By Jake Donovan
Two unbeaten heavyweights collide at Madison Square Garden, with the opportunity for the winner to go on to fight for a world title.
For most other heavyweights, it’s a dream come true. As far as Bryant Jennings is concerned, it’s just another day in the office until he’s convinced he no longer has to chase the best in the division.
Make no mistake, the undefeated heavyweight contender from Philadelphia is genuinely excited over the prospect of fighting in the main room at Madison Square Garden. His most recent bout took place at MSG’s The Theatre, where he stopped Artur Szpilka – also an unbeaten heavyweight heading into the night – in the 10th and final round of their HBO-televised co-feature.
This time around, he moves one fight closer to a major title shot, as he faces Mike Perez – an undefeated Cuban heavyweight now based out of Ireland - in the chief support to the July 26 HBO-televised card headlined by Gennady Golovkin’s middleweight title defense versus Daniel Geale. The winner is guaranteed (on paper) a mandatory title shot versus whomever comes out on top in a forthcoming heavyweight title fight between Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder.
For now, Jennings is focused only on what is in his immediate control.
“Whatever happens between (Stiverne and Wilder), yeah it’s in the back of my mind,” Jennings admits. “But they’re not even scheduled yet. Once they’re scheduled, a title fight against the winner is something I can look forward to. For now, all of my focus is on July 26 and Mike Perez.”
The bout will mark the second straight appearance on HBO and in New York City for Jennings (18-0, 10KOs), regaining momentum that came with a breakout campaign in 2012. Most of his 2013 boxing year was spent feuding with – and eventually splitting from – promoter Main Events, signing with Gary Shaw Productions last fall.
In Perez, Jennings is met with his third unbeaten opponent in a span of 2 ½ years, dating back to his 10-round win over Maurice Byarm in a last-minute scheduled heavyweight clash to kick off the NBC Sports Network Fight Night series. That he took the fight under such circumstances spoke volumes of his willingness to take on any challenge.
Jennings still carries that mentality, as evidenced by his jumping in to face Perez, even while skeptical that it will lead to immediate rewards.
“I don’t see the politics of the sport allowing me to fight for a title by the end of this year,” Jennings believes. “People are dragging their feet to make (the title fight between Stiverne and Wilder), and they’ll take their time after that. I can’t worry about that. I’m just getting ready for combat, ready to go to war on July 26. I’m anticipating a great night and am just keeping my composure not worrying about anything else.”
If anything, the greatest challenge in Jennings’ immediate sights is contending for headlines on fight night later this month.
The win over Szpilka turned out to be the highlight of the night on a card that also featured Mikey Garcia in a 12-round win over Juan Carlos Burgos. Claiming the spotlight that night didn’t prove too difficult; Jennings’ knockout win over Szpilka was an entertaining slugfest, while the main event was a tough watch.
A far more difficult task lies ahead in that regard, as Golovkin has proven to be must-see TV every time he steps into the ring. The unbeaten middleweight titlist has scored 16 straight knockouts, including explosive performances in all four of his HBO-televised appearances to date. His ring return marks his first network appearance of 2014 and second fight on the year, following a Fighter of the Year-level campaign that saw four knockouts, three of which aired on HBO live from New York City.
Furthermore, Golovkin’s ratings have dramatically increased with each fight, which means a large audience is expected to tune in for the HBO-televised doubleheader. Most will be watching to see what Golovkin can do in his toughest test to date versus Geale, a former middleweight titlist.
Jennings has every intention of setting the bar very high by the time the main event begins.
“If you’re on the undercard, your job is to steal the show,” Jennings points out. “He’ll bring a different crowd than who normally sees my fights, so I plan to gain some new fans in the progress. They’ll come to see him, but I plan to make sure everyone knows who I am by the end of the night.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox