By: William Holmes
The next Main Events promoted card being broadcast on the NBC Sports Network features a main event of Zab Judah taking on Vernon Paris. However, a fight on the undercard has this writer’s attention. Former WBO heavyweight champion Sergei Liakhovich takes on rising prospect Bryant Jennings in what will be considered a turning point matchup for both fighters.
Bryant Jennings, with a record of 12-0, burst onto the heavyweight scene by mere luck. NBC Sports Network’s first fight night card was supposed to feature a compelling heavyweight matchup between Sergei Liakhovich and Eddie Chambers, but a last minute injury forced Eddie Chambers off the card. Bryant Jennings stepped up to the plate on less than a week’s notice and took on fellow undefeated prospect Maurice Byarm on national television in front of an audience bigger than he could ever have dreamed of. Jennings was impressive, and was able to win the decision while fighting past six rounds for the first time ever in his career. Jennings could have sat on his laurels and face easier competition while slowly working his way up the rankings. Instead, he decided to take on the tough veteran and former champion Sergei Liakhovich.
Many feel that Jennings is not ready, but he disagrees. “I know for sure that I’m ready,” Jennings said before his typically rigorous workout at the ABC Recreation Center in North Philly. “Everything I do is for a reason. It’s a pretty good step up for me, and I know it’s not going to be easy. But I got to move forward. Everything is going to get tougher now. I know that’s the way it has to be.”
Jennings also seems to recognize that this is a make or break fight for Liakhovich. A loss for a former heavyweight champion to an untested prospect will likely eliminate his chances for ever fighting for a heavyweight title again. “He’s trying to work his way back to being a contender, and I’m here to step in his way,” said Jennings. “He’s also in my way, so that’s when we clash and collide.”
Liakhovich is aging, and at 35 years old he is unlikely to make another run at a heavyweight title if he fails to win his fight with Jennings. Liakhovich has fought many of the top names in the heavyweight division, including Lamon Brewster, Shannon Briggs, Nikolay Valuev, Dominick Guinn and Maurice Harris. This will be Liakhovich’s fourth fight in the past two years, and he’s coming off a tough 9th round TKO loss to top contender Robert Helenius.
Liakhovich’s biggest victory ever in his career was when he beat Lamon Brewster for the WBO heavyweight title in 2006. At that time, Brewster was still riding high from his defeat of Wladimir Klitschko.
Liakhovich has hit some rough spots since then, but should still be considered the favorite over Bryant Jennings. Liakhovich does not sound like a fighter ready to call it quits. “You have to learn from your mistakes and move forward,” Liakhovich said. “You have to take the experiences with you. Look forward, move forward.”
While Jennings was able to expose himself to the boxing world by fighting in the main event of NBC Sports Network’s first televised event, it also gave his much more experienced opponent the opportunity to scout him.
“I saw the fight,” Liakhovich said. “He is young, has decent speed, decent power. He is a decent fighter. I will take him into the deep water and see how he does.”
A loss for Liakhovich will signal an end to his attempt at once again becoming a top contender for a major heavyweight title. A loss for Jennings will abruptly end his sudden and unexpected rise in popularity and exposure. A victory for either will catapult them into possible title contention in the near future.
It’s a rare fight where both fighters are risking everything to advance their careers by taking on a dangerous opponent. It will be a major turning point for the worse for the loser, and a turning point for the better for the winner.