FOR THE FIRST 18 fights of his burgeoning professional boxing career, Philadelphia heavyweight contender Bryant Jennings prepared here in his home city. Typically, he'd continue to work his day job as a building mechanic with the Federal Reserve Bank while training, at least up until 2 weeks before a fight.
But with a shot at a heavyweight title just a fight away, Jennings has for the first time taken his camp elsewhere. Since April 2, he's been in Houston, running around the city and sparring at several of its gyms. Training without distractions has only magnified his focus, he says, for the biggest fight of his career, a May 24 title eliminator bout against Mike Perez at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.
"This is something I've been waiting for," Jennings said, "for a long time."
Holding an 8-week training camp 1,500 miles away from Philly signifies the crucial point at which Jennings finds himself in his career: No. 4 contender in the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association rankings, undefeated in 18 bouts (10 knockouts) and with his sights set on taking over the heavyweight division. A triumph over Perez (20-0-1, 12 knockouts) would ensure him a fight for the WBC belt, vacated in December by its longtime owner, Vitali Klitschko.
Jennings, a confident 29-year-old raised in North Philadelphia, has been boxing since only 2009 but burst onto the scene with five wins in 2010, six in 2011 and five in 2012. The former All-Public League defensive end at Ben Franklin High fought only once last year but opened 2014 with a 10th-round technical knockout of Polish southpaw Artur Szpilka.
If Jennings defeats Perez, the fifth-ranked contender, he is expected to fight one of three opponents for the title. However, that bout figures to take place months down the road.
First, the top-ranked and second-ranked contenders, Bermane Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 knockouts) and Chris Arreola (36-3, 31 knockouts), need to fight Saturday in Los Angeles for the right to the vacated WBC belt. The victor then is expected to fight third-ranked contender Deontay Wilder, who is 31-0 with 31 KOs. It's expected that the winner between Wilder and Stiverne/Arreola would then battle Jennings or Perez in a title fight.
May 24 will mark Jennings' second consecutive fight featured on HBO's "Boxing After Dark." His Jan. 25 win over Szpilka at Madison Square Garden was his first featured on the network.
Like Szpilka, Perez, 28, is a southpaw. The Cuban native who resides in Ireland is coming off a 10-round draw against Carlos Takam on Jan. 18 at Montreal's Bell Centre.
Jennings, calling himself "a technician" and a fighter who "loves to control the pace," doesn't sound too concerned. He said he will fight at his pace, not that of Perez.
"It's not what I'm going to have to do to beat him, it's what he's going to have to do to beat me," Jennings said. "He's going to have to make the adjustments. There's nobody that's going to take me out of my fight. My fight style is my fight style."
There have been previous fights for which Jennings said he would have rather held a training camp outside of Philly but the time was never right. He has his full-time job - he took a leave of absence for these couple of months - as well as a young son and other daily responsibilities. But having worked out arrangements for these 8 weeks in Houston, he's been able to focus on "the fight and the fight only."
"It's a different level of focus," Jennings said. "It's a different level of everything."
He plans to display the results 2 weeks from tomorrow.