Not seeing is believing for Jennings

Posted: July 18, 2014

A BLACK Under Armour sweatband shrouded his eyes and Bryant Jennings started throwing punches.

Blindfolded, Jennings moved about a boxing ring at North Philly's ABC Recreation Center, shadow-boxing while his trainer, Fred Jenkins, sat on a stool in a corner and called out directions.

"Step down."

"Step to your right."

"Hands up. Plant your feet."

When 3 minutes had elapsed, a buzzer sounded and the trainer stepped into the ring. For the 3 minutes that followed, they did it again, this time as Jenkins gripped light-blue foam rollers in either hand, swatting his fighter's arms and body while still voicing instructions.

"If he can do it blindfolded," Jenkins told onlookers standing outside the ring, "he can do it easy with his eyes."

Jennings (18-0, 10 knockouts), North Philadelphia's 29-year-old heavyweight title contender, will soon conclude preparations for the biggest fight of his life, a July 26 title eliminator bout at Madison Square Garden against undefeated southpaw Mike Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs). But before he and members of his camp head to New York City on Monday, Jennings yesterday morning showcased himself in front of reporters and television cameras during a brief workout, hitting the speed bag and then working out in the ring, blindfold and all.

"If you've been in boxing for 43 years, you search to try to improve the sport, try to improve the fighter and try to challenge the fighter's mentality when he fights," his trainer, the 58-year-old Jenkins, said of the blindfold technique, which he uses only with Jennings. It's supposed to help the fighter focus on his trainer's voice while entrenched in a round. "Since he's been here, every task that I've given him, he's never backed down from a task."

A momentous task is just 9 nights away. If Jennings defeats Perez, a 28-year-old Cuban defector who now resides in Ireland, the former Ben Franklin High football standout will get a shot at the WBC title against current champion Bermane Stiverne or challenger Deontay Wilder.

For the next week-and-a-half, though, Jennings is focusing only on Perez, who he was originally slated to fight May 24 in Corpus Christi, Texas. A shoulder injury to Perez canceled that bout before it was rescheduled as next weekend's HBO co-feature to Gennady Golovkin's title defense against Daniel Geale.

Jennings, who said yesterday he believes he's boxing's second-best heavyweight behind Wladimir Klitschko, has spent the last few months training in Houston, Las Vegas and Philadelphia. While in Las Vegas for 2 weeks last month, Jennings trained with Cuban junior middleweight Erislandy Lara, who on Saturday night lost a controversial split decision to Mexican star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on Showtime pay-per-view.

In Las Vegas, Jennings and Lara ran together on Mount Charleston at more than 7,000 feet elevation. The thin air made Jennings' runs longer than his 7-minute per mile average, he said, but he described it as triple the work of a usual run.

"Everybody was very shocked of my abilities," Jennings said. "Even when we went out running, of course I was the first in line for about maybe three-quarters of a mile, ahead the whole time; it was just something they had never seen before. But it was good, working alongside with an experienced person like that . . . It gave me a little focus of where I'm gonna be, the type of person that I'm gonna become, the type of person that I want to become."

As for Lara's loss to Alvarez, which had the boxing world abuzz earlier this week, Jennings thought his new training partner did enough to earn the decision. " was exposed," Jennings said. "I know how hard Lara worked and for them to take that away from him, I actually felt that."

For Jennings, who debuted in February 2010 at the Arena in South Philly, this will be his second consecutive fight featured on HBO. His last, also at Madison Square Garden, was a 10th-round TKO of Artur Szpilka on Jan. 25.

Perez is coming off a 10-round draw against Carlos Takam on Jan. 18 at Montreal's Bell Centre.

"Mike Perez is a good fighter, but Bryant Jennings is a great fighter," said Jenkins, the longtime trainer and Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Famer. "Whatever Mike Perez brings to the table, it's Bryant Jennings' job to adapt to that and win each round."

By then, the blindfold will be off.

Amateur tournament

Fred Jenkins is bringing back the Lucien Blackwell Boxing Classic, he said yesterday, with the amateur tournament slated for the first 4 days of October at Gustine Recreation Center (4800 Ridge Avenue). The competition is for boxers with one fight of experience or less. "We're trying to give the new kids an opportunity to show their skills," Jenkins said, "and we're also asking that we get the kids in the gym during the summertime instead of in the street doing things negative. So they can focus all summer and then go into the tournament."

On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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