladimir, not that he's come out of his shell, has been in more exciting fights?
HL: I think it definitely is exciting because of the fact that he's been scoring early knockouts, but he hasn't had great opposition. But like you say, the atmosphere for a heavyweight title fight at Madison Square Garden is like no other place in the world. It's electric. I mean it goes all the way back to the Joe Lewis days because he fought so many times at Madison Square Garden, and the Garden really is the Mecca of boxing. There’s a tremendous atmosphere [in] the place. There's nothing like a heavyweight title fight. That's why I tell all my friends to come, just because of the atmosphere. Heavyweight title fights are a breed of their own. I think it's the most coveted championship in all of sports. I really believe that from the bottom of my heart. And I think that it's going to be really exciting at the Garden on April 25th because of the fact that Klitschko is back, because of the fact that they're fighting for the heavyweight title in the United States. Deontay Wilder has a piece of the heavyweight championship, but Klitschko has three of the four belts, and he really is recognized as the champion. I'm excited about it. I think that heavyweight championship boxing at Madison Square Garden...it just doesn't get any better than that.
MF: Jennings is a 19-0 fighter who beat Mike Perez in his last outing to earn this title shot. Has this fight come a little too soon to fight someone with the experience of Klitschko, or does Jennings have it in his arsenal to pull off a shock?
HL: Even Jennings has a few things going for him. Number one, he's a Philadelphia fighter. Philadelphia has an enormous reputation of producing great fighters and tough guys. So that's number one. Number two, he's had terrific training with Freddy Jenkins who himself was a fighter, and whose son is a fighter. Freddy is the kind of guy that will really prepare Jennings properly. Number three, the kid is undefeated with ten knockouts. He's done a lot so far in his career and he seems to be a good TV fighter. Hopefully he'll be able to give Klitschko more than a few rounds. I'm looking forward to Bryant Jennings getting in the ring with Wladimir. We don't have that many heavyweights out there in the United States. Certainly if they could put together a Klitschko/Deontay Wilder fight that would be great, but there's not too many really good US heavyweights out there right now. I think Bryant Jennings is a very good opponent. As I said, he is undefeated, has 10 knockouts, is a Philadelphia fighter, and he has a good right hand. He's got all of that going for him. So I hope we'll have a great night on April 25.
MF: Jennings is getting his shot now, and Wilder is the WBC champion, but outside of those two guys, is there any one else coming up that that may have the potential to be a top American heavyweight? Chris Arreola was there or thereabouts for a while, but is there anyone else out there?
HL: American heavyweights, it’s very hard to find one. Ha! There's not too many out there. You know Chris Arreola hasn't really looked too great lately and he barely won his last fight. He was in no shape. He was up around 260 pounds, which is just 20 pounds too heavy for Arreola. So the US roster for heavyweights is very, very slim. On the other hand I love the former Olympic heavyweight gold medal winner Anthony Joshua in England. I think that Anthony Joshua is definitely a force to be reckoned with. I think that he's going to eventually wind up beating guys like David Price and Tyson Fury and David Haye and Derrick Chisora and all the other candidates they have for the heavyweight championship in the United Kingdom. I mean I like Anthony Joshua. He's 6'6" and a huge, huge puncher. I mean he throws a punch with enormous force. I looked at the way he smacked at those first 11 guys and he hits them and they fall down. He's just an enormous puncher. Klitschko doesn't hit that hard. He's probably the hardest hitter in the division right now, but you can't fight Klitschko with only 11 fights. I think certainly Anthony Joshua is the best prospect I've seen in the last two years or so.
MF: In some fights the judges get things right and in others they don't. Are there any particular things that make judging difficult?
HL: In my mind it's not hard. It's very easy. I think that other judges may find it hard. I don't find it hard at all. I call it the way I see it. You watch fights long enough, you get to know pretty much what you're looking at, and I think I've reached a stage where I've got a certain amount of expertise. I've been with HBO for 29 years and I started judging professional boxing in 1967. I went all the way through 2001 before I stopped judging professional boxing, so that's a long time. I don't find it difficult at all. I think some of the other judges may find it difficult, but I don't. I find it very routine. It's like you watch two kids fight on the street. You know who's winning because the other guy loses. It's the same thing. Basically you say to yourself: "who hurt the other guy [and] when did the other guy hurt him?" and the guy that did the most damage gets 10 points. The guy that did the least amount of damage gets nine points, and it's that simple.
MF: What's your take on the big fight on May 2 between Floyd and Manny? How do you see that going?
HL: Well, I don't know who is going to be the unofficial score keeper. It may be me, so I don't want to pick a winner. But I do think it's going to be a very exciting fight. I think the world wanted to see it for so long. I'm so happy that these two guys finally got it together, and with the amount of money that they're making I'm sure they're going to give it their all. They're going to try to win this fight much harder than any other fight they've ever been in, which is going to make for an exciting fight because these are two guys that really know how to fight. Floyd Mayweather is absolutely one of the great defensive fighters in boxing. It's hard to get a good shot at him. He uses that shoulder roll so effectively it's amazing. Manny Pacquiao turns every which way but loose. The guy’s a southpaw; he circles to the right as opposed to a right-handed side and he circles to his left. Manny is very, very good at making a circle in both directions. So he will circle to the right, he'll circle to the left, and he will hit you with either hand because he's very ambidextrous. For a southpaw he has a tremendous right hand, he's got a great right hook. Of course, his power is in his left hand. He uses the ring very well. He just turns his opponents very, very well, and he keeps them off balance. That's what makes him so good. I really expect this is going to be an exciting fight. Floyd's got quite a bit of power. He hasn't been knocking guys dead recently but he's a powerful guy. He's scored a lot of knockouts in his career - we all remember the Ricky Hatton knockout. I'm looking forward to an exciting fight, I'll put it to you that way. One thing I will say, I really, really expect it to go 12 rounds.
MF: Before we go, you can't pick a winner for the Klitschko/Jennings fight, but do you see that one going the full 12 rounds?
HL: No! It ain't going the distance, that's for sure.
Make sure to catch the fight this weekend on HBO. The telecast starts at 10 p.m. ET. Follow Harold Lederman on Twitter @shotfighter26.