PHILADELPHIA – Bryant Jennings can hear the distant tick, tick, ticking as it nears. His body tells him what time it is and where he has to go. It tells him he’s going to have to break free from seven months of ring rust when he faces Polish southpaw Artur Szpilka at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 25, as part of HBO’s main event between junior lightweights Mikey Garcia and Juan Carlos Burgos.
But mostly, Jennings can hear his internal clock whispering to him about lost time.
Jennings (17-0, 9 knockouts) fought just once last year, stopping Andrey Fedosov, a Russian George Chuvalo, in six rounds in Bethlehem, Pa. Since then, Jennings has been sorting out a mess, getting his promotional situation in order, moving from J Russell Peltz to Gary Shaw, and switching managers, from Fred Jenkins, his trainer, to James Prince.
It was frustrating. Time consuming. At times nauseating, waiting and watching as precious time slipped away.
Now Jennings feels he needs to compensate for that missed time and Szpilka (16-0, 12 KOs) is going to be the one who pays.
“I had to do things my way,” Jennings said. “Very seldom do fighters make it out of Philly. There have been only a handful the last 15, 20 years that have actually made it out of Philly, like Bernard Hopkins and Danny Garcia. I didn’t want to be that person who was getting passed by. I had to spread my wings a little bit. I wanted to break free and do what I had to do.
“I have to live for right now and felt the best way to move forward was to make a change. I can always say that I did it my way, and no matter the outcome, I have no regrets. These were my decisions. The way Russell ran business wasn’t the way I run business. Fred Jenkins is my trainer and I had to make that move with Prince. I had to change and feel comfortable in this dangerous sport.”
The last seven months it was almost as if Jennings disappeared. His unpredictable, rock ’em, sock ’em style was missed.
“I was still around and I knew this year would be big for me,” Jennings said. “I’m still walking around at 221, 223 [pounds] and feel good. I’ve always kept myself in shape and I had to get things right outside of the ring before I got things going inside the ring again.”
Jennings, 29, admits he knows very little about the 24-year-old Szpilka. He knows he’s 6-foot-3 and is a southpaw. He’s aware Szpilka carries a little power, having stopped three of his last four opponents. But to hear Jennings, prior to a media workout Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia, he doesn’t have much to worry about.
It’s Szpilka who needs to be concerned about him.
“I really don’t know much about [Szpilka], but I usually don’t care. I train for whomever,” Jennings said. “It’s no biggie to me. I’m treating him like I have the rest of my opponents. He’s going to try to take my head off and I’m going to try to knock his head off. Someone like [Szpilka] can’t work like me. I think I’m different this year than I was last year. I know the hope is there with me, that I’m one of the American heavyweight hopefuls. I take that very seriously. People want to see me. You can say that I’m back by popular demand. I know I’m exciting.”
And he’s still immersed in on-the-job-training, considering Jennings began boxing at the late age of 24.
“No one has really seen my best,” Jennings said. “I came off the street, but I came into the game already with a six pack. I’m cramming a lot of experience in a very little bit of time. I know what people say. I hear the noise that I’m too small. Things like that. My antennas are always up. The way I see it, I never really had my chance to live, so I have to live for my son – this is all for him.”
In his last bout, Jennings and Fedosov (24-3, 19 KOs) went at it until referee Steve Smoger, at the advice of ringside physician Tom Mitros, waved it over after the sixth round, giving Jennings the victory.
But Fedosov, his lower lip fat and spilling blood from the corner of his mouth, extended “By-By” more than anyone had in his brief pro career. Lessons that Jennings hopefully learned and absorbed for Szpilka, whom Jennings looks at as “a kid,” who carries himself as “a kid” and talks like “a kid.”
“I think Bryant is much, much more focused than he’s ever been,” Jenkins said. “We are aiming for a title fight this year. We’re done with the politics. We’re moving forward. Bryant knows how good he is. Before, he was guessing how good he is. Bryant was ready to fight two weeks ago. We’re good. We haven’t seen Bryant’s best yet. We haven’t seen close to his best yet. I’ll be scared when he learns it all.”