Philly's Bryant Jennings does fighting in the ring, not streets

Saturday's fight at Temple will be Bryant Jennings' fifth of the year.
Saturday's fight at Temple will be Bryant Jennings' fifth of the year. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 07, 2012

The 4-year-old boy rushed toward the television set, pointed forward, and said, "That's my dad, that's my dad."

On the screen, his dad, Bryant Jennings, who will fight Tonga's Bowie Tupou in a United States Boxing Association heavyweight title defense Saturday night in North Philadelphia, wore a brown dress shirt, a pair of slacks, and wire-framed glasses. It was Jennings' first live TV interview and he appeared relaxed.

Upon arriving home, Jennings (15-0, 7 KOs) tuned in to the replay, and 4-year-old Mase was excited again. Jennings turned his son around and snapped a picture before posting it to the Internet.

"Once I took the picture, the expression of the picture came through in my caption," said Jennings, who is ranked No. 5 among all heavyweights by the International Boxing Federation.

The picture's caption read: I could only imagine how it would of felt to see my dad on T.V. other than the 10:00 news. His life is already starting off better than mine and that's what I set out to do.

"My dad appeared on the news a couple times," Jennings said. "He escaped a lot of bad situations and was always in some sort of mess."

Jennings' father, two brothers, and childhood best friend are all in prison, products of the North Philadelphia neighborhood that Jennings said he isn't sure how he overcame.

"I know how the streets can really get you, it's not your fault," Jennings said. "The streets are like a big sinkhole; if you go anywhere near them, you can get sucked in."

Jennings' bout with Tupou (22-2, 16 KOs), at Temple University's's McGonigle Hall, will be televised live on NBC Sports Network as part of The Fight Night series.

At 6-foot-2, Jennings is about the same height as Tupou, but he is around 30 pounds lighter than the 30-year-old Tupou's 260 pounds.

The fight is the 28-year-old Jennings' fifth of the year, which included an impressive ninth-round knockout of former world champion Siarhei Liakhovich in March. In September, Jennings needed just 35 seconds to earn a first-round knockout of Chris Koval.

Blessed with wisdom

If the streets are a sinkhole, then Jennings' father was at the center of the depression. Anthony Jennings spent the majority of his son's life in prison and the two do not speak often. Jennings said his father can watch his fight from prison.

Jennings said he has always considered his father "a great dad."

"I never thought of him as less of a man, even though he wasn't there for a lot of things," Jennings said. "I'm my own man. God granted me the gifts of being a good man. I got it without him and I can actually congratulate him for letting me be on my own."

Jennings was raised primarily by his mother and grandmother. He was forced to grow up quickly, and Jennings said he was blessed with the wisdom to make right decisions. On the weekends, he would use public transit to stay with his grandmother at Seventh and Brown Streets.

As a senior at Ben Franklin High, Jennings lived on his own in a family-owned property in North Philadelphia. He woke himself up for school each day, received high marks in class, and was a starter on the football team.

During high school, Jennings promised himself he would live a sober lifestyle and estimates he has consumed eight ounces in his life. Too many times, Jennings said, he witnessed the hardships of alcoholism.

He has been employed since he was 13 and continues to work a full-time job along with his budding boxing career.

Previously a forklift operator and independent contractor, Jennings is currently a building mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank in Center City.

Earlier this year, Jennings was labeled the nation's top heavyweight prospect by renowned trainer Freddie Roache, who has been in Manny Pacquiao's corner for many years.

He began boxing only in January 2009, when he entered his trainer Fred Jenkins' ABC Recreation Center at 26th and Master Streets, a block from Jennings' childhood home.

Faded posters - promoting fights of proud North Philadelphians Rockin' Rodney Moore and Damon Reid - cover the walls of the converted basketball gym. A pair of backboards still hang on the walls, painted over and plastered with motivational sayings.

The aged hardwood floor is covered with old truck tires, speed bags, and workout machines. A pair of worn-out boxing rings sit in the middle of the room.

Within the next year, Jennings hopes to receive a world title shot. Jennings said his run has been an inspiration to his imprisoned brothers and best friend, and if it were not for the circumstances, Jennings said, he's certain they would be in his corner Saturday.

"When they went to jail, it was like a piece of me went with them," Jennings said. "And that's why I work so hard to make sure I don't fall into the footsteps that they fell into."


Worldly Desires

While holding the United States Boxing Association heavyweight belt, Bryant Jennings remains ranked outside the top 10 by Ring Magazine and three of the four major world organizations - the World Boxing Council, the World Boxing Association, and the World Boxing Organization. The International Boxing Federation, the fourth major world organization, ranks him No. 5. Here are the titleholders, with their Ring rankings:

WBC champion: Vitali Klitschko (1)

WBA champion: Wladimir Klitschko (champion) and Alexander Povetkin (2)

IBF champion: Wladimir Klitschko (champion)

WBO champion: Wladimir Klitschko (champion)

- Matt Breen


Contact Matt Breen at mbreen@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @matt_breen.

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