WBC title fight a study in contrast
UNDERDOG JACK OFFERS GUILE AND INGENUITY AGAINST BRAWN
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 lightheavyweight champion of the world, he will begin the fast of Ramadan in delay. Suddenly the term hungry fighter takes on a whole 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 his 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 title holder, 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 likeable, 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 first 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.”
WBC Light Heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, left, with challenger Badou Jack in preparation for Saturday’s title fight at the Air Canada Centre.