WBC TI­TLE FIGHT STUDY IN CON­TRAST

Un­der­dog Jack of­fers guile and in­ge­nu­ity against brawn of cham­pion Steven­son

Montreal Gazette - - SPORTS - STEVE SIM­MONS ssim­mons@post­media.com twit­ter.com/sim­mon­ssteve

Ev­ery Fri­day ex­cept this one, the day be­fore the big­gest fight of his life, Badou Jack goes to a mosque and prays.

He prays for his health, for his well-be­ing, for his fam­ily, for his wife, for his lit­tle son and lit­tle daugh­ter and on Mon­day, af­ter he is crowned light-heavy­weight cham­pion of the world, he will be­gin the fast of Ra­madan in de­lay. Sud­denly the term hun­gry fighter takes on a new mean­ing.

But first, there is busi­ness to take care of. Per­sonal busi­ness. Pro­fes­sional busi­ness. Badou Jack isn’t favoured to beat Ado­nis Steven­son on Satur­day night at the Air Canada Cen­tre in their WBC ti­tle fight, and his camp wouldn’t have it any other way.

“He’s at his best when he’s the un­der­dog,” said Russ An­ber, the Cana­dian cut man and coach who works Jack’s cor­ner. “He loves that role. He has shone un­der those con­di­tions. When this fight made was made, I was glad he was es­tab­lished as the un­der­dog. That’s when he’s at his best.”

The un­der­dog: Jack’s box­ing life seems an un­usual trib­ute to an un­likely con­tender and cham­pion. He grew up in Swe­den, a black Mus­lim, fought in the Olympics for his fa­ther’s na­tive coun­try, the Repub­lic of Gam­bia, some­how made his way to Las Ve­gas via Swe­den where Floyd May­weather saw enough of him in his gym to be im­pressed to pur­chase his con­tract from fel­low pro­moter Lou Di­Bella.

Some might say May­weather stole Jack, but as it’s turned out, Jack has more than paid his bills as one of the big­ger names of May­weather Pro­mo­tions. Only in box­ing do these kind of shenani­gans hap­pen, though. For Jack to get this cham­pi­onship fight against the lin­ear ti­tle­holder, Steven­son, he had to walk away from the WBA crown he won on the un­der­card of the May­weather-Conor Mc­Gre­gor big money fi­asco last Au­gust. And it’s one of the few oc­ca­sions where Steven­son and his pro­mot­ers have agreed to fight an op­po­nent who ac­tu­ally had a pulse.

Jack doesn’t seem at all like the sport he rep­re­sents. He is well-spo­ken, some­what po­lite and charm­ing and rather lik­able, a 34-year-old fam­ily man, a late bloomer of sorts, a box­ing gym rat you can’t help but cheer for. May­weather called him “a great cham­pion out­side the ring.”

The CEO of May­weather Pro­mo­tions, Leonard Ellerbe, called him a great am­bas­sador for box­ing. “He’s a fam­ily man, he’s a solid dude, he will be the new WBC cham­pion.”

He seems, from the out­side, and even from those on the in­side, to be ev­ery­thing May­weather hasn’t been, with­out the ex­treme and his­tor­i­cal May­weather tal­ent. There’s only been one May­weather in the ring, may never be an­other one. He found a way to fight his en­tire ca­reer and avoid be­ing hit. How he lived his life, how­ever, has al­ways been open to le­gal issues, do­mes­tic prob­lems, and ridicu­lous amounts of money earned.

“Are you look­ing for the kill?” Jack was asked in the post press con­fer­ence in­ter­view ses­sion Thurs­day.

The prag­matic May­weather an­swered for him: “He’s look­ing for the win.”

Say this much for Jack: He has nei­ther been in­ac­tive nor has he ducked op­po­si­tion in his ca­reer. In a sport where avoid­ing op­po­si­tion is part of the game, this will be the sixth con­sec­u­tive time he has fought for a ti­tle or de­fended a ti­tle.

He was a su­per mid­dleweight until his fight with Mon­treal’s Lu­cien Bute, where he turned to his man­age­ment team after­wards and an­nounced he can’t make weight any­more. In his first fight as a light heavy­weight, he hand­ily de­feated WBA cham­pion Nathan Clev­erly, lead­ing to this fight with Steven­son be­ing made.

It’s a long way, fight­ing in un­likely Toronto, at the less likely Air Canada Cen­tre, for a kid from Swe­den who was dis­cov­ered at a box­ing event held in hon­our of the legend, Inge­mar Jo­hans­son in 2009. Pro­moter Di­Bella brought him to the U.S. in 2011, at the age of 27. May­weather later paid a small amount to get him out of his con­tract with Di­Bella.

The rest, they say, is his­tory. And his­tory mat­ters on Satur­day night.

“I asked for this fight,” said Jack. “He didn’t ask for this fight. He’s got noth­ing that scares me.”

Fighters al­ways say that kind of thing in the pre-fight press con­fer­ences. It’s noth­ing but bravado talk­ing. Of­ten, in the post-fight press con­fer­ences, they tell a dif­fer­ent story. This is a 50-50 fight of sorts, the slug­ger Steven­son against the boxer Jack. And that’s what makes this so en­gag­ing.

“He’s all about that power,” said Jack. “I’m go­ing to knock him out. I’m the bet­ter boxer. I’ve got the bet­ter speed. That’s what I be­lieve.

“Right now,” he said rather softly, “I’m the man.”

DAVEABEL

WBC light heavy­weight cham­pion Ado­nis Steven­son, left, poses with chal­lenger Badou Jack dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Toronto on Thurs­day in prepa­ra­tion for Satur­day’s ti­tle fight at the Air Canada Cen­tre.

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