By John DiSanto – Philly Boxing History (.com)
Heavyweight Bryant Jennings has had a transformative year. He began 2012 as a 6-round prospect antsy for bigger fights, bigger money, and bigger opportunities. So what else is new? Almost every fighter feels the same way. But Bryant Jennings was struck by a lightning bolt of good fortune, and had the smarts, courage and attitude to seize the opportunity that wound up being the first of many toppling dominoes in his suddenly hot boxing career.
Jennings started the year at 10-0 with a chance of a heavyweight title shot so far in the distance that even he had to squint to see it. But with a little more luck and another good performance, Jennings will end the year at 16-0, and with a world title shot directly in his sights. Jennings takes on Bowie Tupou, 22-2, 16 KOs, in his first USBA heavyweight title defense before a hometown crowd at Temple University’s Pearson / McGonigle Halls on Saturday night, December 8th. The fight will be the feature bout on the latest edition of NBC Sports Network’s live “Fight Night” boxing series. It will be Jennings’ fifth fight of the year.
“I’m expecting to win this fight,” Jennings said. “2013? I see big things. And at this rate, I see things going real far, real soon. I’m doing great things and it’s finally being recognized. I mean, they got to give it to me.”
The “it” Jennings is referring to is a shot at the world heavyweight title. He fought his way to the #5 position in the IBF this year, and seems to be nearing a chance to fight one of the Klitschko brothers. If you think a match with either Wladimir or Vitali is too much for a relative newbie like as Jennings, he and his team do not agree.
“I know he’ll do better than anybody else who fought the Klitschkos in the last five years.” said Fred Jenkins Sr., Jennings’ trainer. “Five times better, ten times better. That’s why we are willing to sign a two-fight deal to fight one brother, and then fight the other brother right after, no matter what the situation is.”
Clearly if Jennings can keep winning, getting that call from one the Klitschkos is just a matter of time. But the task at hand for Jennings is to tackle Bowie Tupou at home, before his North Philly crowd. In a homecoming fight like this, what usually comes along with all that hometown love and support is often a mountain of pressure that can often affect a fighter’s performance.
“I’m not feeling added pressure,” Jennings said. “At first I did, but the closer I get to the fight, the more and more focused I get. (Dealing with the pressure) is the mental part of the game. You’re always going to have that, but as long as you can control it, and not let it get the best of you, you can stay focused on winning the fight.”
On fight night, some boxers let the desire to please their hometown crowd make them stray from the fight plan and do things they wouldn’t normally do. Jennings doesn’t feel he’ll fall into that trap.
“It’s not a distraction,” Jennings said. “A lot of people are going to be there, but it’s only going to be two people in that ring. It’s going to be me and it’s going to be Bowie. Lately I haven’t really been thinking about where it’s going to be taking place. I just look at my opponent, look at my future, look at my career and just stay focused. Treat this fight like it’s any place in the world.”
Focus seems to be the name of Jennings’ game. Coming so far, so quickly was a challenge, but he’s handled it well. He hasn’t backed away from a single challenge, or passed up a single offer since his star began to rise. He just wants to fight anyone who can move his career forward.
“I don’t know nothing at all (about Tupou),” Jennings said. I still haven’t watched the tape. Maybe two days before, I’ll take a glance at it. I don’t want to get wrapped up in trying to study a person. He has a good trainer in Jeff Mayweather, and I know they’re smart enough to try to change a few things and bring a different Bowie Tupou.”
Tupou was born in Tonga, grew up in Australia, and came to the USA to further his boxing career. He’s defeated a few fringe heavyweights and faltered just twice in 24 fights. Most recently, he retired in the final round of his bout with Philly native Malik Scott due to an arm injury. Tupou will carry advantages of height and weight into the fight.
However, Jennings is no ordinary heavyweight when it comes to training and conditioning. He works harder than most fighters out there, and certainly harder than other heavyweights. Jennings’ work ethic is a major part of his success. In January when he answered the call for that first NBC show, he didn’t have another fight scheduled, but still he was in the gym working hard, and ready to accept a serious fight with just one week’s notice. His breakneck schedule ever since fits him well.
“He’s a workaholic,” said Fred Jenkins. “Basically he trains every day, unless I make him take off. And he usually don’t take off. He’s usually in the gym every day. That’s how he thrives. I don’t think he could go to sleep at night if he didn’t put in a good workout. He’d be up all night.”
But having said that, Jennings is the first to admit that it’s been a long year.
“This camp is long,” he said. “A long eight weeks. A whole lot of work. A whole lot of effort. More and more dedication. It’s been tough. Not keeping the pace, but accelerating it. Just out-working myself from my last performance, and it’s just an uphill battle. But at least it’s uphill. I just can’t wait for the fight to be over with. Like I said, it’s been a long eight weeks. It’s the end of the year, the holidays. I’m just hoping for an early Christmas present.”
And would Jennings like next year to be as busy as 2012?
“Yes, but my expectation is to be getting ready for a world title,” Jennings said. (And when he wins the world title) I won’t be trying to defend my title four times in one year. I’ll be trying to enjoy some of the festivities of being world champ. But if no title shot comes in 2013, then I would try to work even more. Whatever I got to do to get the title.”
Jennings has handled everything thrown at him this year and passed every test with flying colors. He’s earned a little rest after this fight, but I doubt he’ll take it. He is driven to achieve his goals, and only knows one way to do it. Hard work. But that’s what makes him special. He’s always worked like this, but this year he’s proven that he can handle the pressure, both in and out of the ring. Jennings has worked and willed his way to his current position, and isn’t finished working yet. There’s just too much left for him to achieve.
“It’s been a rough ride,” he said. “I plan to continue this ride. Try to make it smooth, and fight my way out of every battle, win every fight, look good every fight, and just keep working toward my goal to be heavyweight champion of the world.
For more on the Philly fight scene – past and present, visit www.phillyboxinghistory.com.