By Jake Donovan
The superstars of the sport are easy to identify. The hard part in surveying the rest of the field is determining which fighters will last once they make it to the big stage.
Far too often, fighters are anointed as the next coming based solely on a single outing, only for their 15 minutes of fame to not last much longer than that. Then there are those who merely need to find a way through the front door before allowing their God-given talent to carry them the rest of the way.
The latter is where Bryant Jennings currently resides.
The unbeaten heavyweight found himself in the spotlight almost by accident, headlining the inaugural episode of the NBC Sports Network Fight Night series only after fellow Philly resident Eddie Chambers was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Less than a year later, he now serves as the featured subject in the latest installment of the network’s ‘Fight Night 36’ reality series. Jennings’ segment will air Thursday at 10PM ET on NBC Sports Network, two days before he headlines on the very same network against Bowie Tupou (22-2, 16KO) at Temple University (Saturday, 10PM ET).
The selection choice was hardly an accident. Good old-fashioned hard work transformed Jennings from an unknown heavyweight rookie to one of the division’s leading prospects. The Philly native already experienced a steady progression of competition level prior to his televised debut earlier this year.
After his 10-round points win over previously unbeaten Maurice Byarm, all eyes were on Jennings (15-0, 7KO), seeking confirmation as to whether he’d become the next big thing or the next big bust. For the moment, there lends plenty of reason to believe the real thing stands before our very eyes.
“Jennings has stepped up time after time and used the series as a platform from which to launch his career,” notes Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. “So it is a natural progression that he should now get the chance to tell us more about his very interesting story on Fight Night 36.”
Saturday night will mark Jennings’ fourth appearance on NBC Sports Network and his fifth overall fight of 2012. His lone bout outside of the series came on Wealth TV, serving as the chief support to Tomasz Adamek’s stay-busy win over Travis Walker.
Jennings’ own appearance on the card was offered as a means to stay active, though his night didn’t last very long. Chris Koval hardly proved a worthy foe, crumbling upon impact and shown the door just 35 seconds into the bout.
The matchup was Jennings’ lone soft touch of the year, fighting a combined 29 rounds in the span of five months against three heavyweights at three very different stages of their respective careers.
The aforementioned win over Byarm was the first reveal for either fighter. However, it was Jennings’ shockingly one-sided effort against former heavyweight titlist Siarhai Liakhovich two months later that serves as his breakthrough performance. With that came high expectations of his June showcase against Steve Collins, whom Jennings dominated every round en route to a clean sweep on the cards.
Tupou is hardly favored to win, but the Tonga-born heavyweight – now based in Los Angeles – is expected to give the hometown fighter a tough night’s work.
Jennings and his team wouldn’t have it any other way. If so, then they wouldn’t let the series end this year in the same city where it began, showcasing the very same fighter.
“Bryant Jennings is the first real star to be developed entirely on NBC Sports Network’s Fight Night series,” said Duva, whose choice of the unbeaten heavyweight headlining the series’ season finale was a no-brainer. “He appeared in the main event on our first broadcast in January and he will close the year for us on Saturday.”
With more series dates lined up for 2013, you can expect to see a lot more of Bryant Jennings in the future – and that’s the way it should be.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com Follow Jake on Twitter:@JakeNDaBox