by Gary Purfield
Six days before Eddie Chambers was scheduled to headline the first NBC Fight Night card, he walked into Main Events Promotions to inform them he would not be able to fight Sergei Liakhovich that coming Friday due to a rib injury. The former title challenger and popular Philly heavyweight was supposed to be one of the main attractions toward bringing a live audience and television viewers to the opening event for Main Events” new boxing series on NBC Sports. Chambers dropping out was a big blow.
While promoters and everyone involved worried about what they would do to replace Chambers, another Philadelphia heavyweight saw an opportunity that needed to be taken. Former football and basketball star turned boxer, Bryant Jennings, believed Chambers’ misfortune was his opportunity to fast track his way into the heavyweight picture. He wanted to jump on the chance to headline a major fight card. He felt that with only eleven fights into a pro career with little amateur background he was ready for his opportunity.
“Alright, when Chambers first went down, I’m thinking opportunity. That’s one thing, opportunity. Opportunity is success, because opportunity is a chance at success. Opportunity itself is a chance. That’s what I was thinking. I have a chance to do this and like I’ve said, I’ve been around with guys that were there before. I’ve worked with a lot of guys and I felt as though I’m missing too much by not actually taking this opportunity. I think I’m supposed to be here, I think I’m ready.”
Jennings was given his opportunity. He was quickly scheduled to headline the Fight Night card in his hometown against fellow Philadelphia undefeated heavyweight prospect, Maurice Byarm. Instead of two better known heavyweights in Chambers and Liakhovich, Main Events and NBC rolled the dice on short notice with two young guns eager to prove something. The gamble paid off as Jennings and Byarm put on an action-filled scrap that entertained the local fight fans and the TV audience watching at home. Jennings was right when he said that he was ready. He took home a unanimous decision victory over Byarm and got his first piece of hardware ,winning the Pennsylvania State Heavyweight title.
Bryant Jennings got a late start in the sport of boxing, where most fighters in the pro game begin the sport at a very young age. Jennings, being a six foot, two inch physical specimen did what most big talented athletes do these days, he played football and basketball, and he was good at it. He had talent and was highly recruited to play college football, but various issues kept him from the college level.
“My basketball and my football background, pretty much all the way from a youngin to the high school days. When I was in high school I was a top prospect in Pennsylvania for football. I was highly recruited but I had some problems going on with my school staff, with them pushing me. That was my reason for not going to college. I had some problems with the school staff. For some reason they didn’t push me enough. I was living on my own at the time so I didn’t really kiss ass. They didn’t understand the fact that I couldn’t make certain weekends or couldn’t do certain things. They thought that was neglect and felt I wasn’t ready. They shouldn’t have done that and I definitely had the ability to take it to the next level.”
But Jennings chooses not to worry about the past and focus on the future. He began boxing only three years ago, stating his first day in the boxing gym was in January of 2009. He wants to make the most of his new opportunity instead of focusing on the past.
“It’s kind of like, uh, it’s like you cry over spilled milk. Now that I look back on it, I look at it as though I did a lot of that. To where it didn’t happen before, but the opportunity comes for me again to be great at something and I’m just running with it now. I just don’t reflect on it too much, you know because what I’m doing now. It’s over and done with so there’s nothing I can do about it. So you know I’m just on to what’s next. Once one thing don’t work out, I’m on to something else. You know I have a lot of trades and I know how to do a lot of things. Once one thing don’t work I’m on to next because you ain’t got time to waste. Time is ticking and you gotta do something.”
While Jennings lacks the long amateur pedigree and years of training in the gym, he makes up for it with the things he learned over his many years of sports and physical conditioning. In his mind, the boxing part can be learned, but the toughest aspect is one he mastered a long time ago. That is staying in shape and being physically ready to fight.
“I always knew how to fight in the streets. You know I always knew how to hold my hands. I had a lot of heart and I had drive. I had will and I was already in shape so I had a head start with a lot of things. You know most of the guys who fight they teach them how to throw certain combinations and do all that. But the hardest part is getting the guys in shape and getting them ready to actually fight. I came in shape. I just had to work on, you know, the basics, learn a couple things, learn a couple tricks, get used to it, you know, get in there. So I had a head up being in shape.”
His dedication to conditioning was a big reason why he got the NBC date on such short notice. Everyone involved, including his promoter/Fight Night matchmaker Russell Peltz, knew he could jump in on short notice because he constantly stays in shape. He doesn’t need six weeks to get his body ready. He is always ready due to strong dedication to going above and beyond in the gym.
“Well, say like for instance if I think it takes three [weeks], when it only takes two, I’m a give it four. You see I’ll always do that. So bottom line, I’m always working hard. I never slack. I think this is what it really takes to be a champion. If not, then somebody prove it to me. I haven’t been told yet. They say I’m doing a good job. I’ve seen guys work out on a professional level, at a high professional level. I’ve worked with guys who have been at a high professional level. Guys who have actually been up to the top. I’ve sparred with guys who have been up to the top. They, themselves, they even say they’ve never done stuff like that. They’ve never seen nothing like it. I’m doing good. So far so good.”
If you have seen Jennings fight you know he is probably right when he says so far, so good. He has won his first twelve fights and has the perfect physique with excellent stamina. He was able to out-muscle the heavier Byarm early, withstand a mid-rounds rally, and use his conditioning to regain control late in the fight. Jennings talked about what he took away from the Byarm fight.
“I learned a lot. I learned something mental, a lot of mental. Boxing is, I always expect a mentality in boxing so boxing is definitely a mental sport and I realize that it’s way more mental that I thought it was because, I mean, it took me over. That was the end that I actually had, as opposed to already being more in shape, being a more accurate guy. But at the same time, with my body, the way my body felt, my mental took over to where my drive, my will, my competitiveness, everything just took place. And it took me over and I realized that’s a very good attribute of mine. I don’t want to give up. I don’t plan on giving up. For me to just keep going and keep going I feel as though that was a good attribute. So I learned a lot mentally.”
Jennings did not seem fazed by being on national TV.
“The crowd and all, you know they gonna be there. There’s always an audience when you fight. TV only matters when you see the replay ’cause your living it so you’re not that big on TV. In the midst of everything you do want your fans at home to watch, but that’s not your main focus. It’s basically my composure in the ring, my comfort in the ring, and that’s one thing that I learned. I got a lot of experience from that.”
This Saturday though, Jennings faces a far bigger threat than another undefeated prospect. Standing across from him in the ring this time is former WBO heavyweight champ, Sergei Liakhovich, who has far more pedigree and experience. Liakhovich is the classically trained boxer that started at a young age, had an extensive amateur career, including an appearance in the Olympics, and has fought some of the best heavyweights in the world.
While Jennings respects his opponent’s experience he feels it is his time to shine. He expects his conditioning and will to make up for the gap in ring experience.
“The thing I need to careful about with him is the same thing I need to be careful about with all heavyweights. We all have the power to gain a knockout with any punch. So that right there is out the window because that’s something I’m already looking for. But I think I have more will. I’m just, I appear to be the hungrier guy, which I think I am. I’m the younger, I’m the hungrier guy. I want it more. Like he had his chance. It’s like the AI [Allen Iverson]. We love you, we respect you, but I got to get you forty points. Just like you got yours, I need mine. So it’s a level of respect there for what he did in the past but when we meet, hey, nothing matters but that win for me.”
Jennings is charting a path that is far different than most fighters today. Instead of taking his natural talent and allowing his promoter to protect him en route to a glossy undefeated record through his first twenty to twenty-five fights, he wants to challenge himself right here, right now. He wants to be truly ready one day when the big opportunity comes knocking. It’s what drives him to take on someone of Liakhovich’s experience and ability so early in his career.
“I watch the game and I see a lot of guys, they get twenty-something and 0. Say they get twenty-three, twenty-four and 0 and they say they don’t think they’re ready for the top yet. I’m thinking like how the hell you get twenty-four, twenty-five fights and you’re not ready. You’re not at the top level yet. What are you doing your whole time? But I feel as though I’ll chop the time up a little bit, you work a little harder, you got to be a whole lot more dedicated if you chop the time up a little bit. But I feel as though the opportunity, opportunity is what I looked at. Opportunity looked me right in the face and said you gonna take it or you gonna wait. I took it.”
Jennings figures win or lose he will gain valuable experience and will find out if he has what it takes to make it in boxing. He is looking to get on the fast track to the top of the heavyweight division.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m going for because I got to look at it like; I think if most guys would take opportunity a little earlier in their career it would make them better. By the time they get to a certain point, because sometimes some guys duck a lot of stuff. Guys duck the tough fights so they duck a lot of that. I’m saying give me the tape. Win or lose you’re going to get a lesson from it. In boxing you got to learn lessons. Sometimes you got to test yourself. You got to test yourself someday very big like I’m doing here. So I feel let’s not wait till 40-0 and have to waste my dog-gone time and come to find out I don’t really have it. Let me find out now.”
- Jennings’ busy training scheduled is also coupled with other activities. He works as a mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank and is starting his own company called Elite Klass. Multiple other fighters from his gym, the ABC Rec Center, often sport shirts with Elite Klass logo supporting their gym partner.
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