Although boxing fans are already looking ahead in anticipation to May 2, when the long-awaited dream fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather finally takes place, an outstanding appetizer will take place the week before, when dominant heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko defends his title in the United States for the first time in seven years. On April 25, Klitschko meets undefeated contender Bryant Jennings at the Mecca of Boxing, Madison Square Garden.
A Philadelphia native, Jennings is nearly as big of an underdog as Phili’s favorite fictional son, Rocky Balboa. Jennings didn’t even take up boxing until he was 24. He fought just 19 times as a professional and 17 times in the amateur ranks.
Still, he’s a natural talent. Despite his short amateur career, he reached the National Golden Gloves finals. As a professional, he’s improved steadily. As his level of competition has gotten better, Jennings has generally looked sharper, which is always a great sign.
Jennings has excellent athleticism and moves well laterally, but his most overlooked attribute is his astonishing 84” reach. At just 6’3”, Jennings has the reach of a seven footer. He’s a slightly bigger than average man with the arms and shoulders of a giant. Although the champion is three inches taller, Jennings will have a three-inch edge in reach.
The offensive advantages of such a reach are obvious, but Jennings makes even better use of those mammoth arms on defense. With arms that are so proportionately large in relation to his torso, it’s as if Jennings is holding over-sized paddles in front of his body, giving him an extremely difficult guard to penetrate.
Outside of the ring, Jennings is really nothing like Rocky Balboa. Throughout his boxing career, he’s maintained his regular job as a mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank. He’s a working father who just happens to be a top heavyweight contender.
He’ll be a huge underdog against Klitschko, and with good reason. Klitschko is a much better boxer, with far more punching power, than anybody he’s ever faced. Nobody Jennings has fought so far is even in the same Universe as Klitschko.
But these kind of life-changing opportunities are a huge part of what makes prizefighting so compelling. The idea of one man, walking into the ring against improbable odds, with nothing but his dreams and his two fists to defend it—stories like that are the soul of the sweet science.