By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Bryant Jennings is not your father’s “Philly fighter.”
He’s neither Joe Frazier nor Bennie Briscoe. And don’t even think about Rocky Balboa.
In fact, rather than relying on a grungy brother-in-law to bring a steak each morning, this real-life heavyweight is far more likely to drive the extra miles for a meat-free breakfast taco … that’ll tide him over until he’s through with yoga class.
Yes. He’s different. And he knows it.
“That not only pertains to being a heavyweight fighter, it pertains to being a person, period,” he said. “Because the average person doesn’t get it. That just shows a different side of me that I love to express and the fact that I love my life so much and I look into it so much that I try to make everything as efficient as possible and do everything that I was put on earth to do.”
A ring pro for nearly six years, Jennings went all-in on a vegan lifestyle in 2013 and has adhered to it while preparing for his last three fights – consecutive defeats of previously unbeaten Artur Szpilka (TKO 10) and Mike Perez (SD 12), and a spirited challenge of Wladimir Klitschko (UD 12) that turned out to be the final successful defense of the Ukrainian’s prodigious nine-year title reign.
He’ll test it again on the final Saturday before Christmas, when he meets yet another unbeaten foe – burly Cuban exile Luis Ortiz – at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York.
The bout will headline a two-fight HBO broadcast that’s set to begin at 10:15 p.m.
Ortiz is ranked No. 1 by the WBA while Jennings is slotted sixth, which means a victory for the Philadelphian is mandatory to keep him on course for a shot at Klitschko’s conqueror, Tyson Fury.
And, speaking of Fury’s upset win, he found it both surprising and disheartening.
“I didn’t like it. I just didn’t think it was a real fight. That was a tough fight to judge, score or whatever. It was a tough fight to watch. I just didn’t like it,” Jennings said. “(Klitschko) lost. But it wasn’t even a fight. There was no eagerness at all. There was no will in there at all. If someone’s about to take your belt away, you’re supposed to defend it. He didn’t do that at all.
“As for seeing anything that was giving him a problem, he’s been (undefeated) for 11 years, you’re supposed to adjust to that. You’re the champion. The style wasn’t really that serious for him to look that bad. But that’s what we saw. That’s what we witnessed.”
Jennings sat down for a recent chat in which he discussed the reasons for his change in lifestyle, his determination to stay with it and his preparation for the crossroads match with Ortiz.
Q: Where does it come from? Did you pick it up from others?
A: I’ve been without any meat products since 2013. I’ve always pretty much watched what I ate. I never really did eat meat like that anyway. I started research on how I feel, things to do, what not to do, different sicknesses, trying to live longer, trying to live an efficient life and trying to be the best person I can be, feeling-wise. Not contracting any diabetes or cancer. Just trying to eliminate the chances. Even though the chances still exist because of the environment that we live in, I just try to live right.
Q: Tim Bradley was vegan, then he stopped because he was losing energy late in fights. Thoughts?
A: I fought Szpilka on it. I fought Perez on it. I fought Klitschko on it. Everything was fine. The thing is, I do this 24/7. Tim Bradley might just do it during training camp.
Q: Yes, he only did it for camp. It wasn’t a 365 lifestyle for him. Why does that matter?
A: You can do that. You can’t put your body through those types of changes just like that. You can’t do that. I took a chance, but when I started out it wasn’t a full vegan thing. I would only eat fish and stuff like that. I cut things out slowly but surely. You just find things that are comfortably substituted for things that you removed from your diet.
Q: Has it been an easy transition?
A: The transition is only tough because of the convenience. If you go to a supermarket and you’re filling up your own refrigerator, then it’s easy as pie. Because you know what to get to put in your refrigerator, therefore if you’re eating at home, home is your choice. When you’re going out (to a restaurant), you have to eat what’s on the menu. At home, you create your own menu because you go out and get what you want to eat.
Q: Do you not eat out as much? Are you relying more on yourself to make your own meals?
A: That, plus I have my spots. I search for the good spots, and I really don’t find any problem at all. Not one problem. In Philly it’s tough, but you’ve got Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
Q: Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s means bringing your wallet along, right?
A: But you’ve got to bring your wallet to the bar, don’t you? People do that. Ten dollars for a half-ounce shot, of what? Something’s that going to mess your head up and have you dizzy and total your car that you just paid for. That’s crazy. I’d rather bring my wallet to the supermarket and to the doctor than to bring it to the bar and to the dope man, because people get high, too. Don’t forget that.
Q: Do people ever come up and say, “Hey, Philly fighters aren’t vegans. Philly fighters don’t do yoga”?
A: The world ain’t the way it used to be. So, therefore, we can’t eat the same things we ate 20 years ago, because it ain’t the same thing. Things that our grandparents and parents grew up off of ain’t the same thing that we are growing up off of and our kids are growing up off of. It’s not the same thing. They’re putting more stuff in it, they’re trying to produce a whole lot of it. And this money thing is just taking control of the world right now. Whatever makes money is how it’s going to go. They’re putting silicon and fibers inside of McDonald’s nuggets, just to produce more nuggets. Are you kidding me? You’re going to do that, just to make an extra 10 cents on every hundred nuggets? Are you kidding me?
Q: Do you think people don’t do the lifestyle because it’s inconvenient and requires more legwork?
A: It’s just a mindset. It’s whatever you want to categorize yourself as a human being. It’s only tough because of the convenience. Every five blocks there’s a McDonald’s, but there may be one Whole Foods every 30 blocks, or every 30 miles. You’ve just got to have the dedication to where you’re like, “OK, I’m passing all these obstacles just to go to the goal.” Saying “No. I’m not stopping in this. I’m not stopping there.” It’s just like living in the hood and somebody trying to get over the addiction of drugs. On every corner you’ve got somebody asking you, “Yo, you good?” You’re just trying to make it to the bus stop and go to work and live a clean life, but somebody at every corner just keeps stopping you and saying, “We got this weed. We got this coke. I got that new shit.” It’s the same thing. You’ve just got to be strong and you’ll fight through it and know what’s best for you.
Q: Talk about Ortiz. What do you notice when you watch him?
A: I still ain’t seen him yet. I haven’t looked at him yet.
Q: Is that typical for you? You don’t deal with a guy until you’re in a ring with him?
A: I never really looked at anybody. It’s been practicing and adjusting throughout my career. You’re in the ring. You’re going to see it. There’s certain things that the trainers watch and they’ll say “This is what he does” and “This is what we’ve got to look out for.” We do things like that, but when you’re in there you’re going to see things coming. When I’m with a fighter, he ain’t fighting nothing like he fought before.
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This week’s title-fight schedule
Last week’s picks: 2-0 (WIN: Ambunda, Ruenroeng)
2015 picks record: 85-24 (77.9 percent)
Overall picks record: 724-247 (74.5 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.