Shortly before midnight Saturday, standing behind a podium in the recesses of Madison Square Garden, Bryant Jennings turned retrospective.

“It’s been one hell of a ride,” he said. “Five years (ago), January 2009, I walked into the boxing gym. And look at me now.”

Next year, just six years after long-time Philadelphia trainer Fred Jenkins cajoled him off the basketball court and into the boxing gym, Jennings will fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. The 29-year-old from North Philadelphia on Saturday ensured himself that chance, recovering from a slow start to win a split decision against the more-experienced Mike Perez.

Two judges scored the fight 114-113, one in favor of Perez and the other for Jennings, while the third deemed Jennings a 115-112 winner. A one-point penalty to Perez for hitting after a break in the final round, in effect, sealed the win for “By-By.”

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For his mandatory title shot at the World Boxing Council belt, which likely won’t come until the spring, Jennings (19-0, 10 knockouts) will fight current WBC champion Bermane Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) or knockout artist Deontay Wilder (31-0, 31 KOs). Stiverne, a 35-year-old from Haiti, and Wilder, a 6-7, 28-year-old from Alabama, are expected to battle in November or December.

Jennings is only about 4½ years into his pro career.

“I think about that all the time, like even when I attend fights,” Jennings said. “I look at it like, ‘I really do this. I get in there.’ It’s just like, ‘Wow.’ It’s crazy.”

The boxer’s experience spans only 5½ years, but Jenkins starts the story when he began badgering the well-built young man on the basketball courts at North Philly’s ABC Recreation Center.

“I saw his talent before he even knew he had talent,” Jenkins said.

Philadelphia Daily News