Story and photos by John DiSanto – Philly Boxing History (.com)
Rising heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings needs some help from the rest of the heavyweight division. He’s looking for someone to do what no other boxer has been able to do – shut him up. “Quite honestly, I’ve got to be shut up,” Jennings said recently after a typically rigorous workout at the ABC Recreational Center in North Philadelphia. “I’ve worked hard. I’ve succeeded so far, and I’m looking for a person to defeat me.”
An unusual request for a boxer, but Bryant Jennings is not your usual fighter. “I’m looking for the best competition out there,” he said. That’s the type of person I am. So, I’m looking to be shut up. Plain and simple. Just shut me up. If not, then I’ll keep talking. Until then, I’m just going to keep going higher, and higher, and higher. And the higher and higher I go, the more problem they going to have because the more confidence I’m going to build, the more strength I’m gonna have, the more mental my game is going to be, and I’m going to be a more dangerous fighter as I go on.”
So the rest of the heavyweight division better get him now. Because if Bryant Jennings builds any more confidence, he just may become unbeatable.
It’s been a dizzying nine months for Jennings. With a single fight – a nationally televised 10-round victory against Maurice Byarm in January – Jennings was transformed from a 6-round preliminary attraction into a fighter to be watched. At the time Byarm was also an undefeated rising hopeful, a step or two ahead of Jennings in reputation. But Jennings changed all that with an impressive workmanlike performance.
Two months later he destroyed former WBO heavyweight champion Sergei Liakhovich by 9th round stoppage. The fight was again shown nationally by NBC Sports Network, and sent the message that his sudden rise was no fluke.
In June, Jennings beat Steve Collins, again on NBCSN, to win the vacant USBA heavyweight title. The victory improved his world ranking to the #8 spot in the IBF.
“It’s astonishing,” Jennings said. “Because I didn’t even expect to do such things by this period of time. But the fight in January pretty much changed my whole career. I wasn’t expected to be here.”
Jennings, 14-0 (6 KOs), takes his next step on Saturday afternoon in a scheduled 10-round fight with Chris Koval, 25-9, (18 KOs) at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.
Koval is from Youngstown, Ohio, a boxing foundry that has produced numerous tough and talented fighters over the years. “Special K”, as he is known, has been in with some good fighters, but has yet to produce any real surprises in his career. Although he’s had more than twice as many fights as Jennings, clearly Koval will be a distinct underdog against on Saturday. Some even say that he’s nothing more than a stay busy opponent, for a guy who has had a string of tough fights and needs a breather. But Team Jennings can’t afford to think of him that way. The stakes are just too high.
“We take every fight serious, every fight the same,” said Bryant’s trainer, Fred Jenkins Sr. “Anything can happen in the heavyweight division. You’ve got heavyweights that with one punch can change the whole fight around. So basically we take this fight like we took all the other fights – real seriously.”
Jennings feel the same way.
“This is another step toward my goal,” Jennings said. “In all honesty, it may not be a step up in opposition, but I take every person seriously. That’s the game I’m in. I got to do what I got to do.”
That Jennings can approach the fight with no let down from the challenging stride he’s set all year, is a testament to his concentration and attitude.
“I pretty much erase who I’m fighting, and just look at it as my toughest fight yet,” Jennings said. “It’s not hard to do because I’m so focused on my goals. I mean, I’m so close to my goal. So why sit around and bullshit, knowing that all it takes is a little more effort to get there? So that’s easy to do.”
Jennings has been making everything look easy lately. The momentum he’s built this year is truly remarkable. However, a stumble against Koval would possibly erase everything he’s accomplished during his meteoric rise. But still, Jennings doesn’t pressure himself.
“I always have the goal to come out with the win, just a nice-looking win,” Jennings said. “Hey, if the knockout comes, then it comes. I don’t look for anything spectacular because spectacular wins scare guys away.”
And who is it that Jennings doesn’t want to scare away? The answer is obvious – the Klitschko brothers.
“Give me a chance to do what everybody else attempted to do,” Jennings said. “I do get anxious. The Klitschko brothers are so close to moving out. If I don’t get that chance before they move out, I feel as though it wouldn’t be as great. I think my greatest achievement would be defeating either one of the Klitschko brothers.”
Jennings feels that whenever opportunity comes knocking, he’ll be ready.
“I’ll be ready,” he said. “No thought about it. Some guys would love to do it for the check, but I’d like to do it for the opportunity.”
His trainer is on the same page.
“As soon as the opportunity comes, we grab it,” trainer Fred Jenkins said. “We already okay. We already willing to do it.”
I’m soaking it all in,” Jennings said of this moment in time. “Everything is going the way that I planned. Keeping my head on straight, making sure I’m stable with everything, being a good businessman, being a good father, still being a good person. Succeeding in my boxing. Making everybody feel happy, making my city feel proud, making me feel proud. I just do what I got to do.”
Jennings is doing all that now, but the best is yet to come.
To read more on the Philadelphia fight scene – past and present – visit www.phillyboxinghistory.com.
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