By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Go ahead and accept a round of applause.
Because if – even as Badou Jack reeled from the onslaught of one Derek Edwards – you still viewed him as a potential pound-for-pound elite, you’re a soothsayer of the highest magnitude.
The unbeaten Swede was headed toward a 168-pound title eliminator four years ago when he collided with Edwards' right hand, tumbled to the canvas twice and was rescued by referee Charlie Fitch while stumbling drunkenly along the ropes, just feet from the lap of his promotional company’s czar.
The loss wound up as an honorable mention candidate for BoxingScene.com's 2014’s Upset of the Year. And it wasn’t hard to find fans and media types scurrying toward the prospect’s bandwagon exit.
But that czar, while slack-jawed at the surprising result, stood by his man without hesitation.
And the counsel he offered in the aftermath laid the foundation for an impressive career rebuild.
"A true champion can bounce back from a loss," Floyd Mayweather Jr. said.
"As long as you stay focused and surround yourself with a good team, it all works out. I told him to keep his head up, stay focused and to trust that he would bounce back and become champion."
Mayweather, who’s retired these days – at least for the time being – remains full-time president of Mayweather Promotions, which will co-promote Jack’s Saturday night duel with Canadian-based Haitian Adonis Stevenson at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario.
The bout is for Stevenson’s WBC championship at light heavyweight and will headline a two-bout card that’ll be broadcast live by Showtime starting at 10:05 p.m. ET.
Jack topped unbeaten Anthony Dirrell for the WBC super middleweight belt just three fights and 14 months after the Edwards disappointment, and he defended three times – beating George Groves and Lucien Bute, and drawing with James DeGale – before rising to 175 to drive veteran Nathan Cleverly into retirement via a fifth-round TKO last summer in Las Vegas.
The Cleverly win gave Jack the WBA’s belt at light heavy, which he then relinquished to clear the way for the match with Stevenson, who’s defended eight times since vaporizing Chad Dawson in 2013.
Mayweather said it’s his client’s singular drive that allowed him to regain professional footing following the stumble against Edwards.
"He carries himself like a professional at all times. He has very unique skills, and he has a great work ethic," Mayweather said. "He's definitely a more complete fighter. Badou is very comfortable now."
The high-profile boss even suggested Jack’s re-ascension has made him "the face of Mayweather Promotions," though that label will remain with Money until he stops intermittently teasing about comebacks or Jack becomes a legit pound-for-pound commodity … whichever comes first.
For his part, the fighter believes a victory over Stevenson – whose nine title fights have lasted an average of less than six rounds apiece – will provide the ideal propulsion. The 40-year-old champion is No. 1 in the division according to the Independent World Boxing Rankings – one slot ahead of former multi-belt champ Sergey Kovalev and three in front of Jack.
The numbers folks at Bovada are a little less certain about Jack’s chances – having installed Stevenson as a narrow favorite – but the underdog insists when he looks at his foe, who’s two inches shorter albeit with a four-inch reach advantage, he’s not overwhelmed.
"I won't say it's like a coming-out party because I've already proven myself," Jack said. "I've fought five world champions in my last five fights. But he's a great champion. He's an underrated boxer and because people don’t like him they say he's been cherry-picking. He's a talented fighter. That’s the reason I wanted to fight him. Not just because he a big name. He's a big puncher and he's a good fighter."
Jack’s one-division rise followed the blueprint most recently drawn by Andre Ward, who ruled the super middleweight roost before claiming a handful of light heavyweight belts with defeats of Kovalev in November 2016 (UD 12). He won a rematch via an eighth-round TKO seven months later and would have a two-inch reach disadvantage against Jack, should he ultimately choose to meet him and end an abrupt retirement begun last September.
Jack, at 6-foot-1, said the struggle to make 168 pounds simply became too difficult and conceded to swelling to as much as 195 between fights.
Yet another move to cruiserweight is on the long-term agenda, but Jack said he's "got some money to make" first – a mindset that prompted him to assemble a team for the Stevenson fight that includes a personal chef, strength/conditioning coach Larry Wade and famed nutritionist Mackie Shilstone alongside trainer Lou Del Valle, himself a former title claimant at 175.
"I fought in August. I could have fought in December again,” Jack said. “I've been training for months and months, so I will definitely be ready."
Meanwhile, on the sidelines, Mayweather looks forward to sharing in a celebratory banquet.
"All he has to do is go out there, stay focused and listen to his corner," he said. "Everything in his life is going the way it's supposed to go. He's putting in the hard work and has dedicated himself to his craft.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF featherweight title – Leeds, England
Lee Selby (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Josh Warrington (No. 1 IBF/No. 9 IWBR)
Selby (26-1, 9 KO): Fifth title defense; Unbeaten since losing a four-rounder in 2009 (22-0, 9 KO)
Warrington (26-0, 6 KO): First title fight; Defeated lone man to beat Selby (Samir Mouneimne, TKO 12)
Fitzbitz says: There are levels to this, and, to me, Selby’s performances have elevated him to a level beyond the one Warrington has reached. Not a blowout, but a clear win. Selby by decision (75/25)
IBF/WBA junior/light flyweight titles – Tokyo, Japan
Ryoichi Taguchi (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Hekkie Budler (No. 6 IBF/No. 5 IWBR)
Taguchi (27-2-2, 12 KO): Eighth WBA title defense; Four stoppage wins in eight title fights (7-0-1, 4 KO)
Budler (31-3, 10 KO): Seventeenth title fight (13-3); Has held belts at 105 (IBO/WBA) and 108 (IBO)
Fitzbitz says: Being perhaps the biggest fan of the IBO, I’m also a big fan of its long-term champions and rarely pick against them. But I’m just not feeling the love for Budler here. Taguchi by decision (60/40)
IBF mini flyweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Hiroto Kyoguchi (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Vince Paras (unranked IBF/unranked IWBR)
Kyoguchi (9-0, 7 KO): Second title defense; Two stoppages, two decisions in 12-rounders (4-0, 2 KO)
Paras (13-0, 11 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of the Philippines
Fitzbitz says: The challenger has a nice record. But he’s barely been past six rounds (twice), he’s never fought a name at 105 and he’s still five months short of his 20th birthday. Uh oh. Kyoguchi in 9 (90/10)
WBC light heavyweight title – Toronto, Canada
Adonis Stevenson (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Badou Jack (No. 1 WBC/No. 4 IWBR)
Stevenson (29-1, 24 KO): Ninth title defense; Seven stoppages in nine title fights (5.77-round average)
Jack (22-1-2, 13 KO): Sixth title fight (4-0-1); Has held belts at 168 (WBC) and 175 (WBA)
Fitzbitz says: Stevenson is the puncher. Jack seems more dynamic. The hunch here is Jack avoids early bombs and wears Stevenson down in the second half -- call it 116-112. Jack by decision (52/48)
WBC featherweight title – Oxon Hill, Maryland
Gary Russell Jr. (champion/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Joseph Diaz (No. 1 WBC/No. 7 IWBR)
Russell (28-1, 17 KO): Third title defense; All title fight wins have come by stoppage (4.33-round average)
Diaz (26-0, 14 KO): First title fight; Second fight scheduled for 12 rounds (1-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: I know he rarely fights. I know his foe has momentum and looks ready for a coronation. But I still believe Russell has big-time skill and will be primed to display it here. Russell by decision (65/35)
Last week's picks: 2-1 (WIN: Lomachenko, Vargas; LOSS: Ali)
2018 picks record: 32-15 (68.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 953-319 (74.9 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.