Jennings banks on support of co-workers at the Fed

Posted: July 25, 2014

YEARS BEFORE he became Bryant "By-By" Jennings, undefeated heavyweight title contender, he was Bryant Jennings, building mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Duties are wide-ranging, from general repair work to heating and air-conditioning maintenance to carpentry and welding.

"Mr. Fix-It," is how he described it.

These days, Jennings technically still occupies both the aforementioned titles. The promising North Philadelphia boxer spent parts of the last few months in Houston and Las Vegas training for tomorrow night's title eliminator bout against Mike Perez while retaining his full-time job via a leave of absence without pay. But although he's been away from the bank more than usual recently, Jennings is never too far from the minds of those on the 600 block of Arch Street.

"It's amazing how much buzz Bryant has created within the bank. At all levels, so I mean right from the very most senior management to the general staff," said Jim Welch, the bank's vice president of law enforcement and facilities management. "I had one person comment to me that Bryant is kind of like a rock star sometimes when he walks around the bank, because so many people are coming up to him."

As Jennings career has burgeoned, a constant has been the Federal Reserve presence surrounding each of his fights. The "Friday File," the Fed's weekly internal communications newsletter, keeps employees informed of their colleague's bouts. His Dec. 8, 2012, technical knockout of Bowie Topou at Temple's McGonigle Hall was packed with work friends. It's more than just those in the facilities department, too; vendors and contractors are among those who show up.

A handful of facilities workers have followed Jennings' career since his first amateur fight in Philly. Harry Habina still remembers the 2 a.m. phone calls from the 2009 National Golden Gloves tournament, when an excited Jennings provided updates on each of his wins in Salt Lake City. Ric Valdez even traveled to his co-worker's July 2011 bout at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. John Hollup and Mike McCloskey are fellow fight mainstays.

"Them guys, they show support," said the 29-year-old Jennings, who's been boxing for only 5 years but carries an 18-0 pro record and 10 knockouts into tomorrow's bout. "That's like an extended family. Man, it's all love. There's nothing but love there."

Typically manning the 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, Jennings has held his job at the bank for 8 years. When working, he incorporates his training schedule around his job, running 7 miles to work in the morning and often heading in the afternoon straight from the bank to the ABC Recreation Center in North Philly to train. In the past, he normally took off only the 2 weeks leading to a bout to ramp up his preparations.

Jennings is on the younger side of the nearly 30 men in his department. Shocking to no one, the cut 225-pounder who prides himself on his fitness is also the strongest.

"Hercules," said Valdez, in his 20th year at the bank. "If we've got to lift some heavy stuff, like 300, 500 pounds, we're gonna wait for him."

Jennings' boxing career has been well known throughout the bank for years. He's sometimes asked to sign autographs or pose for a photo. The interest in his career has extended to those from other branches of the bank system, said Welch, adding that he's had visitors from Washington in his office taking photos with Jennings.

Habina joked that he doesn't like walking through the building with Jennings because of the attention. Habina, 58, and Valdez, 56, treat Jennings like a son - coincidentally, Habina's twin daughters were born the same September 1984 day as Jennings - and Habina said the boxer has expanded his and others' interest in the sport.

Habina estimated that at least 30 bank employees plan to make the trip to Madison Square Garden tomorrow for the biggest fight of Jennings' life. Valdez, who has missed only two previous fights, will be relegated to watching on HBO, as he said he's picked up Jennings' weekend shifts at work. Valdez is making the most of the situation by hosting a fight party at his house - and also guaranteeing a seventh-round knockout.

"Everybody thinks that he can go all the way," Habina said. "Early on, everybody was, like, skeptical, like he hasn't met his match yet. But I've watched him improve since he first put on gloves. It's just phenomenal how you pick up different things that he's doing."

It's probably safe to say Jennings is the best boxer in the history of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

"I'd certainly think it's safe to say he's the best boxer in the history of the Federal Reserve system," corrected Welch, who also plans to attend tomorrow's fight. "We're used to being in the news, the chairwoman or the chairman of the board of governors, the governors themselves, the presidents of the bank, they make news all the time. It's not very common that you have a facilities mechanic with the news spotlight on him in such a favorable way. In that regard, it's very unique, too."

A win against Perez, a 28-year-old southpaw who's also undefeated, would net Jennings a mandatory shot at WBC champion Bermane Stiverne or Deontay Wilder, whom Stiverne is expected to fight later this year. If his career continues at this trajectory, it's certainly plausible to suggest Jennings might not find himself fastening nuts and bolts at the bank much longer. Jennings has acknowledged he will return to work after this bout and notify his employer on a decision regarding his future there.

"On some of the earlier fights I watched on TV, I've heard the ringside announcers comment on his career as a mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank and [say] it's time for this guy to quit his daytime job and just focus on boxing, because he'd showed so much promise," Welch said. "Every time he fights, it's a reminder to us that, you know, we might lose him as an employee. Clearly, he's destined, I think, for bigger and better things.

"We'd love to be his employer for as long we can. [But] we recognize the reality that the heavyweight championship of the world would probably set him on another plane."

Agenda

Who: Bryant Jennings (18-0, 10 KOs) vs. Mike Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs)

When: Tomorrow, 9:30 p.m.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York

What’s at stake: WBC heavyweight elimination bout

TV: HBO


On Twitter: @jakemkaplan

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