PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - November 14, 2015  
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Story by John DiSanto


Heavyweight contender Bryant “By-By” Jennings, 19-1, 10 KOs, gets the chance to rebound from his first professional defeat on Saturday night at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. His fight with Luis Ortiz, 23-0, 20 KOs, 1 No Contest, is the main event on a nationally televised HBO card. It is another big fight for Jennings who fought for the world title in his last outing. Ortiz is the current Interim WBA heavyweight champ, and a win by Jennings would earn him that sliver of the title. More importantly, such a victory would put the North Philadelphian in a prime position to perhaps become THE key player in the suddenly wide-open heavyweight division.

In his most recent fight, Jennings challenged long-time champion Wladimir Klitschko, and although the champ comfortably retained his title by unanimous decision, Jennings was lauded for his performance which reinforced his standing as a future title-holder.

Last month, Tyson Fury surprised many by upsetting Klitschko and taking Wlad’s collection of title belts back to the UK with him. Although it appears there will be an immediate rematch between the two, the win by Fury rattled the division considerably and officially ignited genuine thoughts of the post-Klitschko era.

“I watched it,” Jennings said from his training camp in Boca Raton, Florida. “But of course, I didn’t like it. I don’t think anybody liked it. It was just ugly to watch.” 

Despite the ugliness of Fury’s victory, suddenly it feels like everyone north of 200 pounds could be the next big thing at heavyweight.  Since the recent championship shake-up, some significant heavyweight fights have already been announced (Wilder-Szpilka & Glazkov-Martin), with a few more still to come. Jennings not only fits into this elite group, he truly has the potential to become the top dog among them all. However to do that, he first has to topple Ortiz on Saturday night.

Beating Luis Ortiz, a Miami-based Cuban, is a tall order indeed. Nicknamed “The Real King Kong”, Ortiz is a big, powerful southpaw with vast amateur experience and a not-shabby, although not quite stellar, professional resume.

In his last fight, Ortiz appeared to be in rather easy against Matias Vidondo. However Ortiz did exactly what he needed to with the high-profile opportunity. He hammered out the Argentine in three rounds and looked dangerous in doing so. Still, questions abound about Ortiz.  

“He’s just a guy who his own promoter is infatuated over, but nobody else is,” Jennings said of Ortiz. “They invested in him, so they want to pump him up.” 

The truth is, for maybe the first time in his career, Jennings actually brings deeper professional experience than his opponent into a big fight. Part of Bryant’s story has always been the fact that he was a late starter who quickly made up the slack and rapidly rose up the ranks – but was still green.

On Saturday, Jennings will fight Ortiz with solid wins against Mike Perez, Artur Szpilka, Sergei Liakhovich, Andrey Fedosov and Bowie Tupou under his belt, not to mention that respectable showing against Klitschko.

As a pro, the only name opponents Ortiz has beaten are Monte Barrett and Lateef Kayode (in a quick KO that was changed to a No Contest when Ortiz failed a drug test after the bout). The question is, ‘How will Qrtiz’ reported 362 amateur fights figure into the experience equation?’

“This is Ortiz’ first real fight as a professional,” Jennings said. “This guy hasn’t seen a real fighter like me yet. Deep experience as an amateur doesn’t mean you will have a successful professional career. He still has to go out and prove himself.” 

Confidence has always been Jennings’ strongest asset. He is unflappable when it comes to his opponent’s credentials. He is respectful, but clearly isn’t worried about anything the other guy brings into the ring. For Jennings, it’s all about what he’s capable of doing.

“I just go with the flow,” Jennings said. “I don’t worry about it until they try to use it against me. Or if they try to use what they’ve done before to try to leverage themselves. I just make sure I go in and do what I need to do.”

Further, Jennings is not focusing very much on the interim belt that is at stake.

“It’s not really on my mind at all, Jennings said. “It’s closer to it (the goal of winning the heavyweight title), but it’s not this that’s on my mind. It’s a position that brings me closer to it. I’m just going to enjoy this one and be cool with being closer to the top.” 

After his fight with Klitschko, Jennings made a major team change, swapping longtime trainer Fred Jenkins for new head trainer John David Jackson. It was a move that was heartbreaking to many faithful Philly boxing fans who perceived Jennings and Jenkins as a rock-solid team.

Many of us thought that in Jennings, Fred Jenkins finally had the definitive fighter to bring his own considerable training talents to light for a worldwide audience. Jenkins did an excellent job in the past five years guiding Jennings from a talented athlete (football, track & field, basketball) to a world ranked heavyweight contender over a handful of amateur bouts and 20 professional fights. Jenkins has developed champions before, but universal recognition of his skills is long overdue.

Their connection appeared to be a win-win for both, but in boxing, nothing seems to last forever. Jennings is his own man and knows what is best for him. Apparently Jennings changed trainers in an effort to enhance his development as a fighter and to improve his chances for future career success.

“Progress is always a good thing,” Jennings said. “What everybody has to understand is the type of person that I am. I’m going to go hard regardless. It just so happens, if nobody was able to be there, I’m (still) going to do what I have to do until someone comes.” 

This makes it sound as if it doesn’t matter who plays the part of trainer in the Jennings camp. So why the change was made remains unclear.

If Jennings needed a new influence in his corner, his choice of John David Jackson, also the trainer of light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, feels like a good one. Jackson is a disciple of Philly legend George Benton, and much like Jennings, John David is a thinker when it comes to the art of boxing. On paper the Jennings-Jackson collaboration looks like it could work quite well.

“Everything is going smooth,” Jennings said. “Of course, it’s a different look. It’s a different perspective. It’s a different set up. It’s a different operation. So, you apply the (new) operation to a good athlete and you’re always going to get positive results. There are always some things that you like and that are useful, and that make you better. That’s all that matters.” 

Jennings clearly believes that he is the one in control of his destiny. Other people and circumstances play a role, but nothing affects his life and career more than his own effort and strident will. This philosophy has served Jennings well in the past and he continues to let the attitude ride with every move that he makes and every fight that comes his way.

“I always try to keep that same (mental) process, because within that process is that same hunger,” Jennings said. “The hunger definitely has to be there. I know exactly what I have to do, and I always push myself to the limit and make sure that I give 100%. Giving my 100%, knowing that I’m able, and that I’m confident. That will never change.”

Ortiz vs. Jennings will be broadcast on HBO Boxing After Dark, Saturday at 10:30 PM (Eastern). 




John DiSanto - Philadelphia - December 14, 2015