The life of heavyweight Johnathon Banks has changed dramatically in the wake of last month’s HBO-televised upset second-round knockout over previously undefeated Seth “Mayhem” Mitchell in Atlantic City, which Banks executed just a week after having worked the corner of RING, IBF WBA and WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko for his unanimous-decision victory over Mariusz Wach in Hamburg, Germany.
Banks’ acheivements culminated an emotional couple of weeks marked by the October death of training mentor Emanuel “Manny” Steward, a Hall of Famer who charged Banks with handling Klitschko after having guided Klitschko through a 16-fight winning streak.
A Detroit-based fighter who first met Steward at the city’s famous Kronk Gym when he was 15, Banks attended Steward’s funeral four days prior to facing Mitchell, who was coming off his ninth and 10th consecutive knockout victories over Timur Ibragimov and Chazz Witherspoon in December of last year and April, respectively.
Banks (29-1-1, 19 knockouts) scored three knockdowns in the final round against Mitchell (25-1-1, 19 KOs), ending a winning streak that had covered 23 consecutive bouts and which had included stoppage wins.
In this Q&A with RingTV.com, Banks, 30, shared about his relationship with Steward, his career-defining victory over Mitchell and their rematch that is scheduled for Feb. 16, yet again, at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
Johnathon Banks: I can’t complain. I can not complain at all. I’m here in Detroit, and I can not complain at all.
RingTV.com: How has life changed for you in Detroit?
JB: Well, you know, I was told by a very good friend of mine, Jameel McCline — as a matter of fact, I just got off of the phone with him.
But we were in camp when I was training with Wladimir when I was told by Jameel McCline, you know, he said, “Listen young man, I’m going to tell you this now.”
He said, “If you pull this off, meaning that if you train Wladimir, and you get him this win, and then, you go to Atlantic City, and you get yourself that win, then your life will never be the same.”
He said, “I kid you not, but just be prepared for it.” Then he said, “I’m looking into your eyes, and I’m seeing the intensity that you’re training with, and I believe that you’re going to do it.”
But when he told me that my life would never be the same, it sort of went into one ear and out of the other. I just didn’t think that it would be this way.
Then again, the week of the fight, he said, “Are you ready for your life to change?” I said, “Of course,” but really, I didn’t pay him no attention.
RingTV.com: So was he right?
JB: Yeah, he was right. My life has definitely changed. But I had a lot of heart break as well, because I just buried an extremely close cousin of mine this past Saturday.
So there has just been a lot of heartache more so than anything, because I had to deal with Emanuel, and then, I had to deal with the fight, and then, after the fight, there was celebration.
After the celebration, I got some calls and did a lot of interviews, but I also got some calls about my cousin being killed. He was just buried this past Saturday, so it’s been crazy.
RingTV.com: What sort of demands have been made on your time?
JB: I’ve been doing so many different speaking engagements. I’ve been going to so many different juvenile homes and institutions and juvenile delinquent centers and youth homes.
I’ve been speaking to a lot of children. I’ve always done that, but now, the demand is higher and the attention rate has improved.
They’re paying more attention because the majority of them have seen the fight. So since they’ve seen the fight, that’s what I’ve been doing. I just did a television show yesterday.
A lot of people were shocked that I was working on Christmas day. But any message that I can get out to the children, then I’ll do it.
The guy that I was on the show with, he’s a local from Detroit, he said that he’s never received that large of a call volume.
He said that he had never seen that many people call his show. Everybody that called, they were calling for me, so that was really good and it felt really good.
RingTV.com: Do you believe that it’s your life experiences that people are responding to?
JB: I kind of think so. A lot of the youth, they’re from impoverished neighborhoods, you know what I’m saying? Everybody didn’t grow up living in a big mansion.
So, when they see someone Who comes from where they come from, and they’re someone who is fighting to get their way out, or they’re seeing someone who has fought their way out and made a success of their lives…
That’s someone that they can identify with, I guess, because I’m the underdog. You’ve got more people who can identify with the underdog than with the guy that everybody just believes is going to win.
I think that’s why more people identified with me because I was the underdog. I believe that I still am the underdog. And with me being that, I think that people were able to cling to me.
It was just a lot easier for them to cling to someone like me, because he’s more approachable. It’s like, “I can approach him because he’s an approachable guy.”
I think that they saw that, and they were able to cling to me for that. And for that, I’m grateful and appreciative of that and I am really glad about that.
RingTV.com: Can you talk about your family and your life, growing up?
JB: There’s a total of 10 of us. Four boys and six girls. I’m right smack in the middle. I’m the No. 6 born out of the 10 children. As far as the values, and everything like that, I was taught about respect at an early age.
I was taught discipline at an early age. So those two, they’re the values. They’re not only values, but they’re two values that can take you around the world and through life.
JB: Well, first, you have to respect yourself. As long as you have that, then you’re on the right track. But those are the values that my parents taught me, and I’ve been able to use them.
They’re like, “Hey, let’s watch how he’s doing this, since he is from Detroit.” You’ve got to stick to something, and I say just stick to the good values that you have. And if you don’t have good values, then you have to get those values.
But that’s where you’re success comes from. If you want to be successful, then you have to surround yourself with people who want the same thing.
RingTV.com: Will you continue to be the perceived underdog entering the rematch?
JB: I will come into this fight the same way that I did for every other fight, including the last one. My focus will be the same, and my game plan will be the same. My plan will be the same.
I’m not about to start changing anything because I have no reason to change anything right now. Just because I was the underdog before doesn’t mean that I’m not the underdog now.
RingTV.com: What do you mean?
JB: Well, there’s a reason that they want this fight, and there is a reason that they want this rematch right away. They saw something that they think they can capitalize on, and all that I can say is, “Okay.” You know?
So that’s what they’re coming to do. They’re coming to try to capitalize on something that they didn’t do the first time.
So a rematch is actually more dangerous than the first fight, because they fight has already happened and it’s been said and done.
In the rematch, so much can be gained, and so much can be lost from the first fight when you go into the second fight. So that’s what this is all about.
This is boxing. Boxing is what I do, and boxing is my life. Am I worried about the rematch? No. Was I worried about the first fight? No.
Am I confident about the rematch? Yes, just like I was confident about the first fight. I don’t underestimate Seth Mitchell.
I say it once again, just like I said after the first fight, that I take my hat off to the guy. I have nothing bad to say about the guy.
He’s a big guy. He’s still a strong puncher. I still have to be careful. I still have to bring my best. If I don’t, I’ll be in trouble.
RingTV.com: How much will Manny’s influence, spiritually and figuratively, and that of his nephew, your trainer, Sugar Hill, be a factor into the next fight?
JB: It will be the same as it was in the last fight. Manny was there in the first fight and he will be there in the second fight.
And Sugar Hill, he’s like my brother, man. We’re family. As family, we got each other through a very, very difficult time.
Since Manny has been gone, it’s like me and Sugar Hill have been together every single day. We were in camp together. He could have left camp, and I even offered that to him.
But he said no, I’d rather be here. He stuck with me through everything, and there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for him as a result of that.
We both knew what Emanuel wanted, and we did it. It was like, “Do your job, and I’ll do mine,” and that’s how we did it. So we kept on going.
That’s the message that I would have for any Johnathon Banks fans or followers, or even any enemies. If you’ve gotten anything out of what I’ve done, I hope that it’s that you can believe in yourself.
If you believe in yourself, and that this is the position that you’re supposed to be in, then the sky is the limit. Especially if you’re from a city like my city or any other city like it in the world.
You just have to believe in yourself and you can accomplish your goals. Just follow your dreams, and the sky is the limit.
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Photo by Joern Pollex-Bongarts, Gettyimages
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org