North Philly Junior Middleweight Fred Jenkins Jr. has led a complex boxing life that few will ever match. As a kid born into the sport, the son of PA Hall of Fame trainer Fred Jenkins Sr. grew up traveling the country to compete as an amateur and gained full access inside the camps of legitimate championship level boxers.
While he always had good connections – nothing has ever been handed to the young man who trains out of the ABC Recreation Center at 26th & Master streets. His five year professional career has had its share of good wins, surprise losses and other ups and downs.
Now at 29-years-old, Fred Jr (9-3, 3 ko’s) realizes that a lot of work remains to be completed if he is to one day become a world champion. He is currently back in training mode after a layoff, focused on building a new winning streak.
We recently caught up with “Elite Herk” who took the time to talk about his life growing up in the boxing business, the benefits and burdens of being the son of a great trainer, carrying on the legacy, lessons learned in the ring and much more.
Take a minute to read the latest in PK Sports “Fierce Conversations” series.
Philly Keith: Fred, thanks for coming on. You have been killing it on the road lately. You had the most running miles on my Nike+ road work list in June. This month (July) you’re 70 miles in and blowing everyone else out. Tell the world why so much running these days?
Fred Jenkins Jr.: I learned from trial and error. In this boxing life you have to learn from your own mistakes. Even though I ran a lot before, I wasn’t on my own. Now I run on my own, I get out there, I guess I just fell in love with it. I know if I put the road work in I can come out victorious in the fights. Not to say I haven’t put the road work in but now I’m doing it for me. I’ve been doing it for others before.
Now, this is what I want to do – get up out there and run. No matter where you’re at, no matter what the weather is – all it takes is 30 minutes , 45 minutes out of your day.
You have to out work yourself in order to outwork the work. Also, it’s not just about running it’s about doing whatever needs to be done to get you mentally and physically prepared for war. Make all the necessary sacrifice.
And that’s it. That is the path I’ve been on lately.
PK: I’d have to guess you’re in pretty good shape these days. Planning to get back in the ring anytime soon?
FJJ: Yeah – I walk around at Super middleweight, 168 and fight at 154 so I’m walking around in nice shape and I’ve been boxing lately getting prepared to get ready for some fights coming up.
I just got a call for a couple fights coming up around the middle of August. I’m waiting to hear from my father if it is a go or no. I know I’m supposed to be fighting on a Jesse Hart under card, he has a fight coming up I think in September or October. I don’t know here it’s gonna be at but I know that is one of my scheduled fights coming up.
I really want to fight before then to get in there and get off some of that… well…. I don’t have much rust cause I stay in the gym but to get back in there and back under the lights. It’s a great feeling being under them lights.
PK: It has been almost a full calendar year since you last fought. Are you itching to get back in there and how do you feel mentally about coming back?
FJJ: I mean I feel good, I just want to get back on my win streak. I’m not taking no fights on a week notice unless I have the upper hand. It’s like I’m taking more control of my career even though my father is my manager and my trainer. At the end of the day I’m the one getting in there and risking it all. I’m coming to the conclusion of how we do this.
Understand, I’ve been in the ring with a lot of champions, contenders, prize fighters, whatever you want to call them. I know I can hang in there with the best of them. It’s just sometimes they give me the opportunity but there’s never no money. It ‘s kind of hard because I have a mouth to feed. They want me to risk my life but at the end there is no reward.
I’m not trying to be one of those fighters who have no life at the end of boxing. I want to make sure I have a life after boxing if I’m going to do this. That’s the path I’m on.
PK: I can respect that. It’s your body. You are the one getting in there. Let me take it back a little bit for readers from outside of the area. Tell us how did you got into boxing, when did you first get into it?
FJJ: I’ve been in boxing since I was about three years old. My father Fred Jenkins Sr. has been training fighters since the 70’s. He had his first world champion at 28 or 29 which was Charlie “Choo Choo” Brown (IBF Lightweight Champ in 1984). Him and Russell Peltz have been friends since then and worked together over the past few decades. I was around boxing all of my life.
I didn’t really like it in the beginning. I just fell in love with it over time. I watched my father travel all over the world. It was like I can travel and make money at the same time? Why Not! So I wanted to fight, I want to become a world champion.
My first path, I wanted to win the gold medal for the Olympic team. I fell short in 2003 when I lost to Saeed Hawkins for the Mid-Atlantic tournament. If I won that I would have had a berth to the trials. So I lost to him who was my father’s other fighter by a 3-2 decision.
That goes to show you I’ve been around boxing forever because Saeed Hawkins retired as a professional with like a 14-0 record and over 300 amateur fights. He fought Jeff Lacy, Jermaine Taylor back in the 90’s, 2000’s and so on.
My father kept me close to him and every time he went away to different training camps for a big fight he would take me with him. I’m a little kid seeing all these new things, new buildings, cars, a different lifestyle. I’m thinking this is something that I want.
Then I turned pro and that was all she wrote. People don’t realize that I was always a heavyweight, 275 pounds at one point in my life. All of my amateur fighters were at heavyweight and super heavyweight. I eventually got my weight down to fight Saeed at 165 lbs but before that I was a big guy. Now, all my fights been at 154 or 160 or something.
PK: Everyone around town and those who have been in boxing know of your father. Being the son of a trainer, what were the expectations coming up?
FJJ: Whooooa! To be honest it’s a gift and a curse. It is a gift because I have one of the best teachers in the game that can make a fighter into a world champion. So I know that’s what’s in me. It’s a curse because if I don’t fulfill that people are gonna say things. I’ve always had that battle since I was a child but I did really care because I know once I’m in there I know how to fight. He taught me to never be scared of anyone.
It use to be a chip on my shoulder, on my mind all the time if I don’t fulfill this, but at the end of the day that’s his legacy. When he retires I’m gonna continue on his legacy. At the same time I also want to work on my legacy where I reach the top of the junior middleweight division. I have a lot of work to do before he retires.
Now I put that all to the side. Now I look at the blessing in it. Yes, I have a great teacher who is my father also. I just sit and listen to everything he say even though sometimes it all don’t make sense.
He made fighters, he knows how it is to be in that ring. He knows the business part, he was once a manager. He’s been a cut man also. He installed all of the things in me. I have the fighter in me. I have the trainer in me. I have the cut man in me. It’s a lot, I have to zone in. Right now he want me to focus on getting back into the winning side to see where the road is going to take me.
PK: I was always interested in the father / son dynamic when it is also a fighter / trainer dynamic. Sometimes it can be really successful. But is it hard to put one aside at times when it comes to family life?
FJJ: It’s like all in one cause he is like, in me. It comes out when we are in the ring fighting. We have our disagreements sometimes in the gym where we argue but at the end of the day, I’m like father, you’re right. He’s not going to put me in the danger zone. He’s going to protect me.
But sometimes I have to tell my father that I’m on my own. At the end of the day this is what I wanted, he didn’t force me. He don’t really want me to do this, he wanted me to do other things. I could have gone to school or a bunch of other things, but I didn’t. It is something I feel in love with so it’s like “Dad, this is what I want”. It is fun, we become one when we get in there.
PK: You touched on travel, which is my favorite part of boxing. What are some of your favorite places boxing has taken you over the years?
FJJ: I have a couple of favorites. Back in ‘99 I was in Orlando, Flordia with Malik Scott and Saeed Hawkins won the National PAL. That was a time to remember.
Great memories. I was in training camp with Allan green way before he fought Andre Ward in the Super middleweight tournament.
I was also with Aaron Torres when he was on the Contender. I was the trainer for a fight out in Arizona, by myself!
I was out in Tulsa, Oklahoma with Zahir Raheem training camp to help him prepare for a fight. So many great memories, I’ve been traveling since I was a kid.
PK: I didn’t realize that you did some training. Is that something you will consider in the future?
RJJ: Yeah – of course! Once I’m done with my legacy and what I’m trying to accomplish, I’m going to be a trainer. I’m going to pick up where he leaves off. I have a bunch of brothers. One of us got to do it, I’m not gonna let his legacy just go out. Still continue on with it.
I enjoy training fighters. I helped my father with Bryant Jennings at times when he was training him. Aaron Torres, a lot of young, up and coming fighters he has now. I love it, I’m a boxing person. I love the fighting part of it. If I’m not getting ready for a fight I like helping somebody else.
PK: Well rounded. Knowing all aspects of any game will keep you around for a long time. People who have been around a lot longer than I have told me that the sign of a great trainer is one who can take a kid or someone brand new and bring them to the top-level. Is that something you agree with or are there other intangibles involved?
FJJ: I absolutely agree with that because it take a lot of time and patience that you have to invest in an individual. Even though you have your own life and your own things you have to do – you take time out to constantly craft and mold this person into a success. That’s greatness.
It is easy to take a fighter that’s already made. That like me going to somebody else. With my record and pedigree, if we go to another trainer, say Freddie Roach, not to say he can’t teach me nothing, at the same time I already know because I’ve been around it, so what more can he give me? Maybe a little pad work but the fight part I already know.
Any trainers out there making fighters from scratch, you have to give them the ultimate respect and credit. That’s a lot of time.
PK: I’m sure that it doesn’t happen over night.
FJJ: There you go. It takes 10 years to make a success. At least. Any fighter who gets there before that must be gifted. A one in a million. To reach that plateau it takes years.
PK: You mentioned some great names of Philly boxing past. How would you compare the state of Philly boxing today comped to how it was 10 or 20 years ago?
FJJ: Right now it’s….ok because he have the opportunity to make money. The money is out there now. Before it wasn’t there but the fighters of yesterday were much, much tougher, meaner but the business part they didn’t think of. Not much though into what they will do when boxing is done for incoming. Go get a job? How can you give 20 some years of your life to boxing, then you’re done is you’re late 40’s, 50’s now you gotta go get a job. That doesn’t make sense.
A boxer can make what a person makes in one year in a day. It may take months for them to make it but it don;t add up.
Back then fighters were meaner. They beat a lot of fighters because they couldn’t pick and choose. They fought whoever, where ever with smaller gloves, 15 rounds and a bunch of other things that went against them. The best fought the best.
Now a days we don’t have that. We have the best can fight whoever they want. I look at it like a business person too. Why would I keep fighting tough fights and not get paid? I’m not going to risk my life and not get a reward.
It is entertainment to the outside fans but it is also a livelihood. Some die in this. Some don’t have nothing. Fighters today want to retire and still have their marbles, open a business. I’m not gonna get beat over the head for some change. No!
Fighters today are smarter. It’s about smart work, not just hard work. You have to think about all of that while training that one day it is all going to end.
PK: Looking over your career, you’ve been a pro for five years now. What’s your favorite in ring memory?
FJJ: I have two fights that I like. The one where I knocked Jeremy Tressel out in 2 rounds. Hit him with a left hook and put him out. That was one of my good ones. Hit him with one punch. Weighed 154 pounds.
The other is one that I actually lost recently. I learned something about myself when I fought Tito Garcia. I took the fight on a week notice, first time doing something like that. I actually did pretty good, surprised myself. He was like 10-0. We fought at 163 – 164, cut down to a 4 rounder, and we fought. It wasn’t a walk in the park for him or me. It was a live fight, I wish it was more, like 6 or 8 rounds. It was like a week notice and I thought why not.
I learned I can overcome any obstacle. He dropped me in the 1st round. Flash knockdown, short little left hook when we were toe-to-toe. I hit him with a right hand but he came back with a left hook. I got up and went to work like it never happened. I was like wow! In the final round I caught and hurt him.
Shout out to Garcia, I learned an experience and wish him much success. I probably will see him again down the line. For like 10 rounds, 12 rounds. Something more at stake. All that fighting those types of fights and not getting a reward, no I want a little more like a state tile or NABF or something.
PK: Keep an eye on those 5 years as a pro, is there anything you would change or do differently if you could?
FJJ: I wouldn’t change nothing because those 5 years is making me the fighter I am right now. You see that I run every day, all of the miles I am putting in. I’m learning what to do and what not to do. What to entertain and what not to entertain.
I could change a little but then it would change something else. No, i accept that after five years I am 9-3. I thought when I turned pro that I’d never lose. Sometimes you’re gonna take a loss. You have to learn how to bounce back, no matter what. I enjoyed my first five years as a pro now I’m on the second part of it.
PK: We talked about some of the best part of being a boxer with the travel and having money opportunities. What are some of the hardest parts about being a known boxer?
FJJ: Baggage comes with everything. You can;t get caught up in some of the activities non fighters can. I can’t go out and party because it is not adding to my career. It would detract. You might not see it at that point in time but it is taking away. I can’t drink or consume alcohol. Because that would detract from my boxing career. You have to try to preserve your body as much as you can because you have to get in there, physical contact, man to man for rounds and rounds.
I can’t do what other people can do. I can have fun but you have to think having fun might end my career. Could get on a motorcycle, get smacked off and end my career. That can happen with anything. In life it is all about adding up to something.
I watched other people’s failures and won’t get caught up in that party life. Night life, you can do that when it is over, host a party and have them pay you to come. That is when it is adding Not when you’re in there all night long with a bunch of people – who knows…
PK: Everyone knows the ABC Rec, who are some of the guys and up and comers coming out of there now?
FJJ: We have Nahir Albright a 140 pounder, he fought at the trials. He is a great, talented kid who can also sing and dance. We have a kid Leem Mills, 132 pounder is good. You know we have Jesse Hart is already kind of a star somewhat. Bryant Jennings from time to time comes here and trains. We have a lot of up and comers, Legend is an awesome kid who fights. We have a few who are about to turn pro.
PK: There’s been a long list of good fighters to come out of that gym. When I hear of a kid coming out of there I naturally assume he can fight.
FJJ: Everyone coming out of the ABC has the potential to be great. It is all up to them. If they make the fight decisions and pick the right path they can become great in this boxing lifestyle.
PK: I think we touched on a lot today, anything you want to add to wrap it up.
FJJ: Just follow me on Instagram at eliteherk or Snapchat, Facebook. Y’all will see me real soon. I wish everybody the best, strive for success and let no failure stop you. Don’t let no one get in your way. Keep your eye on the prize.
PK: Thanks for your time. We gotta hit the Kelly drive soon to put some miles in.
FJJ: I’m always out there!