By Chris Robinson
Over the past few weeks I have gotten to know middleweight prospect J’Leon Love pretty well.
Training at the Mayweather Boxing Club and having served as a chief sparring partner for Floyd Mayweather Jr. ahead of his May 5th bout with Miguel Cotto, it has been easy to spot Love’s desire towards his craft and he has a modest nature about him that beguiles his 24 years old age.
Love will look to improve upon his 10-0 record with 6 knockouts as he will be fighting this Friday night at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi on the non-televised undercard portion of the Showtime-televised doubleheader headlined by former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor facing off with unbeaten Caleb Truax. And while it would be easy to assume that Love would be in with a soft touch at this point in his career, there was something about his scheduled opponent that immediately caught my eye.
27-year old Ibahiem King’s 10-6 record with 4 knockouts may seem modest at first glance, but I can attest that his resume isn’t a true reflection of his skills as a fighter.
It was February of 2008 when I first crossed paths with King. At the time I was covering my good friend Nate Campbell on a daily basis in Fort Lauderdale, Florida as he prepared for his title challenge to then-unified lightweight champion Juan Diaz.
Campbell would travel north every other day to West Palm Beach to get sparring as he prepped for Diaz and King was a fixture at the Palm Beach Boxing Center at the time, then carrying with him a 2-0 record a definite level of confidence that was easy to spot upon first glance. And while Campbell would go on to have a banner night against Diaz in Cancun, Mexico, throttling his younger foe to capture the IBF, WBA, and WBO lightweight baubles, I too was curious about what the future held for King.
I was ringside for King’s sixth professional fight in November of 2008, a workmanlike decision over Luis Hodge in Palm Beach Gardens, but would soon lose touch with him as I continued to chase my dreams in the boxing world by making a move to Las Vegas less than a year later.
Since then, King has experienced some bumps in his career but upon seeing him lined up as Love’s next opponent, I felt the need to reach out to him in order to find out where his mindset is at heading into the contest and to also give him a chance to give his side of the story in regard to some of his setbacks.
Starting our conversation off, I kept things very straight forward when asking King for his thoughts on Love’s abilities as a fighter.
“He has had his success, seeing that he has carefully been nurtured throughout his career and never been challenged or tested,” King would state. “But honestly, he hasn't fought anyone like me. I will be the grand test to see if he truly belongs. I’m not concerned at all. I’ve watched enough videos on him and his style. You can never underestimate a fighter, but everyone comes to fight.”
It’s worth noting that five of King’s six losses have come to fighters who were undefeated at the time, with the most notable name on his record being that of unbeaten supermiddleweight Edwin Rodriguez. For King, those losses may have been unexpected, yet they also taught him a lot in the long run.
“For the record, I took and lost those fights because I was going through management issues and taking fights without anyone in my corner helping me to truly understand what I was doing,” King would explain. “But all wasn’t lost. I was able to learn some new tricks, and also know how to adjust much better, rather than being a one-dimensional fighter.
“I have multiple styles now,” King continued. “The other edge I have is that I can have fun now. The pressure of being an undefeated fighter comes with the fear of losing and the anxiety. I don’t have that anymore. I’m actually having fun in the ring now.”
The only stoppage loss on King’s record was his June 2010 defeat at the hands of Rodriguez, now one of the most promising faces at 168 pounds. But just as quickly as he was asked about that particular bout, so too did King feel the need to set the record straight on what really went down, while also pointing out his belief that Love is nowhere near Rodriguez’s level.
“We fought in his backyard,” King said of the Rodriguez duel. “And he legally dropped me once, but the referee stopped the fight prematurely, and I actually had him beat on scorecards. But I learned to keep my hands up now. And J'Leon Love is not on Edwin’s level. He’s a much tougher fighter, with more ring intelligence. I did my research and it looks like Love is learning on the job.”
Now training with the experienced Anthony ‘Chill’ Wilson in Hollywood, Florida alongside Edison Miranda, Joe Greene, and Marcus Upshaw, King seems like a completely different fighter than the man I crossed paths with over four years ago. The winding road he’s been on may not have been in his plans, but it’s a path that has made him wise to many things.
“My confidence is actually higher than before due to the level of training I've been receiving. I feel like I'm in great hands, with someone who has my best interest at heart,” King stated candidly. “I'm truly getting the training I believe that can turn my career around. I feel a newfound level of boxing that I'm not sure Love is ready for. The positive side is that my losses have taught me a lot. I'll be ready and I hope he's game.”
It’s easy to spot how much the fight means to King and that he isn’t going into the contest with the mindset of an opponent. And before going our separate ways, King had some choice words that he was sure to drop.
“Last but not least, even though he trains with Mayweather, he’s not a Mayweather!" King exclaimed of Love.
This doesn't sound like your typical soft touch by any means.