By Gary Purfield
Most kids at some point were told Aesop’s fable that the tortoise beat the hare by going slow and steady. Bryant Jennings (13-0, 6 KO) was likely out doing roadwork or hitting a heavy bag at the time so he missed this lesson. The young heavyweight prospect is looking to run, not walk through the heavyweight ranks as fast as possible. Instead of a slow moving progression to develop a fancy unbeaten record, Jennings is looking to fight the best early and often.
Jennings’ race to the mainstream began with a lucky break that turned into opportunity last January. When Eddie Chambers had to drop out of the opening Fight Night card several days before the fight, opportunity came knocking. Jennings (11-0 at that time), who stays in the gym and in shape at all times was ready and willing when asked if he would fight fellow undefeated prospect Maurice Byarm in the main event of the NBC Sports card.
He is twenty-seven and only started boxing three years ago, but was always a talented athlete who excelled at football and basketball. When asked to step in on the Fight Night card on short notice he knew he was physically in shape, anxious to test himself, and confident in his abilities. In a past interview, talked about his desire to test himself now and not wait for opportunity.
“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.”
The gamble paid off as Jennings took a unanimous decision in an exciting clash of young heavyweights. Not looking to go backward, he took on a far more experienced challenge in the next Fight Night card, facing veteran former heavyweight title holder Sergei Liakhovich. Jennings again was impressive in dominating the former champ and stopping him at the end of round nine.
Many felt that Jennings had bitten off more than he could chew, taking on Liakhovich so early in his career. It is one thing to face another prospect, but a whole other thing to face a grizzled veteran who has held a world title. As it turned out, it was Liakhovich who was in over his head. The younger Jennings beat the former champ at every turn, landing more often and connecting with the harder punches. Jennings got stronger as the fight went along until finally Liakhovich’s corner had seen enough, giving Jennings the most impressive victory thus far in his young career.
Jennings also received a ring of endorsement from the best trainer of this era and recent hall of fame inductee Freddie Roach, who was doing color commentary on NBC Sports for the fight. Roach stated “I think Bryant Jennings is the best prospect America has right now in the heavyweight division.” Pretty good endorsement from someone who knows the sport and has never been shy about speaking the truth. Obviously Jennings was thrilled with the statement.
“I totally went crazy after I heard that. He had told me personally, but when he announced it on national television, I was blown away. Freddie knows boxing.”
This Saturday Jennings faces another challenge in Steve Collins who will be coming in from Houston, TX and making his first appearance on national TV. Collins (25-1-1, 18 KO) may not sport the undefeated record of Byarm or be a former champ like Liakhoivch, but his record indicates he is dangerous puncher. Collins has built his record on a club circuit, but has eleven first round knockouts and six more within three rounds.
Jennings will likely get past Collins and could look good doing it. Collins record is largely built against poor opposition and he was stopped in his one loss. If Jennings comes with the same aggression and work rate he had in his two previous fights he could look good in front of the large live audience that will hit the Prudential Center as well as the viewers at home. Still, the fight fits Jennings’ willingness to test himself as few 13-0 prospects are willing to get in with someone who is 25-1-1 regardless of how that record was built.
You get the sense that while Jennings wants to remain undefeated he is not afraid to lose. He is willing to take the risk of challenging himself that comes at the risk of a loss, but can deliver the reward of bigger things. Jennings knows either way when you fight stiff competition you grow and learn, becoming a better fighter.
“I don’t look to be the perfect fighter with the perfect record. I’m looking to be the perfect fighter. Sometimes you got to put that undefeated record on the line to prove who’s best, to prove who’s better, let the best man win. If you keep ducking fights by the time you get to the end, you lose it. It deteriorates the fighter. So I figure it’s best to take this chance right here early in my career.”
Time and more fights will tell if Jennings is America’s best prospect with world title potential. What is known now is that Jennings has no desire to face soft opposition and build a pampered record. He wants to fight tough and gain the lessons that are learned from testing yourself. Jennings is seeking to gain every experience and lesson that can be learned sooner rather than later so that if the world title chance comes along he is ready for the opportunity.
“I’ll be better off than guys who continue to pick around. I look at a lot of fighters, they get to that 22-0, then they get all the way up to near the top. Then all of a sudden they say this guy’s not ready to fight for the title. What do you mean? He’s been in the game for that long, you’ve got all those wins, and you’re not ready to be the best in the world. I’m getting ready right now early in my career.”
Jennings may just prove the fable wrong. He may just run his way to the top.
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