Could the next American heavyweight champion be a Philly fighter? Bryant Jennings has attempted to make that case since his pro debut in 2010. The 29 year old built a solid following after an active 2012 that saw him post 5 wins (4 by knockout). With most of those fights coming under the Main Events banner, the payoff was supposed to be showdown with the promotion’s biggest star, Tomasz Adamek. Unfortunately, disagreements between his management and Main Events left him not only without Adamak, but also the immediate availability of TV dates.
Undeterred, Jennings regrouped by signing with manager James Prince (Andre Ward) and promoter Gary Shaw last Octover. The partnership landed Jennings a quick January TV date against tough Polish heavyweight Artur Szpilka, who had recently upped his profile with an exciting (and bloody) rematch TKO5 victory over Mike Millo on Friday Night Fights last October.
In a dominant performance, Jennings slowly dissected and battered Szpilka to a 10th round TKO. Now sitting on a #3 ranking, Jennings is finally in a position for his first world title shot against current titlist Bermane Stiverne or #2 contender Deontay Wilder (Writer’s Note: The WBC has mandated that Stiverne face Wilder first).
Before that can become reality, Jennings has business Saturday night against Mike Perez. Like Jennings, he’s undefeated. The similarities mostly end there. Perez is a fast starter with a high workrate. Jennings is more methodical but gets stronger and more aggressive as the fight progresses. Perez is coming off a draw and shoulder injury that’s kept him out of the ring since November. Jennings will be fighting for the second time in six months.
In a division where literally one punch can change fortunes, Bryant Jennings reveals why he will be the one to finally bring a title belt back to the United States.
Knockout Nation: After Mike Perez’s last fight against Carlos Takam, the prevailing thought is that you’re facing physically prime fighter, but one who’s mentally damaged from the Magomed Abdusalamov tragedy. Is that a fair assessment?
Bryant Jennings: It’s hard to say. Styles makes fights and Takam was more elusive that Magomed. I still need to be prepared for everything. I just have to be ready to adjust to any strategy he brings to the ring.
KO Nation: This is your second consecutive southpaw opponent. Are you now comfortable with lefties?
Jennings: I would say so. A lot of that has to do with my conditioning and being active. The more you fight the better. I can also switch hit which is very helpful.
KO Nation: Explain why you thought Perez was faking an injury when he pulled out of the fight earlier this year.
Jennings: It’s just a theory of mine. From what I was hearing from people around him, it seemed like he just wasn’t ready. Of course, I can’t know for sure but that’s what I was lead to believe.
KO Nation: You have the tag of being a “slow starter.” When in battle, talk about the “switch” that goes off inside you when to start increasing your punch output and aggression.
Jennings: I go off instinct. The funny thing about people saying I’m a slow starter, they never modify that to say I’m a smart fighter. A lot of guys start fast and end up slow. I control the pace. I can start fast, but a lot of times that wouldn’t be wise. I learn my opponent, sent traps and execute.
KO Nation: You have the usual training method of shadowboxing and moving in the ring blindfolded. When did that start?
Jennings: That goes back to 2009 when I was training in Salt Lake City. My trainer Fred Jenkins tries to bring unique things to every fighter he works with. The blindfold is one of my things.
It helps make you very comfortable in the ring. In a fight, you might not be able to see from blood or swelling. You still have to know your way around the ring. The blindfold helped me know the ring without having to actually see it. I know how many steps it takes to reach the ropes. It’s no different from blind people who can walk around their neighborhood. After some time, you get that extra sight in the ring.
KO Nation: So that means you’re ready to take that next step and spar blindfolded, right?
Jennings: [Laughs] Nah, I would never spar blindfolded.