So, Bryant Jennings, what are the stakes Dec. 19, when you take on burly Cuban power-hitter Luis Ortiz in Verona, NY, and on HBO?
“My career is on the line,” the Philly boxer told me, while in the midst of training, in Florida, with ace tutor John David Jackson. “It's possible that I'd have back to back losses.”
Indeed…he lost his last outing. But there was and is a bright spot attached to that L in April. The fighter, promoted by Gary Shaw, was on an even plane with the Ukrainian pound for pounder for many minutes of many rounds. His was no disgrace, that outing, and I think it made it possible that we could see an improved boxer, by a significant margin, moving forward. After all, boxing is X percent mental, more so than most realize, and when a person makes a leap in belief in self, the dividends can be immense. “But I've defeated the odds so far in life..and that's what I continue to plan to do,” Jennings said.
So wait…does he see himself as the underdog versus Ortiz? Because I don't…Jennings (age 31; 6-3; 19-1 with 10 KOs; No. 11 BoxRec) is a better athlete, is a more skilled technician, and he should be able to smart-box his way to a W. “Nah…I don't know what I am,” he said, before pondering how maybe the masses of fight fans see him. We both agreed, he's been tested by a better brand of foe than Ortiz (23-0 with 20 KOs; age 36; 6-4; No. 20 BoxRec), and while Team Ortiz might point to an extensive amateur tenure, Jennings points out, “We are now in the pros. Deep in the pros.”
Promoter Shaw laid out the stakes, and pulled no punches. “The stakes? EVERYTHING! Two losses in a row, in this climate, are near death,” Shaw told me.
The interim WBA title, held by the lefty Cuban, will be up for grabs. Oriz won that in Sept. 2014, by beating Lateef Kayode, but that win was turned to a “no contest” when Ortiz tested positive for a PED, postfight. The WBA kindly allowed him another crack, and he re-secured that title against C level hitter Matias Ariel Vidondo on the Oct. 17 Golovkin vs. Lemieux card.
For the record, beyond regular commission testing, VADA will do PED screening for the Jennings/Ortiz bout.
Interestingly, Jennings says he hasn't seen Ortiz fight, but that matters not to him. He's meshed with JD Jackson, and has been pleased with the push JDJ has given his brain and body. They've agreed to work together since the summer but only now have been knee-deep in the process of getting acquainted, and re-orienting some traits and habits and mindsets, because Jennings takes care of his son, in grade school now.
We can expect to see tightened up technique come Dec. 19, maybe gains made in the footwork department, and in timing, as positioning is something being drilled on. Standing in the pocket, staying calm, and coming back with launches, that could be an area of improvement for Jennings in his first fight since he showed Klitschko and doubters he's a top tier heavyweight. So, is he looking to make a statement, or just win? “I think I made that statement against Klitschko,” he told me. “I'm gonna show up like I always do!” And, quite possibly, with the “new trainer infusion,” a tick or two better than we've seen…