A strip of duct tape covered the tattered punch shield, enough to hold it together but not enough to give hope that the shield would be able to withstand the crushing blows Jaron Ennis was ready to unleash.
He is one of boxing’s feared knockout artists, a rising star from Germantown who could soon be Philadelphia’s next world champion with the chance to reach even greater heights.
Ennis’ father, a lifer boxer still chasing his first world championship, is his trainer and his older brothers – two fighters from Philadelphia who found success before hitting their ceilings – inspired Ennis to dream while providing a roadmap of pitfalls to avoid on your way to the top.
He is the product of a dedicated boxing family, and a win on Saturday will put the Ennis family in line later this year for that elusive world title. And it was in places like this gritty Frankford gymnasium affectionately known as “The Dungeon” that the boxer’s dream blossomed.
Ennis, nicknamed “Boots”, has been a professional for six years, but his father says his career started before he could even walk. Derek “Bozy” Ennis, who fought six professional fights before becoming a trainer, was hitting a heavy sack years ago when baby Jaron Ennis rolled over in his walker and mimicked his dad’s hands.
Last week, days before Saturday’s crucial fight, the father grabbed the taped punch shield as his son cracked it, each blow sending chunks of the protective padding onto the ring canvas, the tape to do its job. .
Jaron Ennis, the 24-year-old powerful enough to deteriorate a punching shield, will be in the ring Saturday for an IBF title eliminator on Showtime against Custio Clayton in Carson, Calif. The winner will become the mandatory challenger for IBF welterweight. Title.
And Ennis won’t just be fighting for himself.
“He has everyone in him,” his father said.
Jaron Ennis is over 10 years younger than his older brothers, so he was barely a teenager when they headlined in Atlantic City or fought on national television. Derek “Pooh” Ennis and Farah Ennis were two of Philadelphia’s top prospects as they climbed the rankings, allowing their younger brother to imagine himself doing the same.
“Having them as boxers was everything,” Ennis said. “I always wanted to be like them. They fought on TV on Showtime and ESPN and I wanted to be like them when I grew up. I’m here.”
Derek Ennis, a middleweight, was ranked No. 3 by the IBF and Farah Ennis, a super middleweight, was ranked No. 6 by the WBC.
Like Jaron Ennis, the older brothers had promising careers and title hopes. But the dedication that showed early in their careers faded as the spotlight got brighter. The distractions that came with fame were too hard to avoid.
“My dad said, ‘We wanted to be famous in Philadelphia instead of world famous,'” Derek Ennis, 41, said as the brothers were also trained by their father. “That’s the difference between us and Jaron. He observed our errors. All the mistakes we made, he took them and turned them into positives. He knows my brother and I were everywhere. We were running everywhere. I was on the street playing and partying.
The brothers avoided serious trouble outside the ring, but they warped between fights, thinking they could just apply themselves in the weeks leading up to a fight. Their dad told them to always stay in the gym, which was easier said than done.
The title shots that once seemed so certain never happened as both promising careers ended as contenders.
“That’s what separates Jaron from us,” said Farrah Ennis, 39. “There are no distractions. Nothing can distract him from getting where he wants to go. He doesn’t party. He doesn’t drink. He does not smoke. He doesn’t chase girls. The gym is where he gets his excitement.
His brothers inspired him, his father trained him, and even his mother played a part in helping invent the name Ennis wears on his trunks in every fight. Sharon Ennis called him “Boops” when he was a boy but the nickname was misheard one day as “Boots” when Ennis went with his dad to the gym. And that’s how Ennis is best known in the ring.
“It’s just stuck,” Ennis said.
Ennis trains during the day, runs a Bucks County track at night, and falls asleep. That’s about it, he said, as he even stays off social media except to post certain things to keep his name relevant. He’s back in the gym a week after every fight, always staying in shape so he doesn’t have to fight his body like his brothers did.
“Boots is different,” Bozy Ennis said.
The Ennis brothers, who now assist their father in training their younger sibling, don’t have to remind Jaron Ennis of their mistakes. He saw it all himself.
“My brothers showed me the way,” Ennis said. “They showed me what to do, what not to do. They told me to always be in shape because you never know when you’re going to get a call. Stay focused and stay locked in.
“The loop is definitely closed. I was at their fights and now they are at all my fights. It’s crazy how life changes. »
The 2,500 square foot venue on Paul Street in Frankford, just a block from the Market-Frankford El, is called Philly 1 on 1 Boxing. But when 66-year-old Bozy Ennis is there, it becomes “Bozy’s Dungeon.”
Ennis has trained his fighters all over town since the start of his career at the former Police Athletic League gymnasium on Seymour Street in Germantown. This former gym was below street level and a visit from Naazim Richardson – Germantown’s legendary trainer – in the early 90s provided the nickname that stuck.
“He said, ‘Bo, you better get these guys out of the dungeon. These guys are good fighters,’ Bozy Ennis said. “That’s why this is ‘Bozy’s Dungeon.’ Naazim is that one. Now it’s like my logo.
The “Bozy’s Dungeon” sign—a white wooden sign with black lettering—has followed Ennis to various locations around town, but the environment in these gymnasiums always seems the same.
“The dungeon is all about hard work, courage and the grind. It’s about always finding a way to win,” said Jaron Ennis. “Everyone comes here to improve and it’s a great community. We try to improve ourselves every day.
The heavy bags inside the dungeon are taped, the ceiling is wooden, and a steel hoist sits in the middle of the room from when the gymnasium was a cart repair shop. Fighters train by hitting a hammer against a tractor tire and chopping a log with an axe.
The ring is worn while the boxers – those with promise like Ennis and others who fight on the weekends in local casinos – go in and out all day.
It’s the epitome of the Philadelphia gymnasium because visitors know what they’re getting as soon as they open the door.
“I like dirty gyms. I like when it’s gritty,” Derek “Pooh” Ennis said. they say to each other “Ohh”. I felt like people who train in very nice gyms are always soft. They have air conditioning in the summer. We don’t need that. We train to sweat.
The Dungeon is where Jaron Ennis went from baby in a walker to amateur champion while attending Saul High School to a rising star who seems to do everything right inside and outside the ring.
“I’m different,” Ennis said. “I am naturally gifted. I fight right-handed, left-handed or orthodox. I can box or punch. It does not matter. I’m like a variety pack. Anything you need I can do.
Jaron Ennis could train anywhere. But he drives 40 minutes every day to Frankford from his home in Horsham.
There are no locker rooms, so the fighter is trapped by some as the next face of boxing grabs his stuff from the metal locker – the one with “Boots” written on a piece of duct tape – near the entrance and change behind the check-in counter. The dungeon is all he has ever known and it is where Ennis calls himself home.
“You have to be dedicated. You must be faithful. You have to really want to work,” his father said. “A lot of them came to the dungeon but a lot of them couldn’t survive a lot of the things we were doing. That’s why I call it the dungeon. If you can’t go through the things that I am teaching you, then it is not for you.
Ennis no longer has a promoter, but he has a lucrative multi-fight deal with Showtime which will help him line up against the top names in the Premier Boxing Champions stable run by Al Haymon.
Ennis’ last 18 wins have come by way of stoppage, including seven first-round knockouts. This power has made it difficult to find credible opponents, as some consider Ennis too risky. Even finding sparring partners, her dad says, can be unsettling.
But that shouldn’t be the case as Showtime seems determined to lead Ennis to stardom.
His final opponent was thought to be a step up in the competition, but Ennis knocked out Thomas Dulorme in one round. Clayton (19-0-1, 12 KOs) is 34 and unspectacular, making Ennis a heavy favorite. In October 2020, Canadian Clayton fought Sergey Lipinets to a draw. Six months later, Ennis knocked out Lipinets in the sixth round.
A victory on Saturday would make Ennis the No. 1 contender for Errol Spence’s IBF welterweight title. Spence is set to defend his title later this year against Terrence Crawford, but Ennis is unlikely to face either.
Crawford said he plans to move up to the 154-pound super welterweight next, and Ennis’ father expects Spence to shun his son. If Ennis wins on Saturday, a likely scenario would be that he faces former champion Keith Thurman later this year for a vacant title.
“I feel like I’m getting fat, but that’s nothing new to me,” Ennis said. “I’ve been into this stuff for a long time, so it feels normal to me. Boxing has always been fun for me and it still is. It comes naturally. I don’t fight for money. I fight because I like to fight.
He could end this year as a world champion and one of boxing’s brightest stars. But none of that happens without a victory on Saturday.
His brothers, those who inspired him to be better than them, will sit with him in the locker room and walk behind him in the ring, feeling the energy of his fights the same way Ennis did. during theirs. And his dad, the guy who taught his sons how to box and swept the pieces of ring padding after his son punched through that punch shield, will be in his corner.
Jaron Ennis will be alone in the ring when the bell rings, but his family will be with him. A victory will bring them all closer to their dream.
“I’m trying to take my last name to the next level, and I will,” Ennis said. “Me winning a world title, my first belt, I put it right on my dad. I won’t even take it. It falls on him because he deserves it. He’s been in this game for a long time. It was his time to shine. That’s all he knows. He created us all, basically.