PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                     February 16, 2012


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Last month everyone was saying what a smart gambler North Philly heavyweight boxer Bryant Jennings was. After the scheduled Eddie Chambers-Sergei Liakhovich nationally televised-Main Events-promoted fight fell apart a week before fight night, the young and relatively untested Jennings took a big gamble and called out the still-healthy Liakhovich and volunteered to step in for the injured Eddie Chambers. The move surprised everyone, even those closest to the chiseled heavyweight.

Fred Jenkins Sr., the seen-it-all trainer in Jennings' corner asked "Are you sure?" when his confident fighter asked about subbing for Chambers. Of course Jennings was serious. So they called their promoter Russell Peltz. "Are you sure?", was the Hall of Fame promoter's response, more or less. But Peltz, matchmaker for the inaugural boxing broadcast for the NBC Sports Network, never saw a viable match he didn't like, even if it felt a bit risky for one of his fighters.

Peltz kicked it into high gear and did what he could to make a match between Jennings and Liakhovich on very short notice. For an hour or two, it appeared the fight would actually get done, but then Liakhovich balked and stepped out of the picture. But Jennings kept swinging for a big opportunity. 

It was a move by a confident and smart fighter who knew that on his current course, his big opportunity was perhaps a year away. But Bryant Jennings, undefeated boxer, father, Federal Reserve mechanic, Twitter enthusiast and calculated risk-taker, decided he didn't have that kind of time. So he urged the powers that be to keep him in the running to be the unlikely headliner for the very first NBC Sports Network main event. Some wondered if his enthusiasm was just a chancy misstep that would prove to be the undoing of his perfect ring record, but Jennings was up for the gamble.

Jennings did stay in the race and an excellent match for ten rounds was made for January 21st. Jennings took on fellow Philadelphian Maurice Byarm, another unbeaten prospect with an eye on the big time. On paper it sounded pretty good. Two young big men with plenty to prove. But anyone who gets excited about a fight between two heavyweights these days, has not seen a heavyweight bout in this century. Not Ali, Frazier, Holyfield, Bowe or Tyson are anywhere on the recent heavyweight landscape (Yes, I know Holyfield is still technically there). But this is where Jennings gambled again.

The young fighter who had never been more than six rounds before, fought with an urgency not seen in many heavyweights of the day. Not satisfied with simply landing the biggest fight of his career, Bryant pushed himself to seize the opportunity he had made happen. To his credit, Maurice Byarm came with the same attitude and the pair put on an excellent, action-packed heavyweight fight. The fact that not only the sold out crowd, but also a national television audience, and a boxing world hungry for more TV bouts was watching and loving the fight, made Jennings' big gamble seriously pay off.

Jennings won the close but unanimous decision over Byarm. He did everything that he was supposed to do, but for Jennings, it wasn't enough.

"I'm a 10 round fighter now," he said after the fight.  And instead of resting on his big win, Jennings decided to take another step forward.

Peltz said, "We feel we should strike while the iron is hot. Why go backwards after the win over Byarm?"

With the main event already set for the second NBC Sports Network telecast scheduled for March 24, Jennings decided to double down on his big gamble and take the 10-round co-feature slot on the telecast. He will face Sergei Liakhovich, the former WBO heavyweight champ with more than twice the number of fights as Jennings.

Some say it is another risky proposition for Jennings, now still just 12-0 with 5 KOs. Let's face it, it is a real risk. Liakhovich is battle-tested with a 25-4 (16 KOs) record. On paper Liakhovich has to be the favorite. But Bryant Jennings still has plenty to prove and he has already proven he  knows how to gamble.

Jennings and Liakhovich fight at the Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn, NY  on March 24. In the main event, Zab Judah faces Vernon Paris in a 12-round Jr. Welterweight IBF Title Eliminator. Also on the card is the return of Tomasz Adamek in another 10-round heavyweight bout. All three fights will be televised by the NBC Sports Network.




John DiSanto - PBH Notebook - February 16, 2012