A host of fighters scheduled to compete in Thursday’s Big Time Boxing USA event at Wayne State Fieldhouse in Detroit first appeared at a media workout Tuesday at Detroit’s Kronk Gym.

Featured during the workout were American heavyweight contender Jermaine Franklin Jr. (22-2, 14 KOs), who will appear in the 10-round main event against former U.S. Olympian Devin Vargas (22-10, 9 KOs); Joshua James Pagan (9-0, 4 KOs) of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who will face fellow undefeated prospect Roger Hilley (13-0, 8 KOs) of Chattanooga, Tennessee, at super lightweight in the televised co-feature; and late addition Ali Akhmedov (20-1, 15 KOs) of Venice, California, by way of Almaty, Kazakhstan, who will take on Encarnacion Diaz (18-4, 11 KOs) of San Jose, Costa Rica, in an intriguing eight-round special attraction.

Akhmedov’s trainer, Detroit-born Johnathon Banks, was also on hand to train his fighter and take questions, as was Hall of Fame analyst Al Bernstein, who will be part of the night’s broadcast crew. Former welterweight titleholder and Kronk staple Milton McCrory was also in attendance to offer support.

Workout interview quotes:

Jermaine Franklin

“Fighting in my home state again feels great. I love the energy. It’s like an aura and it feels great.

“What I learned in those two fights in Europe is that everything isn’t fair, and don’t look to the refs to clean up everything. Fight to the best of your ability and don’t pay attention until he stops you. I was already mentally tough, but those two fights over there brought out a new ferociousness in me. Not a lot of stuff can get to me anymore. If the ref doesn’t stop me, you better get out of the way.

“I still want my rematch with Joshua, but we’re chasing belts. Hopefully I can go after one of these top contenders like Daniel Dubois or Filip Hrgovic or Cassius Chaney or Michael Hunter.

“I only saw bits and pieces of [Tyson] Fury vs. [Oleksandr] Usyk, but I think my punch output would be a lot higher than those guys. Usyk can punch and move against the big heavyweights – he’s got real nice feet. But I think my punch output could keep up with him a lot better than most other heavyweights could.

“I know Vargas was a great boxer in his time, and he went to the Olympics. He has a punch-and-move type style, so I’ll beat him at his own game and cut the ring off, force him to engage. I don’t do predictions, but he’s going to end up on his ass.

“Fighting to the level of my opposition has been a real problem for me in the past. I really can’t explain why the better the opponent, the better I fight. We’ve been working on pushing the pace and pushing our intensity in the gym so we don’t get stuck in that comfortable space anymore and fight to my limit every time.

“I still see myself as a top guy and I’m just trying to get back to the top fights. Mentally and physically, I’m ready to take the call for the next big fight.”

Joshua Pagan

“It feels great to be back. I was supposed to fight in February and March, and it didn’t go through, so I’m happy to be back. It was frustrating a lot to train and not fight, but I just call it God’s timing. I’m ready to go and I can’t wait to bring the belt home.

“I know he’s a crafty southpaw. I’ve seen a couple of his fights and I know what he brings to the table. But I know what I bring to the table, too, and I’m ready to go. I’m determined and I trained hard for this, and I know I will win. I’m ready to execute the game plan. 

“I knew I would get to the level of a televised co-feature eventually, but not this quickly. I’m very blessed and excited to be getting this opportunity. Thanks to my promoter, Dmitriy Salita.”

Johnathon Banks

“[Akhmedov and I have] been having fun since the first day we worked together. We met when I started training Gennady Golovkin about five years ago.

“This is a homecoming for me. Ali is able to fight in Detroit for the first time, and I’m able to work at home for the first time in a long time.

“The Kazakh style of boxing is similar to the Kronk style because they do a lot of movement. The only difference is the late, great Emanuel Steward taught us to do rhythm along with our movement and we punch off that rhythm and punch off that movement, and that’s what we’ve worked on a lot – moving and punching at the same time, because that’s what Emanuel was all about.

“The [Gabriel] Rosado fight was a tough test for Ali, and coming into the 12th round, I looked into his eyes and said ‘We’ve been here before and we’re here again. Listen to everything I tell you this time and you will have no worries.’ He said, ‘Johnathon, I believe you,’ and he kissed my forehead. Then he went out there and won the title. He listened and did everything he was supposed to do, and it worked out.

Ali Akhmedov

“I’m very happy to work with Johnathon. We have a very good connection. He understands me, and I believe in him. I’ve learned a lot from Johnathon. He’s taught me a lot about moving around the ring better.

“Of course I knew about Kronk Gym when I lived in Kazakhstan. All fighters around the world know about Kronk Gym. This is my first time training here and it’s a thrill.”