Bryant Jennings (R) celebrates a first-round KO of Chris Koval (AP)Seth Mitchell's demolition at the hands of Johnathon Banks on Nov. 17 in Atlantic City, N.J., should serve as a warning for those ready to anoint a young fighter the next anything.
Mitchell, the erstwhile Michigan State linebacker, had been getting a lot of attention for reeling off 23 consecutive wins and becoming, in theory at least, the top American heavyweight prospect.
But Mitchell had fought a bunch of lesser known and hardly known opponents and didn't have the kind of experience to justify much of the praise he was receiving. Banks, in one of the year's more startling upsets, stopped Mitchell in just the second round.
That's pushed Bryant Jennings, once a high school athlete of some note at Ben Franklin High School in Philadelphia, to the forefront as perhaps the best American-born heavyweight in a very weak field. Jennings, 28, faces unheralded Bowie Tupou on Dec. 8 in Philadelphia in a bout that will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network.
Jennings was a defensive end who attracted notice from a number of Division I schools, he said. No matter the sport, he was able to star. Basketball, football, track, it didn't matter.
"I'm had the ability to do a lot of things," Jennings said.
His best ability of all may be his ability to fight. He's 15-0 with seven knockouts and has gone 4-0 in 2012, looking impressive in wins over Mo Byarm, Sergei Liakhovich, Steve Collins and Chris Koval.
But just like Mitchell's resume, Jennings' is filled with guys like Liakhovich, who were at the end of the line, or like Koval, who have essentially been career opponents.
Jennings is aware that some may push him as the next big thing in the division from an American perspective, and he doesn't dissuade that kind of talk, but he's also not going to let it change his approach.
"I'm just going to remain humble and keep trying to learn the game one day at a time," he said. "Nobody is going to give you anything in this business. To get something, you have to earn it and that means going out and winning fights."
Brothers Wladimir (L) and Vitali Klitschko (AP)He's not going to call out heavyweight champions Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko no matter how good he may look against Tupou. And Jennings seems to get it, understanding that the more successful he gets, the more hangers on who are going to want to be part of his pack.
That works for some, but it definitely does not for him. He's willing to bide his time, learn his craft and fight for the title when the timing is right.
He still works a full-time job as a building mechanic at the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia. Though there have been calls in some corners for him to quit his job and concentrate on boxing, he's not of that mind yet.
He's going to keep going to work, at the Federal Reserve and in the ring, and try to build his name as a contender the right way.
"I'm not saying I'm not liking the attention, but it gets tough," he said. "There is a lot of pressure; a lot of buildup. These people, they're like wolves. The critics and stuff, they're like wolves and they'll try to eat you alive. You've got to be able to maneuver and stuff in the pack. That's the tough part of all of this."