Answering the call: Johnathon Banks interview
Johnathon Banks speaks to Boxing Monthly's Ezio Prapotnich about carrying on the legacy of Emanuel Steward, working with Wladimir Klitschko and Cecilia Braekhus, and much more...
“It was nothing but an honour to be with him. I cherish every moment we spent together. Of course I felt overwhelmed when I had to follow in his footsteps, who wouldn’t be? But then I remembered what he taught me. He never talked strictly about boxing, he always spoke about life. Boxing like everything else is just a part of it. And life is not complicated, it’s us that make it so by over thinking it because we forgot the basics. Just keep it simple: go back to the basics." - Johnathon Banks on Emanuel Steward
Emanuel Steward will never be forgotten. His legacy will live forever thanks to the love of the many whose lives he graced with his magic touch, among them Detroit-born former pro cruiserweight and heavyweight Johnathon Banks, now himself a trainer of world champions.
In this interview, he explains to Boxing Monthly that he did not choose the path he is on, he just answered the call. Literally...
BM: How did you get into boxing?
JB: I started in 1996, when I was 14 years old, at the Brewster Recreation Centre, where Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis and Emanuel Steward trained before. No particular reason. No one in my family had ever done it, nobody talked me into it or influenced me. I just wanted to, it felt natural. I was simply born to do it. I had over 90 amateur fights and lost about ten of them, winning three National titles at 178lbs. I joined the Kronk while still an amateur. My coach Alvin 'Blue' Lewis, who fought Ali in 1972, introduced me to Emanuel and it was love at first sight.
BM: Can you explain the transition to the professional game and from cruiserweight to heavyweight?
JB: I was ambitious and wanted to become world champion, that’s why I turned pro. The moving up in weight was a consequence of the natural growth of my body. By the time I fought [Tomasz] Adamek [lost by TKO8 in 2009], I was killing myself to make 200lbs. I had to starve and deprive myself and was shedding muscle instead of just fat. I could make the weight but was unable to perform at it.
BM: What is in your opinion the best performance of your fighting career?
JB: The first Seth Mitchell fight in 2012, but not just because of the fashion of the victory [won TKO2]. It is the context of what I was going through at the moment and the things I had to do to get there that makes it very special to me.
BM: Why or how did you decide to become a trainer?
JB: It had never crossed my mind to be a coach until the very moment Wladimir [Klitschko] called and asked me to do it. Once again, it felt natural. I believed I could do it. He was training for Mariusz Wach. After the first time I held pads for him, he told me he knew he made the right decision and we had a six-fight winning streak, beating [Alexander] Povetkin, then undefeated [Kubrat] Pulev and Bryant Jennings along the way.
BM: What was the game plan going into the Tyson Fury fight and what went wrong with it?
JB: The idea was for Wlad to let his hands go and keep him constantly under pressure. I re-watched the fight and I do not see either one really dominating the other. I put the result down to Wladimir underperforming.
BM: Who are you training at the moment?
JB: Obviously undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus. I got the call from her camp while I was still working with Wlad, as she was fighting out of Germany as well. They asked me how I felt about training a female fighter and I answered that all I cared about was if she was willing to do the hard work, fight and win. Lots of other people have called me and I am considering a few offers but she is my only focus at the moment.
BM: She has been completely dominating the division since 2014. How long can she still go undefeated in your opinion? Also, is there any actual threat for her in the welterweight division?
JB: She loves fighting and still wants it. She has done everything she needed to do up to now and can go on for as far she wants to. Unfortunately, the big names in female boxing happen to be in higher weights, meaning she should jump up at least two divisions to face them which is too risky. That said, any seriously hungry opponent can pose a threat as she has probably been around way longer than any top contenders at her weight and they probably have seen a lot of her while there isn’t much that can be seen of them. You can’t take anyone for granted.
BM: What’s going on at the Kronk these days? Is there anyone coming along that we should be keeping an eye on?
JB: I m not picking anyone in particular and I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but Sugar Hill Steward, Emanuel’s nephew, is doing a hell of a job with a whole group of Russian pros.
BM: Based on your own business experience with one of the factions involved, what do you make of the stalled negotiation between Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua?
JB: I surely don’t blame the fighters for the fight not happening. I don’t think either one is afraid to fight the other or anyone else in the division. I am not sure what is going on with the business side of it. We did not find difficult to make the fight with Joshua at all, but it was a different scenario altogether.
BM: Having been in the opposite corner from both men, who would you pick in a hypothetical Fury vs Joshua bout?
JB: There is a case to make for both, according on how they approach the match. For Joshua to win, he has to bring the fight and pressure Tyson, not allowing him to set the pace. If he tries to box, then Fury has the edge.
BM: Who do you favour in the upcoming Fury vs Wilder fight?
JB: I can’t pick a clear winner. I give Wilder the edge because of power. But, although he is not known for being a big puncher, if Tyson would put his weight behind his shots he can make it even.
BM: You trained Dillian Whyte for a short period in 2015. Where does he fit among the above three fighters?
JB: As far as competitiveness goes, he is up there with any of them. He is a hard fight for anyone, you can’t underestimate him. I think he has an awesome chance to become champion