Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bryant Jennings: On Boxing, Progress and Love

When talking with heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings (22-2, 13 KOs), he consistently surprises with unexpected candor. Here are four examples: 
  1. Top Rank didn't have to persuade Jennings to sign with them. It was actually the reverse. Jennings had to convince the company that he would be an asset to them.
  2. He doesn't love boxing; it's a job. 
  3. He stole his left uppercut from Alexander Povetkin.
  4. He's excited to be boxing on ESPN, perhaps most importantly because he has 15 to 20 friends in prison who haven't been able to watch him fight in years. 
Now that's a lot to unpack, but first things first: 

Jennings fights Joey Dawejko (19-4-4, 11 KOs, and a former amateur opponent) on April 28th in Philadelphia, also airing on ESPN. The card will be headlined by the Jessie Magdaleno-Isaac Dogboe junior featherweight championship bout and Jennings will fight in one of the televised matches on the card. 

For Jennings, this will be his first nationally televised fight since losing to Luis Ortiz in December of 2015. Following consecutive defeats to Wladimir Klitschko and Ortiz, Jennings was out of the ring for 20 months, embroiled in promotional politics. Eventually, he would leave Gary Shaw for Top Rank. Since his return to the ring in August of last year, Top Rank has kept him busy, albeit against lower-level opposition. Dawejko, a fellow Philadelphian, will be Jennings's fourth fight in eight months.

Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

When asked if he was excited about being back on national television, Jennings saved his most impassioned remarks for his friends in the penitentiary as referenced above. When asked if there was any bad blood between him and Dawejko, who defeated Jennings in the Philadelphia Golden Gloves in 2009, Jennings stated that he had none. 

"I’m a person with great positive energy," he said. "I don’t have negative energy toward anybody, and I don’t want to create any either."

Sure, Jennings believes that he should have been awarded the decision against Dawejko but he has a serene outlook about it. 

"If I hit him more times than he hit me than I felt as though I won," he said. "I wasn’t really devastated even with the decision going his way, but a lot of people in the audience and my corner thought the fight went my way. I didn’t really care about it. I wasn’t really worried about it. I wasn’t chasing anything. I just started [that fight was just four months after he had made his boxing debut]. It wasn’t a dream of mine."

Which leads to the subject of love. When asked when he fell in love with boxing, he replied that he never did. When asked if he would have answered that question differently four years ago, before he had several ups and downs in his career, he remained resolute in his response. 

“I still don’t love the sport," he said. "It’s just a job to me. I’m just clocking in. It’s just work. You know, I have ambition. I have a passion for success. I have a passion for being secure and comfortable in life… 

"The love for the game – it will hurt you over and over again. You tend to love the things that the game can bring to you or the things that the game can bring out of you."

Jennings further expounded on why boxing is not something that should be loved, and it was a fascinating explanation: 

"I understand what love is. I’m very careful about spreading the word love and even telling individuals that 'I love you.' It’s hard to even respond to people with 'I love you too' when you really don’t love them back...When you say you love something, the love is something where it will be stuck, unconditional. Love will always be there. Love never exits. Love never leaves. If I can feel that I used to love something, then I never loved it. There’s no such thing as I don’t love you anymore. It’s either you still do or you never did."

There's wisdom there. And perhaps some hurt. But either way it's not your stock answer to an innocuous question. With Jennings, there's a consistent thread of a developing philosophy of life, one that's been hard-earned through various trials and tribulations. It's clear that he's now focusing on the elements that he can control – his performances in the ring, his individual choices – and not those that can shift focus or distract. He's not worried about when or if he's getting another title shot, what that timetable is, or getting into a war of words with the other players in the heavyweight division. For him, so much of life presently seems to be about clarity of purpose. 

When talking about the intersection of boxing, philosophy and Philadelphia, it's likely that another fighter comes to mind – Bernard Hopkins, and it's no coincidence that Jennings and Hopkins have talked a lot over the years about the adversities that come inside and outside the boxing ring. Jennings and Hopkins have often discussed focus, clarity, and blocking out distractions. The X's and O's – not as much. 

"We don't talk about in-the-ring things," he said. "We talk about out-of-the-ring things. Out-of-the-ring things exercise your brain into how to think...preparing your mind to be able to take in certain information when you’re fighting or just keeping it clear. Fighting is based on a lot of situations that you’re going through at that present time. So if you’re having financial problems, it’s going to show in the fight. If you’re having baby mamma drama, it’s going to show in the fight. He’s helped with just being able to have the wisdom to think clearer – focus a lot better, receive information a lot better and fight a lot better.”  
This notion of focus is something that Jennings and trainer John David Jackson continue to work on in the ring. When asked about what Jackson has taught him, Jennings highlighted the psychological aspects of the sport. 

"We're working on being comfortable," Jennings said. "Being lighter on your feet, not being stiff. And being more offensive. Trusting in the power. Believing in the power. [He's] molding me into being who I can actually be with the education that he brings."

Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

It's often tough getting quality heavyweight sparring in Philadelphia and Jennings has learned his trade as a sparring partner in numerous camps throughout his career. During his hiatus from the ring, he was in camps with Alexander Povetkin, David Haye and Shannon Brings. Even though his professional career was at a standstill at that point, he remained focused on his craft. While Jennings may not love boxing, he maintains a strong sense of professionalism for his vocation. In fact, it was during the Povetkin camp where Jennings picked up a new way of throwing his left uppercut. Further refining Povetkin's shot with Jackson's knowledge of angles, Jennings now believes that his left uppercut is one of his best punches. 

But ask Jennings to name his best punch...he won't answer.

"The best punch is the punch that's open." 

More philosophy. That could be from Hopkins, or another cerebral fighter like Lennox Lewis (a friend and mentor to Jennings), but it's in fact Jennings's own belief. To Jennings, the keys are putting shots together and gradually breaking down a fighter. Sure, Jennings believes in his jab, left hook and right uppercut, but to him, one punch doesn't make the difference; it's the combination of shots that matter – exploiting openings and taking what the opponent provides as opportunities.

Here is where Jennings's in- and out-of-the-ring philosophy starts to coalesce. Asked to name a heavyweight he'd like to fight, he won't. Asked where he will be in a year from now and he provides a similar answer to his in-ring approach: take advantage of what is available. 

"We go after the opportunities," he said. "We go after the money. We go after the upper echelon of achievement, which is to be the heavyweight champion of the world. With these other fighters [in the division], it’s not personal, they just hold that titles that we want."

There's a sense that Jennings is still a developing product, both in and out of the ring. Although he's already 33, he started boxing only at 24. With Jackson, a former two-time champion, Jennings believes that he has the approach that he needs to get to the next level, but he's not in a rush. 

Somehow, Jennings has worked to push distractions aside. If he has a timetable for what he wants to accomplish, he's not saying. He understands that various elements of the sport are out of his control. But within those areas that are in his purview, he holds himself to a high standard. 

He mentions ambition and dedication but a healthy dose of realism continually manifests itself. He had to go looking for a promoter. Where once he appeared on HBO with regularity, now he had to make peace with fighting on three consecutive fights off TV. How many recent heavyweight title challengers had to do that? But there's no bitterness when discussing these facts. He understands the realities of the sport. 

"Progress and consistency," he said, "that’s all you can ask for in this game. This game brings a lot of shit. I want to still be around, to progress, to still be consistent, to still be building the brand and filling the cup." 

Modest aims, but realistic ones.

Bryant Jennings has a number of interesting perspectives on life. He's an original thinker. And if he can keep winning, another big opportunity will come his way. If he's able to take advantage of it, he can cut a very compelling figure in the boxing landscape. But he would object to this type of talk. He has no use for a distraction.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

1 comment:

  1. Peltz is an excellent writer. Of course he majored in writing at Temple U many moons ago. Jennings and Dawejko will be interesting. They fought in the amateurs. Peltz has an excellent card.