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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wladimir Klitschko used his big jab to extend a nine-year reign as world heavyweight champion with a unanimous points decision over a game but limited Bryant Jennings at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
Returning to the United States and the Garden for the first time in seven years, the 39-year-old Ukrainian regretted not being able to overpower the American challenger as he outboxed his opponent in an 18th consecutive successful title defense.
The pro-Klitschko crowd, which numbered more than 17,000, lavished cheers and chants on the champion and his older brother, former champion and now Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko, who helped warm up the winner prior to the bout.
"Bryant Jennings was really mobile and really tough to hit," said Klitschko, sounding apologetic for not supplying a knockout finish to a bout in which he was defending five versions of the world title.
"I couldn't find the key to land punches I wanted to land, punches landed on his arms. Unfortunately, I didn't defend as impressively as I usually do."
Two judges scored it 116-111 and the third judge made it 118-109 for Klitschko, despite the champion being docked one point in the 10th for holding.
Klitschko, who tied the heavyweight record set by Joe Louis in contesting his 27th heavyweight title fight, improved to 64-3 as Jennings fell to 19-1.
"There were more exciting and less exciting wins," he said. "This one belongs to ones that were not as exciting."
The challenger and his camp felt they belonged in the world title class despite a relative lack of experience, with Jennings boxing for just six years.
Jennings, 30, said he proved detractors wrong. "This fight does not penetrate my confidence. I'm hoping I gained some respect and I know I gained some fans," he said.
Klitschko piled up points with his jab, while Jennings scored with rights to the ribs when the champion clinched and caught him a few times with leaping left-hand leads.
The champion threw a massive 383 jabs according to CompuBox statistics, scoring on 92 of them. Jennings connected on 16 jabs.
Jennings fought defensively for the first third of the bout with his gloves held high over his face, only occasionally springing into action.
In the middle third of the 12-rounder, the American turned more aggressive and by the ninth had caused a cut under Klitschko's left eye.
Klitschko responded with more combinations, following up his jab with a dangerous right.
Jennings was unmarked and neither fighter appeared in trouble at any point, though Klitschko finished strong with a big right hand in the final seconds.
Editing by Ian Ransom/John O'Brien