Meet Bryant Jennings: The Vegan Gunning to Be Heavyweight Champion

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2015

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24:  Bryant Jennings celebrates after he makes weight during the weight in on April 24, 2015 at Madison Square Garden  in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

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 rely on a grungy brother-in-law to bring him a steak from the meat locker each morning, this real-life heavyweight is far more likely to drive the extra miles for a meat-free breakfast taco that will 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 told Bleacher Report. “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 adhered to it while preparing for his last three fights—consecutive defeats of previously unbeatens 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.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Jennings will test it again Saturday when he meets yet another unbeaten foe—burly Cuban exile Luis Ortiz—at the Turning Stone Casino Resort in Verona, New York.

The bout will headline a two-fight HBO broadcast that’s set to begin at 10:15 p.m. ET.

Ortiz is ranked No. 1 by the WBA, while Jennings is slotted sixth. That 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, Jennings 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.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

“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.”

Successfully scaling the heavyweight mountain would make Jennings at least the second high-profile fighter of recent vintage to win a championship while on a vegan regimen. Former 140-pound champion and current WBO welterweight kingpin Tim Bradley gave up animal products during training camps for several recent fights. But he abandoned the practice after feeling like he faded in later rounds.

By contrast, Jennings has been 24/7/365 since making the change and claims a person’s body wouldn’t reap all the benefits of it if used as an on-and-off vessel, such as Bradley used it.

“You can’t put your body through those types of changes just like that. You can’t do that,” he said. “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. 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.”

Living in the cheesesteak capital of the world doesn’t make it any easier.

But it does provide Jennings the extra motivation needed to pass by the fast-food chains on the way to his new favorite hangouts—Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

As for the reputation those stores have garnered as wallet-drainers, he sees it as money well spent.

Especially considering the alternatives.

“You’ve got to bring your wallet to the bar, don’t you? People do that,” Jennings said. “Ten dollars for a half-ounce shot of what? Something thats 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.

“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.’ 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 s--t.’ 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.”

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