IF someone had told you in August 2017 that Namibia’s Julius Indongo would, come 2022, be returning to the UK – the scene of his career-best win – to fight Wales’ Chris Jenkins as a fighter 1-4 in his last four fights, you never would have believed it.
After all, four and a half years ago Indongo held two of the four super-lightweight belts and was squaring off against Terence Crawford, who owned the other two, in a fight many expected to at least be competitive. He had just defeated Ricky Burns in a masterful performance in Glasgow and before that had knocked out Eduard Troyanovsky in Russia. He was, for Crawford, deemed a danger, a threat, someone not be overlooked.
Three rounds later, however, Crawford had removed this threat and, unbeknown to Indongo, triggered his career demise. Since then, Indongo has been stopped three additional times – by Regis Prograis, Daniyar Yeleussinov and Hassan Mwakinyo – and has won just once, against the 4-1 Carltavius Jones Johnson.
Now, at 38, he returns to the UK this weekend (February 5) to fight Jenkins, a Welshman whose career to date has been fought against opponents considerably less well known.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” Jenkins told Boxing News. “When I lost to Ekow Essuman (last July), my contract ended with Frank Warren and wasn’t renewed. I thought, ‘here we go again, fighting on small hall shows and taking fights at the last minute’. But thanks to the great team around me this fight has come off and I’m really excited about it.
“I’m fighting in Cardiff, on a massive show for Wales, and I’m selling crazy amounts of tickets. I just have to repay them by putting on a fantastic performance now. I’m raring to go.”
If Indongo, 23-4 (12), feels desperate for a win, Jenkins can relate. For though his form has been nowhere near as patchy as his next opponent, the Swansea man did lose his last fight – an eighth-round stoppage against Essuman – and had to also settle for a four-round technical draw against Liam Taylor in the fight previous to that.
“It was a bitter pill to swallow,” Jenkins, 22-4-3 (8), said of the Essuman loss. “But the better man won on the night. Was he the better man on another night? We can’t really say. I fractured three ribs in round two and carried on going. But he won the fight and that’s the be-all and end-all of it.
“I spoke to Gary [Lockett, trainer] after the fight and I said, ‘What do you think, Gary?’ He said, ‘Woah, you’re not retiring. If it wasn’t for the rib injury you would have been well in the fight. Even with broken ribs you were still winning rounds.’
“So, I went away with the family caravanning in West Wales. I had to heal, so I couldn’t do too much anyway, and then I was back in the gym after that.
“Retirement was in the back of my mind but as soon as I spoke to the right people, my wife and Gary, I knew for a fact I’d be fighting again very, very soon. It’s been a while, don’t get me wrong, but it took 12 weeks for the ribs to heal. We’ve obviously had lockdowns and stuff like that as well. I’m just thinking about fighting now, starting with this on February 5 in Cardiff.”
While the Indongo fight has surprised a lot of people within boxing circles, confused by its randomness, Jenkins’ shock was tempered somewhat by a lack of knowledge in this particular area. He had been aware of Indongo, of course, but had not followed his career, nor ever watched him with a view to one day calling him an opponent.
“I haven’t watched him over the years, no,” Jenkins said. “When his name was mentioned, all I was told were his credentials and I could tell instantly that this guy was no mug. He’s a former unified world champion. He’s beaten Ricky Burns. He also boxed Terence Crawford. He lost to Crawford, granted, but look where Crawford is now. He’s number one pound-for-pound in my opinion.
“Yes, he [Indongo] may have lost one or two since then that you would have expected him to win, but what he’s got is experience fighting at that top level. If you look at our records, they look similar, but what he has is top-level experience and what I might have in my favour is being a bit younger and a bit fresher at this moment in time.
“Also in his favour is that he is taller than me and has longer arms. But I haven’t been watching full fights of his, if I’m honest. I just sit down and watch a round here and a round there. I then might go back and have another look. All I’m worried about is working on the game plan Gary has given me in the gym.”
Just as important as a well-thought-out gameplan is timing – both in terms of punches being thrown and fights being taken.
“Boxing is about taking the fights at the right time,” Jenkins said. “Look at someone like Conor Benn and his recent fights. He’s fighting opponents at the right time. Here, it could be the right time for me and not for him [Indongo], or it could be the right time for him and not for me. I’ve just got to be focused and put in the hard work and make sure I execute the game plan.”