Deontay Wilder became the first American heavyweight to win a world title when he dominated Haitian Bermane Stiverne en route to a unanimous decision Saturday night. Now it's Bryant Jennings' turn to see whether he can bring the rest of the belts back to the United States by beating Wladimir Klitschko, the long-reigning and universally recognized champion.
Klitschko and Jennings will meet for the world championship April 25 (HBO) at Madison Square Garden in New York after the deal, in the works since November, was agreed to over the weekend.
Bernd Boente, Klitschko's manager, told ESPN.com on Monday that all terms have been agreed to on both sides and that some of the paperwork has been signed with the rest in the process of being finalized.
Jennings, who never put on a pair of boxing gloves until January 2009 but has come a long way in just a few years, said he was waiting to hear that everything was signed but is very excited for the opportunity.
"I have all of the attributes naturally to be a champion that you can't teach -- heart and will," Jennings told ESPN.com. "I'm psyched up. This is the level where I'm at. This is exactly what I planned to do. Whatever competition you are in, your goal should be to reach the top. This is the top, but now it's about taking it to higher heights and winning."
The fight originally was slated to take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which Klitschko had picked over Madison Square Garden. Boente did not offer any reason or details on why the change was made.
"Yes, we are back at the Garden on April 25," Boente said. "The fifth Klitschko fight there, fourth of Wladimir, and Wladimir is happy about it."
Klitschko's older brother, retired former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, also fought once at Madison Square Garden.
The fight will mark Wladimir Klitschko's return to fight in the United States for the first time since he rolled to a virtual shutout decision against Russia's Sultan Ibragimov to unify two belts in February 2008 at Madison Square Garden.
"I do have great respect for Bryant Jennings and his achievements," Klitschko said. "He has good movement in the ring and good technique. I know this will be a tough challenge. I am extremely happy to fight in New York again. I had my first unification fight here and a lot of great heavyweight matches have taken place at Madison Square Garden. It will definitely be a great fight night and I will do everything for it from my side."
Klitschko, who is from Ukraine but fights primarily in Germany (although he makes his home in Hollywood, Florida), has long wanted to fight again in the United States, but he did not have a top American opponent to face and was without significant American television backing to make it worthwhile. Now he has both -- a credible American contender in Jennings and a multifight contract with HBO that began with his last fight in November -- which positioned him to make his American return.
The 38-year-old Klitschko (63-3, 54 KOs), the lineal champion and owner of three of the four major alphabet titles, will be making the 18th defense of his second title reign. Klitschko's 17 consecutive title defenses -- all one-sided victories -- are the third-most in heavyweight history behind only Larry Holmes (20) and Joe Louis (25, which is a record for any weight class).
Klitschko's title reign will reach nine years on April 22, just three days before the fight. That is the second-longest title reign in heavyweight history. Klitschko began his second reign by knocking out Chris Byrd in the seventh round on April 22, 2006, in Germany, and is chasing Louis' record of 11 years, 8 months, 8 days as heavyweight champion.
Jennings (19-0, 10 KOs), 30, of Philadelphia, could have gotten the first shot at Wilder as his mandatory challenger but gave up his position in order to fight Klitschko for more money and greater glory.
He turned pro in February 2010 and has risen up the ranks, culminating with two wins against undefeated contenders on HBO in 2014 to put him in position for the title shot. He knocked out Artur Szpilka in the 10th round last January and then outpointed Mike Perez on July 26. Both fights were at Madison Square Garden on undercards.
"Everybody has some weaknesses, and there is a blueprint to beat everybody," Jennings said. "I will have to be at my best. This is heavyweight boxing, where it only takes one punch. Matching me up with Wladimir, there is an age difference. I'm a lot younger than he is. And while I may be shorter [6-foot-3 to 6-6], my arms are long and I am very athletic. But the most important thing is that I come to fight and I know how to win.
"They can say whatever they want about inexperience but I know how to win and in a lot of different ways. And I always have the ambition to find a way to win. I'm not a quitter. I have the heart and will to be a champion. I understand Klitschko is a beast in himself, but I know for sure I will be ready. This is what I fight for. We are not planning on losing. We are talking about bringing that belt home. Nothing against Deontay, but I figure a heavyweight champion from Philly is bigger than a heavyweight champion from Alabama."
The deal had been agreed to a few weeks ago, but things went sideways when Gary Shaw, Jennings' promoter, sold his company to Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports before the agreements were signed. Once Roc Nation, which Shaw now works for, took over, it wanted to renegotiate aspects of the deal other than the money, and it took time to sort out.
"The negotiations with Roc Nation were exhausting and unnecessary but now all is set," Boente said.