Extra Points: Ennis delivers terrific performance in Atlantic City, NJ
By DAVID WEINBERG
ATLANTIC CITY - IBF interim welterweight champion Jaron Ennis delivered an impressive performance Saturday night and so did the fans in a capacity crowd filled Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom who were there to see Ennis take on Venezuela's Roiman Villa in what was Atlantic City's first world title fight in a year and a half.
Roars and cheers from fans sporting white "Team Ennis" t-shirts filled the air. They rose from their seats when Ennis landed a powerful punch, po inting cell phone cameras toward the ring in hopes of capturing a knockout on video.
They were rewarded in the 10th round, when Ennis (31-0, 28 KOs) capped a three-punch flurry with a left hook that landed flush on Villa's temple. Villa (26-2, 24 KOs), who had never been stopped in his eight-year pro career, sagged to the canvas against the ropes, prompting referee David Fields to wisely stop the bout without a count at 1 minute, 27 seconds of the round.
"I was setting him up," Ennis said. "I hit him with a big left hand and I knew he was going down. I appreciate Villa taking this fight. Hats off to him and his family. I appreciate him for coming in and being a warrior. Let's give it up for Villa. He's a tough guy."
Villa's toughness made helped turn the bout into a thrilling slugfest. The 30-year-old ate a four-course meal of jabs, uppercuts, hooks and crosses throughout the first six rounds, but left room for dessert. Ennis peppered him with combinations, but Villa doggedly refused to take a backward step and fired his own body shots and overhand rights in response.
Although official judges Mark Consentino (59-55), Lynne Carter (58-56) and John McKaie (59-55) had Ennis in front after six rounds, but it was essentially an even fight. Every exchange ended with either Ennis or Villa landing a powerful shot that drew gasps from the fans.
"Bravery is in our blood," Villa told SI.com earlier in the week. "I'm used to this kind of pressure."
Villa, who now lives in Dallas, endured a tough upbringing in Venezuela, according to SI.com. He was forced to deal with poverty and later was threatened by organized crime syndicates who tried to extort him as his career began to take off.
"Look, my life depends on winning," he said. "Today, it's the threat situation. Five years ago, it was a hunger situation. I've been in survival mode my entire life."
Ennis' relentless attack gradually enabled him to take control of the scheduled 12-round bout, however. By the eighth round, Villa was bleeding from his nose and a small cut above his left eye, while bruises began to form on his cheeks and forehead. Ringside physicians visited his corner after the eighth and ninth rounds.
Villa gamely tried to rally, throwing wild punches in hopes that one would connect. But Ennis deftly avoided those haymakers and then ended the bout.
"I knew he was a tough kid," Ennis said. "I was getting hit with shots I wasn't supposed to get hit with. But I just had to be smart and take my time and keep touching and touching and eventually I was going to get him."
According to CompuBox statistics, Ennis landed 23 of 62 punches per round and 47.1 percent of his power punches.
Saturday's fight was the first championship bout in Atlantic City since January 22, 2022, when Mark Magsayo upset WBC featherweight champion Gary Russell Jr. at Borgata Hotel, Casino and Spa. It was also the first one at Boardwalk Hall since 2019, when Clarissa Shields unified the women's middleweight title with a unanimous decision over Christina Hammer.
There's a bigger dry spell that needs to end, however: Both Ennis-Villa and Shields-Hammer were held at Boardwalk Hall's upstairs ballroom. There hasn't been a big fight in the venue's main arena in nearly a decade, since then-light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev beat Bernard Hopkins on November 8, 2014.
It was once the country's premier boxing venue where fans would flock to Boardwalk Hall to watch epic fights such as Tyson-Spinks, Holyfield-Foreman, Gatti-Ward III and Pavlik-Taylor I.
For various reasons, Atlantic City casino officials and other entities have shied away from pursuing mega-fights. Twenty years ago, the upcoming mega-bout between welterweight champs Terence Crawford and Errol Spence would have been a shoo-in for Boardwalk Hall, but instead will be held in Las Vegas.
Another factor behind the drought is the lack of a drawing card along the lines of Mike Tyson, Arturo Gatti and Kelly Pavlik, who were exciting and popular fighters. Ennis, who is nicknamed "Boots," has the style and fan support to possibly fill that void. An Ennis fight against the Crawford-Spence winner would be perfect.
"I'll fight all the top guys out there," Ennis said. "Let's make those fights happen."
And let's make them happen in Atlantic City!