The Business of Boots (Ennis That Is)


By Luis A. Cortes III

In one of his early fights, 2022 Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cotto was in one of the main supporting bouts on a high profile pay-per-view. Legendary boxing commentator Larry Merchant remarked that part of the reason for Cotto being featured was to showcase his talents for both the audience attending the event and the fans watching at home. “We are going to find out if Cotto is going to be the kind of fighter that people are going to take flights, get hotel rooms, and pay for tickets to see.”

For Jaron “Boots” Ennis, his time to transition from a highly touted interim world champion to a legitimate box office draw has arrived. On Saturday night in Atlantic City, live on Showtime, Ennis (30-0, 27 KOs) is being thrust into the main event against Romain Villa (27-1, 24 KOs), a surprise, yet serious contender in an event that from a commercial standpoint relies heavily on Ennis’s name. Originally set to take place in the Events Center inside the luxurious Borgata Hotel and Casino, the venue was changed to the Adrian Phillips Ballroom inside Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. Logistics played a part in the change since both venues have a capacity of around 3,000 fans.

To Ennis, the change of venue was of little concern. “I’ve grown up around this sport since I was a baby. Nothing on that end of things (business) bothers me,” said Ennis, reiterating his history with the sport that he loves.

So far everything else that Ennis has faced throughout his seven-year professional career has been handled with that same calm demeanor that matches his persona both in and out of the ring. It’s a persona that at times has had fans wanting more from the 26-year-old boxer who has shied away from the fiery rhetoric that fans can easily gravitate towards.

It was this character trait that led some to criticize him after his most recent fight in January of this year on the undercard of Gervonta Davis’s fight with Hector Garcia. On that night Ennis defeated Karen Chukhadzhian to claim an interim world championship, winning every round against an opponent who was unwilling to engage in any meaningful exchanges. In going twelve rounds for the first time, Ennis gained the much-needed experience that all top fighters need at some point as their competition level rises, but more was expected of him in terms of “building his brand.”

What some perceived as a lackluster performance wasn’t lost on Ennis. “Going the distance in my last fight didn’t put any pressure on me leading up to his one. I can’t go looking for the knockout, that’s when you don’t get it,” stated Ennis. However as is the case with so many quiet, determined, and focused young fighters, the truth came out when he laced up his gloves for a workout just a week away from fight night.

After countless four-minute rounds on the heavy bag, pad work, and beating up a body shield, Ennis turned and simply said as he shook his head, “he’s going to have a long night.” It’s the type of simple statement that suggests Ennis is aware of the task at hand. He knows that looking spectacular in victory will help to generate crossover appeal that would create huge anticipation from the mainstream sports world as he moves forward toward possible mega showdowns with the winner of Crawford-Spence or bouts against former champions Yordenis Ugas and Keith Thurman who are tentatively slated to square off next month.

What was lost on many observers that night in January was the fact that while the Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. was sold out and packed with Tank Davis’s supporters, a sea of “JBE” (Jaron Boots Ennis) shirts flooded both the halls and the lower bowl of the arena. This signified that while Ennis has been on everyone’s radar as the next big thing in the welterweight division from a talent perspective, he might also be the heir-apparent for the division in terms of generating large live gates. When Ennis entered the arena that night, he received a loud welcome not only from those wearing his shirts but also from supporters of Davis.

Just how all of this translates into purchasing power is the ultimate question. With Philadelphia, Ennis’s hometown, being just a little over an hour’s drive away from Atlantic City, ticket sales suggest that the business of Boots is alive and well. “It’s been less than a month since tickets went on sale and (as of Thursday evening) there were less than 150 tickets left,” said Marshall Kauffman, head of King’s Promotions, who is working with PBC to put on this event. Kauffman anticipates a complete sellout while noting that more tickets should be released to accommodate walk-up sales on Saturday night.

Ultimately what this could mean for Team Ennis is that a local following has not only surfaced, but it’s the type of following that with continued success could lead to Ennis eventually gracing the ring inside the main arena downstairs from the Adrian Phillips Ballroom inside Boardwalk Hall, an arena that can hold upwards of 10,000 fans. It’s the arena that the late Hall-of-Famer Arturo Gatti was able to sell out on nine consecutive occasions.

Villa represents an intriguing opponent for Ennis due to his come-forward and press-the-action style. Not only does it give Ennis the opportunity to showcase his versatile skill set, it gives him the chance to solidify his name as an attraction and enhance his profile in ways that matter at the negotiating table. An impressive victory over Villa on Saturday ensures that the business of Boots will continue to move forward towards bigger and better things.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME