The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia is full of bankers, but behind the scenes, there’s also lots of blue-collar guys keeping the building up and running.
For a decade, their ranks included the man about to fight for the world heavyweight boxing championship: Bryant “By By” Jennings.
“Yeah, he was a junior mechanic, but he was always helpful cause he’s big. So if we need to lift a motor up, there’s Bryant, he’s right there,” deadpaned Harry Habina, a senior mechanic who worked side-by-side with Jennings.
The crew here has watched one of their own grow from unknown amateur to legitimate contender; a 6’3″, 225-pound knot of muscle who is getting in some final workouts before his April 25th title match at Madison Square Garden.
He’s become something of a folk hero around the Fed.
“He never had any fear. I always asked him, ‘What’s it feel like when you’re coming down to the ring? You got to be scared stepping through the ropes and all.’ And he goes, ‘I don’t feel it. I’m just focused on what I need to do.'”
At 19-0 and on the edge of boxing’s biggest stage, Jennings did finally step away from his job at the Fed last August to focus full-time on training.
But co-workers like Joe DiGiovanni are still quick to tell stories about the guy they’d rib for the way he wolfed down peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunch.
“We called him Jethro, because of the ‘Beverly Hillbillies,'” he laughed. “He wouldn’t give us any back talk or anything like that, even though he could probably kill us with one shot.”
While his co-workers saw that power, a lot of the boxing world didn’t have him on its radar.
“It was a fast rise, and took everyone by surprise, except I think, Bryant Jennings,” said John DiSanto, who runs the website phillyboxinghistory.com, and has tracked Jennings since his debut.
“He’s a guy who really believes in himself. He’s got great boxing skills, but this guy is a winner and he’s a believer.”
Jennings is going to need that confidence. The boxer he’s up against, Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko, hasn’t lost in a decade. He enters the fight with a 63-3 record, including 53 knockouts. His nickname is Dr. Steelhammer.
On paper, everything suggests this is Klitschko’s fight to lose. He has more experience, more height, and a 20-pound weight advantage. But DiSanto says Jennings’ work ethic and athleticism could prove the difference.
“He’s going to have to have a great night, and it would help us all rooting for Jennings if Klitschko has not such great a night. But the thing is is that boxing is unlike a lot of other sports because could it could turn in one moment.”
One lucky shot — somebody’s legs buckle — and this match could go either way.
“I see the fight ending in a knockout, either me or him,” said Jennings, who is training in Houston right now, trying to avoid hometown distractions.
“I understand this is a very tough fight, understand this is the top, the pinnacle of the heavyweight division,” he said. “And I’m fighting one of the best heavyweights in the last two decades. So I know what I’m up against, and I know what I have to do. I know how I have to prepare mentally and physically, and I’m ready for it. This is my chance to take over the world.”
Jennings says he kept his day job at the Fed for so long so that he wouldn’t get “spoiled,” even as his paydays in the ring grew.
It’ll be tough to stay out of the limelight if he pulls off the win. Even if he loses, Harry Habina would welcome him back to the Fed anytime.
“We’re all proud of him,” he says. “We are all tight.”