Foundation of hope: Badou Jack interview

Mark Butcher
17/01/2019 10:44pm

Ahead of Badou Jack's light-heavyweight showdown with Marcus Browne this weekend in Las Vegas, another chance to read Mark Butcher's interview with the US-based Swede from Boxing Monthly magazine last year, as he talks about his charity work and much more...

Noted, among other things, for his sizeable heart inside the ring, two-weight world champion Badou Jack is showing the same holds true outside of the ropes.

This year, the Las Vegas-based Swede, of Gambian heritage, launched ‘The Badou Jack Foundation’, along with representative and world kick boxing champion Amer Abdallah, with the express aim of helping malnourished and underprivileged children in the most deprived parts of the globe.

After drawing with WBC 175lbs champion Adonis Stevenson in May, having seemingly done enough to seize the crown with a strong finish, Jack’s focus swiftly moved to Jordan where thousands of Syrian refugees, many of them young children, have been forced over the border by that region’s conflict.

Jack, 34, viewed the terrible living conditions at the Zaatari Refugee Camp at first hand and swiftly formulated a plan to introduce food replacement shakes to the impoverished children through his own supplement company Ripper Nutrition.

“I always did some small charity work before and after every fight, but now that I’m on a bigger platform, being a world champion, I started this foundation. Its mission is to give kids all around the world a fighting chance in life,” Jack told Boxing Monthly at Paddington Road’s swish BXR Gym during a recent visit to London.

“I have my own supplement company that’s doing really well so I thought, ‘Why not use that to make meal replacement shakes for the kids?’ We already have all the scientists and doctors on our team. The kids don’t have the basic food or very little, but all the nutrition, everything they need [would be in the shake] so doctors did blood work on them to see exactly what they need.”

Obstacles and red tape are commonplace when pressing charitable concerns, but Jack was able to secure the invaluable aid of royalty to assist his cause as Abdallah, whose father served as a Colonel in the Jordanian Armed Forces, explained: “His Royal Highness [HRH] Prince Ali [of Jordan] is behind the cause, he believes in the product, so it’s easier for us to bring [the shakes] in,” Abdallah said.

“We had a nice meeting with HRH, the United Nations and the World Food Bank. They are all helping us coordinate and obviously this helps build the legitimacy of the whole programme. This [shake] is formulated scientifically with micronutrients, macronutrients, minerals, vitamins, protein to give the kids the proper development, growth.

“It’s a game changer. We manufacture [the product] ourselves at cost to send it out and that’s how we can control 100% of this crowdfunding going towards that programme. Badou is fortunate to have his own supplement company that can formulate it so we can control everything in-house. We know where it comes [from], how much it costs and the bare bones needed to get it out the door to the countries for distribution.”

The motivation for Jack is a simple one. His position, he feels, comes with a responsibility to help others, regardless of race, religion or gender. “To serve God I have to serve my fellow man so it’s my duty to give back to the kids, if I can,” Jack told BM. “And why not use my platform to do something good? We’re not only going to just do this in Muslim countries, we’re going to expand it to all over the world.”

Previously, Jack had helped make a difference in the West African nation of Gambia, the birthplace of his father who brought the fighter up in the Islamic faith. “We helped a couple of mosques and special needs [homes], paying for their electricity, helping with food. Small stuff. It was just something I did out of my own pocket before a fight, but it was huge to them. Amir Khan is doing great work in the Gambia as well so I might team up with him in the future.”

Having set up an office in Jordan to help the influx of child refugees from across the Syrian border, Jack is now seeking additional funding for his venture from October. “We’ve helped the kids in orphanages, the Palestinian kids over there and the refugee camp on the border between Syria and Jordan. But the Syrian refugee camp is the main focus because they were living in the worst conditions out of all of them. So, we start our crowdfunding in October. That’s our next [step] and we’ll see how we go from there.”

That trip to Jordan, and visit to the Zaatari Camp in particular, revealed some poignant images and evoked a deeper understanding of the struggles of children in areas burdened by conflict and chaos.

“There was this one kid when we were buying all the orphanage lunch [in Jordan],” mused Jack. “He didn’t eat his own lunch so he grabbed some plates from other tables. I was like, ‘What are you doing with all this food?’ He said, ‘I just wanted to take it home to my mom.’ He didn’t eat it himself. A kid like 8, 9 years old - that’s how much he cares about his mom. He had no dad or nothing, just his mom and he wanted to take care of her. There’s a lot of stories like that.

“I’ve got two kids [under three]. It could be them in that position. My wife’s parents are from Iraq and they fled the war to Iran,” he continued. “That’s where she was born before they fled to Turkey and Sweden so my wife, like my family, has been through this. That definitely inspired me to help these kids.”

The new Bodysnatcher

They used to dub him ‘the most underrated fighter in boxing’, but now everyone knows the capabilities of this generation’s ‘Bodysnatcher’ Badou Jack.

The two-weight champion, a prodigious body puncher in the mould of Nineties star Mike McCallum, appeared to have unseated long-reigning WBC 175lbs champion Adonis Stevenson in May, but found himself denied on the scorecards via a majority draw.

With his recent career littered with split or majority verdicts (five out of his last six, if you include a draw with Lucian Bute that was later altered to a disqualification win), it often seems Jack’s astute body-punching and ring generalship fails to capture the imagination of judges in crucial, swing rounds.

Against Stevenson, a slower start over the first five sessions proved costly though the challenger subsequently won rounds in a more emphatic fashion. Now that the dust has settled, Jack (22-1-3, 13 KOs) reflects on his latest close call with a measure of calm.

“It is what it is,” shrugged Jack, immaculately dressed in a sharp grey suit and sporting his trademark beard on a recent flying visit to London. “God’s plan. I’ve just got to work harder and come back stronger. Knock him out – then they can’t rob me. It’s easier said than done though.

“I have no idea why [this happens] to be honest. Maybe I’m too humble or too quiet, I don’t know. Maybe they have something against my promoter [Floyd Mayweather] – it could be anything. At the end, Stevenson was all over the place. He went to the wrong corner and in the hotel afterwards he [still wasn’t right].”

Jack almost finished a gassing Stevenson in the final round, but the Canadian just about scrambled over the line. Yet a vicious left hand to the pit of the stomach in the 10th seemed vital in stifling Jack’s momentum and allowing Stevenson to claw back a pivotal round. That shot would have probably finished most challengers, but Jack rode out the storm.

“I was beating him up the whole round and he caught me with one good shot. I had to suck it up,” he said. “My will to win got me through. It wasn’t a liver shot. Solar plexus? But kind of more low, it was on the belt line. It hurt me, but it wasn’t that bad.”

Former spar-mate Eleider Alvarez has since scored a tremendous seventh-round win over Sergey Kovalev to claim the WBO crown in one of 2018’s most startling upsets. Jack sparred Alvarez ahead of the 2008 Olympics, where they competed for Gambia and Colombia respectively, and in preparation for his WBC super-middleweight title winning effort against Anthony Dirrell in April 2015. While Jack had some idea of the new champion’s capabilities, he was still surprised by the Colombian’s firepower on the night.

“I knew he was a good fighter, but I didn’t reckon him as a big puncher,” Jack said. “But in boxing anything can happen if you land a clean punch. Obviously, he’s not a weak puncher! He’s a good fighter and he’s been waiting for his shot for a long time. And I’m happy for him [as} I know him.

“Alvarez is a hot fighter right now,” he added. “He beat one of the best guys in the division so if I can’t get the Stevenson rematch soon I wouldn’t mind fighting him at all, but that’s up to my promoter.

“Whoever pays me the most, that would be my top pick,” smiled the former WBA light-heavyweight and WBC super-middleweight champion, who never lost either title in the ring. “I want to get back in with Stevenson. We’ll see if he wins his mandatory [against Oleksandr Gvozdyk]. But, of course, I’m willing to fight any of the other champions.”

With his shrewd shot selection and impressive punch economy, one can imagine Jack campaigning in any era. Friend and former British 140lbs champion Ashley Theophane, who accompanied Jack on his recent visit, believes some of this stems from trainer Louis Del Valle, a former WBA 175lbs champion who ascribes to the Robert McCracken school of avoiding the spotlight. “Del Valle says, ‘Don’t waste a shot, throw every shot like you mean it,’” Theophane tells BM.

The art of body-punching is criminally overlooked by so many fighters though Jack has always been a prime exponent. “I have always been that way. I always liked body shots. Even in the amateurs,” he explained. “You don’t hurt your hands as much and that’s how you break a guy down. Go to the body and the head will fall.”

Having faced two of British boxing’s major stars in the US (he gives George Groves a slight edge over James DeGale), fighting in the UK remains on Jack’s boxing bucket list though he has yet to receive a serious offer from a British promoter. “I love the UK fans and I love the UK,” he smiled. “They always show me love so I would love to fight here before I retire.”