Story & Photos by John DiSanto – PhillyBoxingHistory.com
Heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings, 16-0, 8 KOs, is a confident guy. He oozes that confidence whether he’s giving an interview, walking down the street, working in the gym, doing battle in the ring, or anything else. He has a tight grasp of who he is and who he wants to be, and he balances those two versions of himself with relative ease. His secret, I think, is that he accepts who he is and where he is now, but spends most of his energy on where he’s going. And he refuses to see this as a conflict of any kind. This is different than most fighters.
Ask any rising fighter who is one or two fights away from a title shot about his upcoming not-yet-title fight, and 99% of them will tell you that they aren’t even thinking about the future, and are completely focused on their very next opponent. They say that thoughts about the future beyond the next bout are premature.
Jennings doesn’t do that. He is the other 1%. He doesn’t stick to the script. He acknowledges the fight in his immediate path, but is clearly more focused on what is really on his mind – the title, the money, and the success that awaits him if he can keep winning.
This is departure from traditional boxing thinking. However, it is my opinion that this is how most boxers really do think. It’s just that almost every one of them follow the standard script and say that they are not yet concerned with the enormous opportunity that looms beyond their very next fight. I’ve always wondered how this was possible, or more frankly, I just didn’t believe them. How could they not at least have one eye on a rapidly approaching prize that could change their lives? Jennings’ rap is more believable.
“I don’t know nothing about him,” Jennings said when asked about Andrey Fedosov, 24-2, 19 KOs. “I rarely know anything about my opponents.” End of story. Bryant had nothing else to say about Fedosov or Friday night’s fight at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, PA. But he did have plenty to say about what could come in the near future. Another win or two, and a long-awaited phone call, could bring him a world title shot against one of the Klitschko brothers, who currently dominate the division. They are on top of the heavyweight heap right now, but both brothers may be nearing the end of their respective careers.
“If we wait until they retire, the market value of the heavyweight championship goes down, but if I can take it from them, I get to hold that marketing value, and I get to be that elite heavyweight,” Jennings said. “Therefore my marketing value only increases.”
This is exactly what is on Jennings’ mind right now, and it is refreshing to hear him talk about it freely. “I’m on my path,” he said. “I got the heart. I got the will, and I have the skill. I wouldn’t have done worse than any of the other guys that went in there (against champion Wladimir Klitschko). I would go in go in there and try to beat him, not just pick up a paycheck. I want to win. I want to beat him.”
Again, this is Klitschko he’s talking about, not Fedosov. So does looking beyond the next opponent set a fighter up for a fall?
Anyone who has seen Jennings train in the gym knows the answer to this. Clearly he has prepared himself physically for Friday’s bout like few fighters could do. Jennings is one of the hardest workers out there, if not the hardest. He trains every day whether he has a fight scheduled or not. “Patience is very much needed in this boxing game,” Jennings said. “I have to exercise my patience a lot.”
Jennings has sat idle and frustrated for the last six months, with no fight scheduled until now. A far cry from his breakout year of 2012 when he fought five times – all on national TV – and climbed from an unknown local, fighting 6-rounders, to a legitimate contender ranked #3 by the IBF.
Jennings’ rapid roll was slowed this year by factors that he says were boxing politics and business issues.
“Welcome to the fight game,” he said. “You’re going to have some obstacles. You’re going to have some time off. You’re going to have some things that may not permit you to box for a while. But it’s just the fight game.” Jennings chooses not to speak as clearly about these obstacles as he does his future. He skips the specifics.
“Just iron them out and get to it,” he said. “But at the same time, you have to maintain your focus, maintain your shape, your mentality, everything, and still be there.”
Jennings plans to be there Friday night. A slip up now would undo much of what he accomplished thus far.
“It wasn’t hard because I live this every day,” Jennings said about his training camp for Fedosov. “I do this every day. (As the fight nears) you work harder; you work out more times a day. Early mornings, late nights. So it wasn’t hard. It was just like any other fight.”
“He’s been in the gym for six months,” said Fred Jenkins, Sr., Jennings’ trainer. “It’s like holding a time bomb in a box. He’s ready to explode. Certain things didn’t work out and he didn’t fight. But now he’s ready to fight.”
Jenkins, a recent inductee to the PA Boxing Hall of Fame as a trainer, has been in the fight game for a long time. He’s worked with hundreds of fighters, and helped them have successful boxing careers. So far, he steered one fighter, Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown, to a world championship in 1984 (at lightweight). If Jenkins can take Jennings all the way to the top, it will be the crowning accomplishment of his career, and the biggest moment in the history of the ABC Rec Center at 26th and Master Streets, in North Philly.
“Just to have a heavyweight of his magnitude and his ability,” Jenkins said. “(I’m) trying to put into him all my experience with each of those (other) guys. He’s accomplishing the goals that those guys didn’t. The only thing he’s missing is that heavyweight championship fight. It’s like 31 years of hard labor should pay off with Bryant Jennings.”
It sounds like Bryant Jennings isn’t the only one with an eye on the future.
“You have to realize that Jennings already accomplished some great things,” Jenkins said. “He started late, but at each stage of the game he accomplished things. And right now he’s on the next level. The question is can he maintain the next level and be in the position for a world title. So he’s like six months away. I would actually like for him to fight for a world title as soon as possible, because he’s eager, he’s strong, he doesn’t know fear, and he finds a way to win.” But is Jennings really ready after only 16 fights, 17 after Friday?
“He runs like a lightweight, moves as fast as a lightweight, and he hits twice as hard as a heavyweight,” Jenkins said. “So he has an opportunity with anybody, no matter what their record is or how good they are. He deserves a shot now. When you’re trying to achieve greatness, you got to go after the greatest guys out there. Instead of waiting on the Klitschkos to retire, we’d rather step in the ring and prove our greatness. Every 20 years a fighter comes along that’s extraordinary and is a standout guy. It’s his work ethic, his work habits. They are over any other heavyweight in the division.”
“It’s been done before,” Jennings said. “I’m not trying to do something that’s never been done before. It’s been done plenty of times.”
One thing that hasn’t been done a lot recently is an American heavyweight winning the championship. Jennings is well aware of this fact, and he uses it as motivation.
“It’s not common,” Jennings said. “It’s not common and I have the ability to do it. That gives me the extra push. I know how important it is for America to have another heavyweight champion. It hasn’t been here in a long time. A long time. And if I can be that person, I know that means immediate greatness. So being the next American heavyweight champion of the world is bigger than anything right now. Bigger than anything. So that’s the goal.”
Jennings needs to keep winning and needs to make a statement each and every time he fights if he wants to land a Klitschko fight. He needs to give them a reason to fight him, and not a reason to avoid him. He needs to step up and prove he’s the next big thing in the division.
“It’s just real aggravating,” Jennings said. “This is not a sport you’re supposed to be in very long. Who has the time to wait around? We just have to calm ourselves down. I’m getting more calm and more comfortable, because I know how the fight game goes. But I’m pretty anxious to get in there. I’m a busy kind of guy. So I have to stay busy.”
Welcome to the fight game.
To read more on the Philly fight scene – past and present – visit www.PhillyBoxingHistory.com.