Bryant Jennings isn't ready to give up his day job as a building mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia just yet. But if he defeats Mike Perez in a WBC heavyweight title eliminator tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden, Jennings will be in position for a title shot barely four years into his second career as a professional boxer.
Jennings (18-0, 10 KOs) and Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs), who fights out of Ireland since his defection from Cuba, top the undercard for the WBA and IBO middleweight title fight between champion Gennady Golovkin (29-0, 26 KOs) and challenger Daniel Geale (30-2, 16 KOs). Vitali Klitschko's decision to relinquish his WBC crown in order to enter Ukrainian politics last fall created the opportunity for Jennings and Perez.
The winner of their bout is supposed to be in line for a mandatory shot at new WBC champion Bermane Stiverne, who first must meet Deontay Wilder as part of what the WBC describes as a "heavyweight tournament." But that bout has yet to be announced, and Stiverne also has designs on fighting Wladimir Klitschko, who holds four other versions of the heavyweight title.
Reflecting on his speedy rise through the heavyweight ranks, Jennings said, "If I were to think about it beforehand, it would be a great goal, but it would be surprising to be achieved in this amount of time. But I put in a whole lot of work. Nobody had to tell me to get up and run. Nobody had to tell me to watch what I eat. That's who I am."
Jennings' identity is as unusual as it is varied. He bypassed offers to play major college football, eventually began boxing at the age of 24 and turned pro one year later.
Unlike so many supersized heavyweights, Jennings is a well-conditioned, 6-2, 225-pound athlete with an exceptional 84-inch reach. But as he developed his boxing career, Jennings never gave up the security of his job with the Federal Reserve while working to support his 5-year-old son, Mason.
"I'm like a real-life person," Jennings said. "The average boxer quits his job once he starts boxing. No, I wanted to work and box to push myself to the limit to see how much I can bear. So I'm balancing two careers, my life and being a parent. It definitely does keep you aware of where you came from."
Although Perez has a reputation as a power puncher, he faded late in his last bout, a majority draw with Carlos Takam. "He has very short arms," Jennings said of Perez. "I know he puts on a lot of pressure because he knows he has to get close.
"I'm looking for him to be trying to set a lot of traps and tricks, kind of play cat-and-mouse. I'm well-prepared for it, and I'll be on my toes."