The Krypton Factor: Badou Jack interview
Ahead of Saturday's showdown with Adonis Stevenson in Toronto, Badou Jack assures Luca Rosi that he will be the Kryptonite to Stevenson's 'Superman'...
Ever since Badou Jack first set foot and laced up the gloves in his local boxing gym in Stockholm, the city of his birth, he was instantly hooked.
Speaking to Boxing Monthly from his Las Vegas base, he retraced those first fistic footsteps, “I always liked to fight and so I went to the gym with a friend of mine to see what it was like. I was 17 at the time, I loved everything about the place and that special atmosphere that you only get in a boxing gym.
"My trainer said that I had a lot of talent and that I should persevere. I had the first of 150 amateur fights just shy of my 18th birthday. Six years later I went on to represent Gambia [the country of his father] at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 [Jack lost in the round of 32 against eventual silver medallist, Vijender Singh of India]. I haven’t stopped since.”
Realising that his professional ambitions could not be fulfilled in a country where boxing had been banned since 1970 [the ban would be lifted in 2007, three years after Jack turned pro], the then 24-year-old realised that he would need to leave his native Sweden.
The affable Swede continued, “Shannon Briggs happened to be at one of my early fights and I ended up joining him in Florida.”
It was there that he would meet a figure that would be instrumental in his career. “I started working with Lou Del Valle [a Bronxite former New York City Golden Gloves champion who went on to hold the WBA light heavyweight belt] in 2010 but owing to some issues with the promotional company at the time, we couldn’t work together. But I remember telling him, ‘Look, we need to link up in the future when we have more money.’”
‘The Ripper’ moved to Las Vegas in January 2011 and joined the stable of the then world best pound-for-pound fighter. He told Boxing Monthly: “Floyd Mayweather was impressed when he saw me spar with Andre Dirrell and signed me to up Mayweather Promotions at the end of 2012. Since I’ve been with Floyd and Leonard [Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions] my record speaks for itself. They’ve delivered all the big fights and even before that Floyd was building me up. I’m eternally grateful and I feel very blessed – they’ve done a fantastic job for me. I’ve got nothing bad to say.”
Following a draw in his 16th fight against Mexican, Marco Antonio Periban – “that was a long time ago and I was still a rookie in many respects” – Jack would suffer a shock first and only defeat against a local Las Vegan.
“My first real setback came two fights later against Derek Edwards [a right-hand counter in the first doing the damage and leading to a stoppage with Jack on unsteady legs and unable to continue] and while it wasn’t ideal, these things can happen in boxing.
"I got caught and that was that. But everyone in my team kept their faith in me and I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would fulfil my dream of becoming world champion. It was at that point when I decided I needed to make some changes and I hooked up again with Lou. We’ve been together ever since.”
True to his word, the 6'1" orthodox fighter got his hands on his first world championship at 168lbs by defeating the younger of the Dirrell brothers, Anthony, in April 2014. “All I know is that not only did I win that fight but also in my opinion all my fights since. The Bute fight was declared a majority draw so I retained my title but I thought I had done enough [the Canadian tested positive for an anabolic steroid and the fight would subsequently be deemed a ‘no contest’].
"Groves was physically tough but again I thought I won it pretty comfortably [Jack won by split decision at the MGM Grand in 2015, inflicting the only other blemish on the Hammersmith fighter’s record, apart from the two Froch KOs].”
But perhaps the most controversial decision was to be a second draw, this time against Harlesden’s James DeGale, a fight that had its own Question of Sport ‘What Happened Next?’ moment.
Jack said, “Obviously there was that flash knockdown in the first, so I didn’t get off to the best start. My footwork let me down, I was too square on and got caught. But apart from that, I landed way more punches and was hurting him. I was the aggressor all the way through and put him on the floor in the final round. It’s not an excuse but although I made the weight OK for the fight I didn’t feel that strong.
"The referee incident? Yes, that was unfortunate and of course unintentional. I did my best to help him back to his feet [Arthur Mercante Jr. comically regained his footing after a left hook from Jack at the end of the fifth round].”
Following the fight against the British 2008 Olympic middleweight gold medallist, Jack moved up to 175lbs, stopping Nathan Cleverly in five rounds. It would be the Welsh former light heavyweight world titlist’s final fight. “My last ten had been at super middle but before that I had already had several fights at the weight. I have more energy and I feel very strong at light heavy [Jack’s punching average was close to 100 against Cleverly] so you’ll see even better things from me light heavyweight.”
Just over a month after becoming a two-weight world champion, a tragic turn of events was to engulf Jack's adopted hometown. “I was at home when a friend told me to turn on the TV, that there was somebody shooting a machine gun on the strip. I said ‘What!’ At the time I remember them saying on the news that only one person had died and that 20 people had been shot.
"By the time I woke up the next morning, the number had risen to almost 60. I couldn’t believe my eyes. To think something like this can happen on your doorstep. I live about a 15-minute drive from where it took place so not that far away. It certainly puts things into perspective.”
Standing between Jack and a second light heavyweight world belt is a 40-year-old Canadian, who has held the WBC crown since beating Chad Dawson in 2013. “Adonis Stevenson is going to be tough, there are no two ways about that," Jack admitted. "I don’t see many weaknesses if any, he’s a good solid fighter, good puncher, a good counterpuncher. He’s got a good trainer [Javan ‘Sugar’ Hill, nephew of Emanuel Steward].
"He has defended the title eight times, so you’ve got to respect his achievements. He’s also a far better boxer than he’s given credit for. Some people are saying that age could be a factor in my favour. But he’s a young 40 for his age – just like I’m a young 35 for that matter – and he hasn’t taken a lot of punishment, so I don’t think age comes into it.”
Will Stevenson’s southpaw stance cause the Swede problems? “I’m comfortable with southpaws [DeGale and Bute being two examples], in fact I perform better against southpaws. It doesn’t matter to me if they’re right handed or southpaw. During my amateur career, I had to deal with different boxing styles so that won’t faze me one bit. We believe we’ve got the right game plan going into the fight.
"In terms of tactics, we’ll have to wait and see, styles make fights, you can’t box the same way for every opponent. Stevenson is a lot different, he’s a shorter southpaw, more powerful but doesn’t throw as many punches as, say, Cleverly.”
To contest the Haitian-born fighter’s WBC crown, Jack had to vacate his own WBA belt [which is now in the hands of Russian sensation, Dmitry Bivol]. “I didn’t want to relinquish my title, but I had no choice as it was part of the agreement to getting the [Sergey] Kovalev fight further down the line. It was stipulated in the contract.
"Floyd spoke to me about this beforehand, I didn’t particularly like it, but he told me not to worry, that I’d be fighting for a bigger belt and more money. That was good enough for me. Kovalev would be a massive fight with his WBO title on the line – he called me out so it’s one I’d love in the future. But right now, I’m not looking past Stevenson.”
Badou Jack is a man who believes in his ability to beat anyone. And that means summoning all his powers to dethrone ‘Superman’.
“I think I’ve shown what I’m made of. I’m always looking for big fights, I’m not running away from anyone. I’m confident in what I do, I feel like I don’t need to get my name out there. My results and performances are there for everyone to see. My focus is in the ring – I dedicate myself to the sport.
"Hopefully we won’t have to go to the scorecards [in the Stevenson fight] as I always try to knock my opponent out. But that’s easier said than done. I just believe in myself and I know I’ll find a way to win. I believe I’m the better fighter. Come 19 May I’ll be ready.”