Is This Heavy-Handed Swede Ready to Become a Boxing Star?

Is This Heavy-Handed Swede Ready to Become a Boxing Star?

Badou Jack.

SourceDominique Hessert/OZY

Why you should care

Because he’s a man with global appeal and a plan to match.

Badou Jack thought his career was over before it ever got off the ground. Thanks to a slippery New York manager who couldn’t muster the courtesy to meet his young immigrant fighter in Las Vegas, Jack had gone from a Swedish boxing legend to a nameless, broke brawler sharing an air mattress in a sleazy motel room off the Strip.

“I signed a slave contract,” says Jack, now a two-division world champion nicknamed “the Ripper.” His manager “put us in the ghetto with no furniture — nothing. But that only made me stronger.”

And at 34, the soft-spoken father of two is a rare boxer becoming more dangerous with age. With five recent championship bouts (four wins and one draw) behind him, Jack has captured belts at super middleweight (168 pounds) and light heavyweight (175 pounds). He stopped Wales’ Nathan Cleverly in five rounds on the Mayweather-McGregor undercard last August, then quickly relinquished his WBA light heavyweight title to set up his biggest fight to date.

He’s still at the top of his game. He won’t put himself in a bad position in the ring, and he’ll use that same mindset to run a business.

Mike Leanardi, Badou Jack’s assistant trainer

On May 19, Jack (21-1-3) fights Canadian knockout artist Adonis Stevenson (29-1) in Toronto for the WBC light heavyweight belt. A victory would catapult Jack to the forefront of boxing’s conversation and validate his quest to become one of the world’s biggest prize fighters. With that, the boxer who nearly slipped through a corrupt sport’s cracks hopes to pay it forward by promoting the careers of young, far-flung fighters. In this new era of the fight game, Badou Jack wants to make the rules.

Jack was born and raised in Stockholm by a Swedish mother and a Gambian father. Life was no cakewalk, but it was comfortable. He vacationed across Europe, and caused “a little trouble, but nothing serious,” he says. In 2001, 17-year old Jack followed a friend to a Stockholm boxing gym. After a few rounds of sparring, he was hooked. Boxing became his outlet, and a ticket to the life that, until then, he’d not been quite sure how to reach.

Jack quickly established himself as one of the best young fighters in Europe. He won five straight Swedish amateur national championships, but he yearned for a greater challenge. Sweden banned professional boxing in 1970, so Jack would have to fight his way to America. First, though, one challenge remained: the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Jack, deciding to “rep my roots,” competed for his father’s native Gambia — becoming the country’s first-ever Olympic boxer and serving as flag-bearer. “It was an incredible experience,” Jack says. Except, he adds, losing in the first round to India’s Vijender Singh, whom, Jack contends, “I would crush in the pros!”

Jack soon turned professional, moved to the U.S. in 2010 and signed with New York promoter Lou DiBella. Jack won his first 11 fights, but says that his manager at the time did little to help him progress. The manager, Steven Heid, denies these claims, saying that Jack grew impatient and ungrateful for a coveted opportunity. “[Jack] was compensated very well and taken care of,” says Heid. “He knew exactly what he was signing. I lived up to my end of the bargain.” Nonetheless, after living the good life in Sweden, Jack felt like he was rotting away in Las Vegas with no contract expiration in sight. Luckily, boxing’s biggest star was building a roster of his own.

After that 11th win, Jack visited legendary fighter Floyd Mayweather’s boxing club for a sparring session. Mayweather was impressed enough to propose Jack become a staple of his young Mayweather Promotions. Within two days, Mayweather bought out Jack’s promoter and managers. “I didn’t even have to ask,” says Jack. “He saved my career.”

In the upcoming Toronto fight, Jack faces by far the toughest opponent of his career. Stevenson is six years older, but he is one of the most feared punchers in any division and will be on his home turf. Though it’s only Jack’s second fight at light heavyweight, he looked like a rejuvenated fighter in his August mauling of Cleverly. Clearly, the division suits him. For his part, RingTV’s Doug Fischer favors Jack in the clash. “Stevenson has the speed, explosive power and overall athleticism that Jack lacks,” writes Fischer, noting, though, that Jack “has a better foundation, fewer technical flaws and the more consistent offense/workrate.”

Jack hesitates to look past the Stevenson fight, but as he ponders what lies ahead, boxing’s cruel reality sets in. He tells himself that his late start means that he’s suffered less abuse than most fighters his age, but Jack admits that he has a shelf life. “I might have two fights left,” he says. “Or 10, 20 more. Who knows?”

“He’s still at the top of his game,” says Mike Leanardi, Jack’s assistant trainer. “He won’t put himself in a bad position in the ring, and he’ll use that same mindset to run a business.”

While Jack — who lives in a gated community with 2-year-old daughter Malaniyah, newborn son Malik and wife Yasemin — invokes few comparisons to his brash boss, Mayweather’s business acumen has rubbed off on the pupil. Jack recently launched Ripper Nutrition, a line of high-grade pre- and post-workout supplements. But another idea could lead real change in the sport. With his new LLC, Badou Jack Promotions, Jack hopes to promote disenfranchised fighters in the Gambia, the Middle East and Sweden, all places where he has a strong following. Jack believes most promoters only dip their toes into a vast pool of global amateur talent. Eventually, Jack could be the familiar face that helps a young fighter turn pro. “I’ve got to talk to [Mayweather],” he says, “to see if we can get them on my undercard.”

First, though, the Swede has his own business to attend to. And as he watches a video of Malaniyah emulating dad’s shadowboxing, Badou Jack is reminded that their land of plenty is built between the ropes.

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