Boxing is a sport of adversity. Fighters often come from poverty, trauma or both. They make sacrifices and experience physical hardship, whether it’s making weight, pushing through the limits in training or having to grit their teeth and remain stoic after being punched terrifically hard in the face.
That is only the day to day adversity and even before the bell rings for a fight.
Badou Jack has experienced all of the above and more.
You can chuck an early draw and defeat in to his pro career and a few controversial decisions that went against him, yet he’s still smiling and still ambitious.
The 37-year-old 28-fight veteran has had a run of fights that stacks up against just about anyone in the sport, facing Jean Pascal, Marcus Browne, Adonis Stevenson, Nathan Cleverly, James DeGale, Lucian Bute and Anthony Dirrell in an extraordinary run that dates back five years.
Yet even before the success and the big fights Jack had faced hardship and was written off. If an unjust draw with Marco Antonio Periban didn’t cause people to lose the faith he was condemned to a pile of hype jobs when stunned in a round by underdog Derek Edwards in early 2014.
“I got caught cold,” explained Jack. “I kind of leant in and he countered me perfectly, it was the first time I got dropped in my whole life. I got up too quick, I was laughing, I was a little arrogant, my legs weren’t there and I should have just stayed down and took my time and I jumped up – against a journeyman. I’m not going to say it was a lucky punch because in boxing it only takes one punch, but he had five fights after that, he lost all of them. I’ve had about 10 since and I’ve fought world class fighters.”
Edwards was 26-3-1 but didn’t win again and hasn’t boxed since March 2018.
“It’s all about being strong mentally so… Periban, that was no draw. That was crazy,” Jack went on of coming back from early setbacks. “But that first loss, I took it like a champ and bounced back. That was an accident. I walked into a good punch. Shit happens. It can happen in boxing. I was embarrassed but you’ve just got to go back to the drawing board. We tried to get the rematch and he asked for too much money or whatever and so we fought two more guys and we were right back fighting for the title and I became champion and fought and beat all those guys who were way better than the guy I lost to, so I kind of proved that was just an accident.”
Now Jack finds himself on one of the most-talked about shows of the year, on a bill headed by Mike Tyson’s exhibition with Roy Jones. Badou only came to boxing at the age of 18 but they were two of the first fighters he looked up to.
“I was pretty shocked when Tyson and those guys reached out to me and asked me to be a part of it,” said Jack, who meets little-known 13-0 Blake McKernan over eight rounds to raise money for his Foundation on the show. “It’s an exhibition so both Roy Jones and Mike Tyson were my favourite fighters growing up so it’s an honour to be a part of it but I hope no one gets hurt. I’m friends with both of them, may the best man win.”
Of his own fight, he’s leagues above McKernan but is still ready for anything.
“This is a little different from what I’m used to,” he continued. “I’m used to fighting world class fighters. I’m still training hard and trying to knock my opponent out but this is dedicated to my charity.”
He’s now in a place where he is respected and he’s proved the doubters wrong, but he doesn’t forget what it was like to be written off.
“It’s motivation, of course,” Jack said. “Even this fight, the guy that I’m fighting now, it’s hard to get up for a clubfighter but he’s been talking crazy like Peter McNeeley did before he fought Mike Tyson and he actually said at the press conference that I’d never fought anybody like him! I actually haven’t, since my pro debut! All that talk motivates me. It’s going to be worse for him.”
The father of two, who trains in Las Vegas at his home and at the Mayweather Gym, has managed to get in plenty of unexpected family time this year with lockdown but the pandemic has stunted the growth of his own promotional entity, Badou Jack Promotions, after their first fight card in Dubai last year. He had just enough time to fight Pascal before the end of 2019 but he has not boxed since.
But he contends there’s still plenty of legs left on his own career. He wants to avenge the split decision loss to Pascal, move up to cruiserweight and win a title there to become a three-division champion and he won’t rule out rumbling on a la Bernard Hopkins, although he respectfully draws the line with Tyson-Jones comparisons.
“No – I won’t be fighting at that age,” he smiled.
He’s also working with a new trainer, Johnathaon Banks of Kronk fame and part of that link up has come about because of the aforementioned adversity with the scorecards.
“People show me a lot of respect [for what he’s done in boxing],” Jack stated. “There’s not a lot of fighters who have fought former or current champions back-to-back in eight fights without tune ups, so I get the respect, I don’t get the respect from the judges. I’ve been robbed so many times. That’s boxing politics and I kind of know what it’s about. It’s okay, we’ve got judge No. 1 and judge No. 2.”
He said that lifting his left and right hands and Banks has been brought into make him more aggressive, to make him finish opponents off.
“It’s been great for my style,” Badou added of the new link up. “I’ve been picking up my punches, throwing more punches. I’ve hurt or dropped all those guys [he hasn’t won decisions against] so I’ve just got to put it together more and I can finish them. I have the power, I’ve just got to put it together and that’s what I’m doing with Johnathon Banks because you can’t depend on judges, even if you’re the home fighter or whatever. You have to depend on yourself and your team.”
And, of course, he’s well aware that people out there have faced far greater adversity than he, so much so that two years ago he started the Badou Jack Foundation.
“Our mission is to give kids all over the world a fighting chance, so we work with Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps… in Gambia… and now here in the United States and this year we’re going to start working with foster kids.”
All proceeds from the McKernan fight will go into the Foundation. But why, when he’s living well in Vegas, does he feel the need to do it? Why has he rallied support from the WBC, the WBA, from Mayweather Promotions and the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame when he could sit back with his earnings?
“First of all, I’m a Muslim and I feel it’s my duty to help people and be a good role model,” he said. “I have the platform and I can help people, why not?”
In a sport where adversity is the norm, during these troubled times it’s always important to know that there’s someone worse off than you. And by facing adversity himself, Jack is allowing thousands of disadvantaged kids from all over the world to face theirs.