By Jake Donovan
Don’t see surprised if you see Bryant Jennings and Artur Szpilka drop down and kiss the ring apron prior to their heavyweight clash this Saturday at Madison Square Garden’s The Theatre in New York City.
It hasn’t exactly been the best of times for either unbeaten heavyweight, but both are prepared to keep the past in the rearview mirror and resume their respective careers. Their scheduled 10-round clash serves as the televised opener to Mikey Garcia’s 130 lb. title defense versus Juan Carlos Burgos, with HBO televising both bouts (Saturday, 9:45PM ET).
Szpilka (16-0, 12KO) enjoyed a far more memorable 2013 campaign than did his opponent, going 4-0 on the year with his time spent between his native Poland and home away from home in Chicago. Included on last year’s docket was a pair of thrilling come-from-behind knockout wins over Mike Mollo, the latter airing live on ESPN2 while their first fight was streamed live on ESPN3.com.
The all-action Polish heavyweight jumped at the opportunity to face Jennings (17-0, 9KO). However, a mixup with Department Homeland Security resulted in his being temporarily deported from Chicago back to his native Poland earlier in the month.
The issue has since worked itself out, with Szpilka not missing a beat save for travel time from, to and back from his native Poland. The hope is that a win on Saturday will lead down the road to a historic moment for his country.
“There has never been a Polish (heavyweight) world champion before,” Leon Margules, Szpilka’s promoter pointed out during Thursday’s press conference in New York City. “We hope Artur will be the first, but of course has to get past Bryant Jennings.”
While title aspirations are on the mind of any fighter not presently in the championship saddle, Szpilka is more focused on giving fans their money’s worth in his first fight since last summer.
“I’m ready to fight and I will knock him out,” Szpilka vows in a fight that serves as the HBO-televised debut for both fighters. “I’ve put in hard work. It will be a good fight, a war.”
His opponent wasn’t as bold to predict an early night, but rather more grateful for having the opportunity to even fight at all.
“Come January 25, you’re definitely going to see a complete fighter,” promised Jennings (17-0, 9KO), who fought just once in 2013 – a 6th round injury stoppage over Andrey Fedosov – before enduring a falling out with co-promoters Main Events and Peltz Boxing.
Jennings enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2012, a fixture on the then-newly minted NBC Sports Network Fight Night series. Somewhere along the way, Jennings and Main Events were no longer on the same page, resulting in the 29-year old Philly product opting out of his contract and signing with Gary Shaw – himself a former chief member of Main Events before the company split more than a decade ago – last October.
Always true to his craft and more importantly to himself, Jennings remained in shape and looked remarkably fit while on the dais during Thursday’s press conference. But as is the case with boxing and especially in the heavyweight division, it’s not always how you look but how you put it to use.
“This is boxing, it’s about show time and talent. This is my time to show that talent,” Jennings promised. “I prepared eight weeks for this and stayed in shape. I’m well prepared for this. I hope to open some eyes with this (performance). Here I am, the next heavyweight champion of the world.”
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 Tags: Artur Szpilka , Bryant Jennings , Jennings-Szpilka , Jennings vs. Szpilka