|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - August 14, 2018|
Story by John DiSanto
A Philly-centric boxing card in Atlantic City is set to open the Ocean Resort Casino on Saturday night. Headlining the ESPN-broadcasted show is North Philadelphia heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings (23-2, 13 KOs) against Russian skyscraper Alexander Dimitrenko (41-3, 26 KOs) in a 12-round contest. Also in action will be Jesse Hart (24-1, 20 KOs) in a defense of his NABF super middleweight title, Camden-based former world champ Jason Sosa (20-3-4, 15 KOs), streaking prospect Christian Carto (15-0, 11 KOs), Millville’s Thomas LaManna (25-2-1, 9 KOs), Allentown’s Joseph Adorno (8-0, 8 KOs), Newark’s Shakur Stevenson (7-0, 4 KOs), and sole non-local Oleksandr Teslenko, 13-0, 11 KOs).
The Jennings-Dimitrenko fight is a chance for Jennings, a former world title challenger, to continue his comeback, now four fights strong, as well as to remain relevant in the suddenly interesting heavyweight division and stay in position to seize any opportunity that just might come his way.
As the division firms into being an all-too-rare single-champion category, with Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder on course for a unification match sometime in the not so distant future, a win for Jennings on Saturday would also establish him as the leading American contender for the eventual undisputed world heavyweight champion.
However, don’t tell Jennings this. The ranked contender continues to claim that the politics and the ratings of the sport do not interest or affect him. He remains laser focused on his next fight and only considers what a win might do for him once it’s in the bank.
“I don’t really care about that,” Jennings said of perhaps being the top contender from the USA. “I don’t really care about it, because the sport of boxing is about maneuvering. It has had a drastic change in the last ten years, and an even more drastic change in the ten years before that, and the ten years before that. It’s not on the incline; it’s on the decline. It’s hard to be passionate for the sport if you’ve been in there for a decade. Look at it as a job. Look at it as something to accomplish. But don’t get too wrapped up into it.”
This is characteristic of Jennings. He is a fighter that manages to remain focused no matter what is going on around him. He’s done it for big fights and small ones. Nothing interrupts his legendary training ethic and he refuses to fall into the common traps that many fighters do.
“It’s just the consistency,” Jennings said. “Getting back to this position just proves my persistence and my hard work. I don’t really look past any opportunities that I have in front of me. After the (Wladimir) Klitschko fight, certain things were supposed to go a certain way, but didn’t. The next thing you know, I got a tough fight shoved down my throat (Luis Ortiz) numerous times that year. I was not forced to take it, but I felt as though it was the only option that I had. Things didn’t go as planned. So now I just literally take advantage of the opportunity that is placed in front of me, and then you play your cards. You’re dealt the deck of cards once you win. You play your cards and you strategize from there on out.”
But Jennings is human. He still hungers for the heavyweight championship, an accomplishment that would, as he says, secure his legacy. And when he sees other fighters get opportunities and achieve what it is he seeks, it challenges his desire to screen out every little distraction.
“You only let it bug you when certain pressures are put upon you,” Jennings said. “For instance (fellow-Philadelphian) Tevin Farmer winning his first belt (recently). It’s kind of like – Damn I want to win mine, but my road don’t look as clear. If you think like that – he got his, now I want mine – then you’ll start to do things like cut corners. That’s when you start to mess up. It’s real tricky. So, just do what you do, and make sure you strategize with each and every move.”
Jennings claims that fighting Dimitrenko is a strategic move for him. The veteran brings a name, a pedigree, and the size of the modern heavyweight giant for Jennings to practice on.
“It’s the position,” Jennings said. “And the size. I’m quite sure I’m expected to win. Of course I (also) expect myself to win. Some people may consider it a gift. But to me, I still have to work. I have to work hard. This guy’s no slouch. He’s 6’ 7”. This guy has 41 fights. This guy has more knockouts than I have fights. Of course, I am not looking at it like that (a gift), but that’s the way people want to look at it. That’s the way it is. When I was fighting tough fights, nobody cared. Then you fight lighter fights and everybody wants to say something. It’s up and down, hit or miss. The only thing I can do is take it one fight at a time, work as hard as I can, keep up all my ethics, and just do what I need to do when I get in the ring.”
The formula is working for Jennings, and he feels he is getting there. He’s done battle with the business of boxing and believes he is learning and making the most of it.
“It’s not only the sweet science for boxers getting in the ring,” Jennings said. “It’s also the science of positioning on the manger’s or promoter’s side. I’m blessed to be on a team, so I literally just let all that stuff go elsewhere. Have faith in whatever is supposed to be. Literally take it one day at a time, one fight at a time.”
That team includes promoter Bob Arum and Top Rank, Jennings’ promoter since 2017. And Jennings feels the chemistry is working.
“Everything is great,” Jennings said. “You see the (career) movement. Top Rank is a great system. I like the way they do business. I like the way they listen. If you implement something, it can be talked about. It isn’t looked down upon. If it makes sense, it is respected, regardless of whose mouth it came out of. It’s respected because it makes sense. Versus somebody saying something that makes sense, but it goes against what they (other promoters) are talking about or what they are thinking, and they try make you sound like you’re stupid. I don’t like that. So, Top Rank is definitely a good thing. I think it is the best (promotional company), when you look at what Bob did over the years and as consistent as Bob has been.”
So Jennings punches the clock on Saturday night and takes another step toward his goal of becoming the heavyweight champion. An opportunity to achieve that goal may not come this year, as those higher on the food chain inch toward fighting each other. But Jennings takes it all in stride. He just does what he does, and that has always been just getting in shape, staying focused, and doing his job. No drama.
“I’ve been there before, so it’s nothing really new. No new feelings. Maybe some improvements, but it’s like going to work every day.”
Jennings and the rest of the local crew, including Jesse Hart, Christian Carto, Jason Sosa, Thomas LaManna, Joseph Adorno, and the rest, all go to work on Saturday night.