It is the first round, in a manner of speaking, and heavyweight contender Bryant “By-By” Jennings is still in the feeling-out process. Whether it’s boxing, business or personal relationships, the 30-year-old Philadelphian believes it is unwise to rush in wildly without knowing who or what you’re dealing with.
More than likely, Jennings (19-0, 10 KOs) will fight a strategic, information-gathering opening stanza when he challenges WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO/The Ring/lineal champion Wladimir Klitschko (63-3, 53 KOs) in the HBO-televised main event on April 25 in Madison Square Garden. But in this instance, Jennings is talking about his new boss, Jay Z, whose Roc Nation Sports recently signed Jennings to be one of the featured attractions in its new boxing operation. Roc Nation Sports is a division of Roc Nation LLC, which was founded in 2008 and primarily has focused on music publishing and the management of such recording artists as Rihanna, Kanye West, Meek Mill and Shakira.
“I’ve talked to Jay,” Bryant was saying of his preference for going straight to the source instead of dealing with middle men and intermediaries. “I’ve been in the fight game less time than some other people, but I’m hands-on with everything in my career. I need to get to know anybody I’m working with. We need to speak to one another, to feel one another out. I don’t want a promoter whose only contact with me is through my manager or some third party. That’s not who I am.
“Jay and I are cool and on very cordial terms. He knows where I’m coming from and I know where he’s coming from. And I didn’t have to change my team in any case. I still got Gary Shaw (Jennings’ promoter who accepted a position as an executive with Roc Nation Sports), Fred Jenkins (trainer) and James Prince (manager) with me.”
Although their paths have yet to cross in a professional sense, Jennings feels that he knows quite a bit about the 38-year-old Klitschko, who has held at least a share of the title since 2006 and will be making his 18th defense during his current reign, and his 23rd overall. Klitschko’s management sought to hire Jennings as a sparring partner in mid-2013, but he passed on the offer because he and Jenkins feared that “Dr. Steelhammer” – who has a history of defending his many belts against sparmates — might learn more about Bryant than the other way around.
“I don’t want them (Wladimir’s older brother, Vitali, was then the WBC heavyweight champ) to figure me out just yet,” Jennings said at the time. “I want them to find out what I’m all about when we get in the ring.”
Toward that end, the 6-2, 225-pound Jennings has made the study of Klitschko his favorite subject. In addition to poring over tapes of Klitschko’s bouts, he has grilled fellow Philly guy Eddie Chambers, who was knocked out in the 12th round of his shot at Wladimir on March 20, 2010, about what Ukrainian giant does well, and maybe not so well.
“Eddie said Klitschko is definitely strong, but also that he’s beatable,” Jennings said. “I won’t fight Klitschko the same way Eddie did. He’s more laid-back. His style is pop-pop-pop. At some stage, I’m probably more apt to go for broke. Klitschko has been knocked out before. I’ve seen things with my own eyes I believe I can take advantage of.
“Of course, saying you can do something and actually doing it is not always the same thing. But we have a game plan, and it’s a good one. If I execute it right, it’s going to be a good night. And there won’t be any excuses. It’ll be my best against his best. At the end of the fight, whoever gets his hand raised, so be it.”
Deontay Wilder (33-0, 32 KOs) is the newly crowned WBC champ, having dethroned Bermane Stiverne (24-2-1, 21 KOs) on a 12-round unanimous decision Jan. 17 in Las Vegas, and Jennings was assured – well, virtually assured – of getting first dibs on the winner. By electing to take on the 6-6½, 245-pound Klitschko, who will be fighting for the first time on American soil since he outpointed Russia’s Sultan Ibragimov on Feb. 23, 2008, in Madison Square Garden, Jennings is taking on what many would say is a far greater risk. Klitschko undoubtedly will be a prohibitive favorite. But with great risk comes the potential for great reward.
“Having been in attendance (for Stiverne-Wilder), it was obvious to me that a fight with Wilder would be much, much easier than a fight with Klitschko,” Jennings said. “If we hadn’t been knee-deep in negotiations with the Klitschko people, I might have taken some more time to think about what I wanted to do. But I still probably would have done what I did. I’m not the mandatory for Klitschko, and you have to take an opportunity like this when you can. Plus, Wilder is an Al Haymon fighter. Who knows how smooth the negotiations for a fight with Wilder would have gone? Nobody can say for sure whether that fight could even be made, or how long it would take for it to happen.
“I’m a very competitive person. Even after I fought (former WBO heavyweight titlist Siarhei) Liakhovich in 2012 – and I’ve improved a lot since then – I was screaming that I wanted Klitschko. Now, I realize I probably wasn’t ready for that fight at that point. But just the fact that I was looking to fight Klitschko so early in my career says something about my competitiveness. I’m in this sport to be the best, and if you want to be the best you have to fight the best. And, yeah, beat the best.”
To his way of thinking, Klitschko is the clear-cut best, and will be until somebody finally takes him down. Jennings foresees a new king sitting on the most widely recognized heavyweight throne in the near future, with him wielding the scepter.
“Regardless of what happens, taking this fight will do me good,” he said. “But it’s going to do me the most good once I whip this boy’s ass. And it definitely can happen. I don’t understand why I’m so underestimated. People say, `Oh, Jennings is too small.’ Hey, the guys that Klitschko lost to were smaller than him. I’m the same size as Evander Holyfield and bigger than Mike Tyson. It isn’t always the bigger guy who wins.
“But, in a way, I love all the criticism, all the negativity, all the hate. I’m feeding off of it. All it does is give me more motivation to do what I got to do.”
Jennings would be happy to fight Wilder if he defeats Klitschko, but he said he doesn’t expect Wilder’s advisers to agree to a bout to fully unify the heavyweight division, be it against him or Klitschko.
“I don’t know how long that dude is going to hold it,” he continued. “Somebody say they could see where Wilder’s next few defenses could be against guys like Antonio Tarver, fighters he’d be expected to beat. I can see that happening. Boxing is like music. There’s an `A’ side and a `B’ side. I’m fighting on the `A’ side against Klitschko. Wilder has been fighting and probably will keep fighting a bunch of dudes from the `B’ side.
“If you want to believe that’s for real, go ahead. But we’re dealing strictly with the `A’ side over here.”