For someone who went 0-2 in 2015, Bryant Jennings (19-2, 10 KOs) had a breakout year. He went the distance with then-champ Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs), and was knocked out in a highly entertaining scrap with the Rabelaisian monster Luis Ortiz (24-0, 21 KOs).
While a number of fighters last year went undefeated but lost respect for taking the easy way out against soft-hitting journeymen, Jennings seems to have gained heaps of respect in a losing year from boxing fans for refusing to shy away from even the most intimidating of challenges.
Having established himself in a division replete with talent, what could possibly be next for the self-proclaimed Bearded Vegan Boxer Dad?
Promoter Gary Shaw is likely to give Jennings an easy fight in the coming months to improve his record and increase his fan base moving forward, but after that Jennings is liable to continue his career as the legacy-chasing warrior he has become.
Given his ties to HBO, Jennings would have difficulty securing a fight with Deontay Wilder. That fight was rumored to be in negotiations at the end of last year, but it never came to fruition as Jennings took the Ortiz fight and Wilder made his defense against Artur Szpilka.
If that fight moved past negotiations and became reality, Jennings could bolster his growing reputation as the lovable everyman fighter in his attempts to take down Wilder, a growing prime time name with a near perfect knockout ratio.
What makes this fight tantalizing in 2016 is that Jennings and Wilder now have a common opponent in Szpilka, a worthy B-class fighter, who they both have knocked out.
Jennings stopped Szpilka before teaming up with trainer John David Jackson who appears to have rejuvenated the athletic Heavyweight and increased his punching power and technique. In Jennings’ fight against Ortiz, the American contender frazzled the Cuban behemoth a few times before letting his guard down to Ortiz’s endless swarm. Jennings’ power is increasing and so is his boxing ability.
Wilder on the other hand has been subject to criticism in his last few fights. He’s taken on unranked fighters with no chance, and has struggled with a number of them. Wilder was hurt badly by Eric Molina, roughed up by Johann Duhaupas, and even Szpilka outboxed the Bronze Bomber before Wilder finally landed his deus ex machina of a right hand.
Should Jennings get Wilder into the ring with him in the coming year, there could very well be a new American fan favorite in the Heavyweight division as Wilder vs. Jennings is ultimately a very even matchup, and Jennings is far and away the humbler of the two. Jennings doesn’t talk trash. He respects his opponents. He’s all heart, no showboating, and is dedicated to his trade.
Jennings is a fighter the American public can get behind, and if he can get the right people into the ring with him, 2016 could be his year.
Photo by Marilyn Paulino/RBRBoxing