The Heavyweight We Need

One of the best heavyweights in the world climbs the rickety stairs at Main Street Boxing Gym in downtown Houston, Texas on a fair-weathered winter’s day in February. He carries his own bags up the narrow, wooden pathway to the second-story workout room where he intends to wrap his own hands and work out alongside two other fighters who are already up there shadowboxing.

He and the other two men will not speak. They are only connected by their vocations and their movements around the carpeted gym floor. The heavyweight who just entered the room is notieacably larger than the other two fighters. He stands six-feet, three-inches tall and all of it, too. His biceps look like cannonballs, and he appears to have been born for his lot in life.

Bryant Jennings (above, in Rachel McCarson photo) is a 30-year-old undefeated heavyweight boxer from Philadelphia. He’s traveled to Houston for his last three fight camps because he feels like it helps him focus on the task ahead of him. He says he loves Philly with a passion but he considers Houston his second home.

“Houston is my go-to spot,” Jennings says as he quietly begins to unravel the necessary amount of tape required to wrap his overly large fists.

Jennings has already been training for a few weeks now. He says he comes to camp earlier than most to get his mind right. He says his primary focus has been developing his fight strategy and focusing his mind on the road that lies ahead.

“I started way ahead of time. It’s nothing strenuous. I’m just walking through a lot of things, getting focused.”

Jennings will be in the fight of his life soon. He faces Wladimir Klitschko on April 25 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Klitschko is one of the better heavyweight champions in history. He has not lost a fight since 2004, almost six years before the late-starting Jennings competed in his very first professional prizefight. Moreover, Klitschko is one of the few men in the world with greater physical dimensions than Jennings. Klitschko is six-feet, six-inches of chiseled heavyweight athleticism and dominance. Even at age 38, it’s seems hardly fathomable that he could be beat. He’s just that good.

Jennings says most of fighting is mental.

“A lot of it is mental. The whole preparation during a training camp and even after the fight is mental. You have to prepare yourself for the next step. That’s why when some people have a loss they have to heal themselves so they can go out and try again. Some people will never heal and that’s when you see their career go downhill. It’s mental all the way around. Life is mental.”

A fighter must tell himself all sorts of things to be ready for fight night. Jennings has convinced himself that most people in the world are against him. He says despite being one of America’s few glimmering hopes in the heavyweight division, people don’t believe in him and don’t want to root for him to succeed.

Whether it’s true or not doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the personal psychology behind it, how Jennings uses the idea to foster his own enthusiasm for training. In short, it fuels him.

“It’s a very huge moment, and some people don’t even understand it, you know? I’m doubted by a lot of people, whether it’s Klitschko fans or just people who don’t necessarily believe in me, I say listen: this is the opportunity of a lifetime! They don’t understand what’s at stake here? You know? When we mention other names [like] Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Sonny Liston, Jack Johnson, all these guys were heavyweight champions. And these are guys that are all remembered, guys like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali Klitschko…you get my drift?”

Jennings doesn’t just appreciate history. He wants to make it.

“These guys don’t understand what I’m up against. These are the legacies I’m chasing. My name needs to be amongst all those great heavyweights. So the only way my name can be mentioned alongside those is if I beat Klitschko. Fighting for and winning a vacant heavyweight title doesn’t really hold nothing. My legacy here has a chance to start off by defeating a legend.”

Jennings continues to methodically wrap his hands.

“Why not me?”

Truthfully, it’s an easy question to answer. Klitschko is bigger than Jennings. He’s more skilled. He hits harder. He has one of the best jabs in the history of boxing, and the considerable amount of athleticism he possesses for a man his size makes him extremely hard to beat.

But Jennings won’t hear it.

“I’m a really good athlete as well, and I’m pretty tall. I’m not as tall as him, but my arms are longer so the two or three inches of length on the arms is like what he has me on the height. So it’s almost like the same thing.”

Astoundingly, Jennings is correct. Klitschko’s reach of 81 inches is great, but Jennings’ absurd 84-inch wingspan is even longer, meaning he won’t necessarily be at a disadvantage from the outside against Klitschko by default like most would-be contenders.

“I’m very capable of [boxing him] from the outside.”

Jennings says he’ll put Klitschko through a test he’s never faced before, or at least one he hasn’t taken in an extremely long time. He says when the bell rings on fight night, the reigning heavyweight champion of the world will find himself in the ring with someone who will fight hard the whole night and come on strong as the later rounds approach.

Even better, Jennings promises to deliver action. He admits he has his hands full because Klitschko likes to throw punches from a distance, but also says he’ll bring the fight to him. Klitschko will not have to chase him. Jennings is coming to fight.

“Sooner or later, we’re gonna be fighting. I know the type of punch that he has. I’ve seen it. I’m not going to say I don’t respect it, but I’m in there with him so I’ll have to find a way around it. I ain’t gonna be playing with him, but he ain’t gonna be playing with me. As soon as he feels my power, he’s going to know he’s got to do what he do. He’s going to have to do something.”

Jennings expects to win. He says April 25 will be the inauguration ceremony of his heavyweight championship reign.

“I’m setting myself up to be great. I believed this would happen since the moment I started boxing. I observed the state of the heavyweight division, and I saw what it needed. I just went after it, and right now I think I’m one of the most marketable fighters out there. I’m from America. I’m well spoken, and I’m a heavyweight. It’s what America needs.”

America could stand a few more like him. Outside the ring, he’s intelligent, hardworking, thoughtful and extremely polite. Inside the ring, he’s a highly skilled boxer, a powerful puncher and he’s ready and willing to engage in whatever is necessary to get the job done.

Jennings is on the precipice of becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. There is nothing more important to the health of the sport in America than that. Say what you want about Deontay Wilder winning the WBC title against Berman Stiverne earlier in the year, Jennings is fighting for the lineal heavyweight championship, the real one.

Better yet? He knows it.

“I consider this the real road. I really fought people. This here is the real deal.”

America has pined for a heavyweight to root for since Evander Holyfield fell out of a favor due to old age and eventually retired. Jennings believes he can be the one who brings American heavyweight boxing back. He says it with his dedication to the sport. He says it with his great appreciation of history. He says it with how carefully and thoughtfully he finishes wrapping up his hands before rising to his feet.

I also asked him if he’d be the one.

“For sure,” Jennings says with a smile on his face as he begins this day’s training session in the dark anonymity he chooses for himself in this old, musky gym in Houston. Soon, he’s drifted away from us. He’s punching air inside the boxing ring with a faraway look in his eye. He’s not chasing ghosts. He’s prepping for the real thing.

The writer and the photographer leave him there. He is alone with his thoughts now. His focus is singular and superb. Jennings wants to defeat Klitschko for the world heavyweight championship. He’s dreamed about it his whole fighting life. It isn’t just another payday. It isn’t just another fight. He needs it.

Maybe we do, too.

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COMMENTS

-brownsugar :

A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Don't mourn for Jennings. He's old enough to drive, buy alcohol and fight WK if he wants to. Who am I to says it's all in vain. Anytime two men, ... two finely tuned engines of destruction housed in a human frame enters the ring,.... there is always a chance either man can win. No matter how small that chance is.


-The Commish :

A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Don't mourn for Jennings. He's old enough to drive, buy alcohol and fight WK if he wants to. Who am I to says it's all in vain. Anytime two men, ... two finely tuned engines of destruction housed in a human frame enters the ring,.... there is always a chance either man can win. No matter how small that chance is.
My eyes have seen Leon Spinks, with just a handful of fights, outhustle and outpoint the Greatest. I've seen a huge underdog named Buster Douglas beat the previously unbeaten and though-to-be unstoppable Mike Tyson. I don't expect Bryant Jennings to win. But, as Radam G. has long said, in an expression I think we all use, "This is boxing, the theatre of the unexpected." -Randy G.


-deepwater2 :

I think Tyson Fury is the man to take over the heavyweight division.


-The Commish :

I think Tyson Fury is the man to take over the heavyweight division.
Off his workmanlike and thorough beatdown of Dereck Chisora, Tyson Fury may just be the man. But first, I would like to see him take on one of two guys: 1. Wladimir Klitschko 2. Deontay Wilder Both are fights I think we'd all pay to see. -Randy G.


-oubobcat :

Off his workmanlike and thorough beatdown of Dereck Chisora, Tyson Fury may just be the man. But first, I would like to see him take on one of two guys: 1. Wladimir Klitschko 2. Deontay Wilder Both are fights I think we'd all pay to see. -Randy G.
I am not sold on Tyson Fury one bit. His chin is weak and I think once he steps up to the "A" level of heavyweights he will get ko'd quick. The build up to the fight would be much more entertaining than the fight itself. As for Klitschko-Jennings, I see this as a fight that Jennings had to take but one that is very tough for him to succeed. Jennings is essentially very athletic with good hand speed but still a work in progress. Remember, he started boxing late with very few amateur fights and is basically learning on the job. Klitschko is vastly more experienced and I think will pick Jennings apart in a dominant easy defense. Hope I am wrong though as I really want to see a good heavyweight championship fight.


-brownsugar :

Jennings has been calling out VK for years. But the closer he got, the less enthusiastic he seems to be. At least to me. The longer an athlete is in the sport of boxing, the more reality sinks in. His chin is no better than Fury's but he recovers faster. I give it 6 rounds if Jennings's is using his legs


-Bernie Campbell :

Why the emphasis on an American Heavyweight Champ! Does that mean any extra coin in your individual pocket? The American fighter has lost his nerve! The fighter from overseas and south of the border is far superior! Its all about the Marketing game here in the States! After Floyd retires its down hill to never never land! Study real hard! See that its true on what I say!


-Kid Blast :

How do you say "Bye Bye?" Jennings will be slaughtered like a butcher cuts up steak. He was lucky to beat Perez and would not have had it not been for a terrible call by Referee Harvey Dock in the LAST round. The only thing I see that he has going for him is stamina, but once he feels the jab and the sneaky left hook, he will be positioned for the long right that says "bye bye."


-Kid Blast :

Jennings has been calling out VK for years. But the closer he got, the less enthusiastic he seems to be. At least to me. The longer an athlete is in the sport of boxing, the more reality sinks in. His chin is no better than Fury's but he recovers faster. I give it 6 rounds if Jennings's is using his legs
Yes, good call Brownsugar


-Kid Blast :

Why the emphasis on an American Heavyweight Champ! Does that mean any extra coin in your individual pocket? The American fighter has lost his nerve! The fighter from overseas and south of the border is far superior! Its all about the Marketing game here in the States! After Floyd retires its down hill to never never land! Study real hard! See that its true on what I say!
Think Eastern European mate. That's the future. Also Japan is surging.


-King Beef :

[QUOTE=oubobcat;77227]I am not sold on Tyson Fury one bit. His chin is weak and I think once he steps up to the "A" level of heavyweights he will get ko'd quick. The build up to the fight would be much more entertaining than the fight itself. Gotta agree, even though the field is not all that strong, after seeing Fury get sat on on his @$$ by a blown up cruiserweight, his chin is definitely suspect. With that said, I think Jennings has as about as good a chance as anybody else against WK. But I give 6 rds or less


-Kid Blast :

It would be foolhardy to underestimate Fury. One knockdown does not make him "chinny," and what he did to Cunningham was just plain scary.


-King Beef :

It would be foolhardy to underestimate Fury. One knockdown does not make him "chinny," and what he did to Cunningham was just plain scary.
Cunningham is hardly a top tier heavyweight, against a heavier handed opponent, you can easily say he doesn't get that chance to do what he did to Cunningham. But you are correct, 1 knockdown does'nt mean he "glass", but it is not what you want to see either. I think the real test will be against someone without the huge size deficit, with some decent skills and pop.


-deepwater2 :

I like what I have seen from Fury since he got clipped on the way in. He has adjusted his style,uses his height and switches to southpaw when needed. If I didn't see those improvements I wouldn't think so highly of him.


-kenhissner :

It was a well written piece. At 39 and coming to the states for the first time in about 7 years are about the only two things not in Wladimir Klitschko's favor in defending against Bryant Jennings. Another Philadelphia boxer Gabe Rosato chose to fight Gennady "GGG" Golovkin instead of staying in his weight class at light middleweight and fighting K9 Bundrage because "I can make history if I beat GGG," said Rosato. He didn't make history. Now Jennings is by passing Deontay Wilder for Klitschko. Makes no sense but again he wants to make history. He won't be able to deal with Klitschko in front of him but hopes his movement will frustrate Klitschko in making a mistake. Jennings is a former football player than his trainer Fred Jenkins has developed into a boxer. Jennings is a well built athlete who is very likeable when you meet him and has a good trainer in Jenkins. Klitschko is a heavy favorite I am sure but it could be a distance fight.