Philadelphia heavyweight Bryant Jennings ready to test himself

Posted: June 21, 2012

FOR A FIGHTER with only 14 professional bouts under his belt, there sure is a lot of boxing-circle buzz around Philadelphia heavyweight Bryant Jennings.

Earlier this month on NBC Sports Network, renowned trainer Freddie Roach called him "the best prospect America has right now in the heavyweight division."

Then on Saturday night in Newark, N.J., Jennings dismantled Steve Collins to capture the vacant USBA title. Fighting on NBCSN for the third time this year, he won all 10 rounds on all three score cards in dominating fashion.

At 27, Jennings is only in his third year as a professional fighter. He still works a day job as a mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, a job he returned to Monday morning less than 48 hours after his heavyweight tilt.

But with his record now 14-0 and his name climbing up the heavyweight ladder, an inevitable question looms. Is this 6-2 Ben Franklin High product already the best American heavyweight?

An intrepid Jennings says yes.

"I'm doing the best things right now," he said. "I consider myself a very skilled heavyweight with good defense, good offense, good ring movement and good reflexes."

Jennings is a well-rounded fighter who trainer Fred Jenkins says "moves like a lightweight and hits like a heavyweight." He features an imposing left jab, made more effective by an 84-inch reach.

At the moment, the heavyweight division is wide open. Wladimir Klitschko, 36, is the reigning WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight champion and his brother Vitali, 40, is the WBC champ. Both siblings are at least 6-6 and typically weigh in at over 240 pounds.

After that mountainous Ukrainian duo, Jennings believes his name should be firmly implanted on a short list of legitimate title contenders.

"I only consider the Klitschko brothers the elite in boxing today," Jennings said. "I want to respect the champions — lets keep that in mind. But anyone else, I don't consider elite unless you are putting me in that category also."

According to Jenkins, the Jennings camp wants a shot at one of the powerful siblings in January. With Vitali rumored to soon retire, that sibling would have to be Wladimir, who is 57-3 with 50 KOs.

"He's looking for his opportunity, that's all," Jenkins said. "If you're going to make mistakes, why not make them with the world champion?"

Jennings has shown an inclination to fight up or down to an opponent, which can only help him against Wladimir. After racking up 29 rounds of experience in those three TV bouts, Jenkins thinks his fighter's ring education is just about complete.

"He hasn't completed his learning," Jenkins said. "He needs to take another two or three steps. He might pick it up in a month or so, or it might take 3 or 4 months. It looks like everything is falling into place. In January, he will be ready to explode."

Usually weighing in just north of 220 pounds, Jennings would be giving up four inches and 20 pounds against Wladimir. While that discrepancy would probably make him a heavy underdog, he has been significantly outweighed in all of his fights this year.

"I've been fighting bigger guys with my last two opponents. Is 245 not heavy enough?" Jennings said. "Anything heavier than that is too big, and those guys don't bring anything but power. If you just have power, you're not bringing enough to the table when you're dealing with me."

Jennings' attitude is admirable considering his experience when compared to other perceived contenders. Headed into Saturday's fight, he was ranked the No. 15 heavyweight contender in the world by the IBF and should slide up with the victory.

So is a date with a Wladimir realistic in the near future?

Jennings' promoter, Philly-based J Russell Peltz, isn't so sure.

"We don't want to rush him," Peltz said. "I think expectations are a little too high right now. Is he the best American heavyweight? Maybe. He still needs to fight at least two more times this year. We'll see."

There may also be financial concerns in play. According to Peltz, boxers who have taken premature shot at Wladimir Klitschko have raked paydays in the low six figures.

"I don't think it's realistic financially," Peltz added. "By the time he is ready to fight him, he will deserve a lot more money than that."

For Jennings, all of that is just noise.

"I think I am ready within the next year," he said. "I'm undefeated, I haven't lost. I haven't had a chance to fail yet. As long as I keep having this success my eyes are still on the top prize." n

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