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Story by John DiSanto
File Photos by Darryl Cobb, Jr. /


On Saturday (July 13), local heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings, 24-3, 14 KOs, fights outside the United States for the first time when he takes on undefeated British hopeful Joe Joyce, 9-0, 9 KOs, in a 12-round showdown at the O2 Arena in London. Jennings, 34, a two-time world title challenger, has accomplished much in his nine year professional campaign and has been on the brink of hitting it big for much of the past several years. However on Saturday, Jennings will enter the ring as potential fodder for a fresher rising contender. It’s a new situation for the Philly fighter. 

Always a strategist inside as well as outside the ring, Jennings has chosen each of his career steps with a great deal of thought and a focused eye on the upside of every opportunity. And until recently he’s had the luxury of a safety net that will not be there to protect his reputation this time.

Throughout most of his career, Jennings has been an over-achieving upstart who has parlayed his minimal amateur experience and impetuous professional rise to great ends, and he has always been given the benefit of the doubt, even when this lack of experience showed.

Upsets over more experienced fighters, were super-charged by this experience shortage and made everyone wonder what he could have done with a little more seasoning. And when he twice came up short against the very top level, this same lack of experience was always to blame. And this was his safety net. Jennings’ lack of experience buffered him from harsh criticism. But against Joyce on Saturday, no such safety net will be in play. 

In January, Jennings fell in the final round to Oscar Rivas (TKO12), a Canadian-based Colombian, and the loss felt different from his previous two (L12 Wladimir Klitschko and TKO 7 by Luis Ortiz, both in 2015). Although Rivas was undefeated (25-0, 17 KOs) and rich in the amateur experience that Jennings famously lacked, the defeat put Bryant’s career in a dark corner. This was a first for him. He was the favorite and let the fight – and his future – slip away. It was new territory for Jennings and it threatened, if not ended, his viability as a contender.  

The heavyweight division has recently become a free-for-all among a handful of solid and entertaining champions – Wilder, Fury, Joshua, and now Andy Ruiz. There is little room for outsiders these days, as one big match after another is planned among today’s top tier. A fighter like Jennings must keep winning to retain any hope of squeezing himself into an unlikely title shot – like Andy Ruiz recently did.

Therefore Jennings finds himself in a must win situation against Joyce on Saturday. A win keeps his campaign alive – although not yet thriving, but a loss on Saturday will probably pin the word “former” on all future descriptions of him - former title challenger, former contender, former-future heavyweight champion.

It’s a phase that most fighters eventually reach. And now Jennings finds himself on the threshold. His first two losses were chalked up to inexperience, but his most recent defeat left nothing but questions – and the harsh judgements he’d previously avoided.  

Jennings has always worked hard to prepare, had great confidence in himself, and kept a pragmatic outlook on his career and the sport of boxing. He’s always dreamed of becoming heavyweight champion, but has also kept other irons in the fire. Boxing has become a good living for him, but he’s also always maintained that he was more than just a fighter.

Jennings has always said that when he came to the end of the line, he’d walk away and do something else. Raising his son and living healthy and well were always his top priorities. Boxing never infringed on those concerns, and always seemed like something he could take or leave. Well now he’s face to face with that decision. Will he take boxing or leave it. The answer comes on Saturday.

It’s a dramatic and nerve wracking place to be – I’m sure for Jennings and his certainly for his fans. The simple fact is that the fight with Joyce is the crucible of his fighting career. A heavy load indeed, and adding to the pressure is that at this do or die moment comes against a much bigger, slightly younger, and solidly favored hometown opponent with the promotional power on his side.

If anyone can keep his confidence unshaken, his focus sharp, and find a way to turn everything around, it’s Bryant Jennings, but this fight has the air of a swan song. So, Saturday is crunch time. The fight will be streamed live on ESPN+ beginning at 2:45 PM Eastern time.   




John DiSanto - Philadelphia - July 12, 2019