Boxer Johnathon Banks Contends for the Title
The Detroit native talks about his upcoming HBO heavyweight fight, his family and his love for the city.
It’s an autumn night in Austria, about 4,500 miles away from America and worlds away from Detroit, but North American Boxing Federation (NABF) heavyweight champion Jonathon Banks can’t stop thinking about home as he prepares for the biggest fight of his life.
“It’s really huge; everything is on the line,” Banks said via Skype between training sessions. “It doesn’t get any bigger than that.”
The man they call “Mr. Banks” in the ring makes his HBO debut vs. Seth Mitchell in Atlantic City Nov. 17 for the North American Boxing Organization (NABO) heavyweight title.
In calm, cool tones—mixed with childlike enthusiasm—Banks talks about what it would mean to bring a heavyweight boxing title back to the adopted home of Joe Louis.
“First of all, this fight is another step towards that goal,” he said, mentioning that winning the North American title would make him the No. 1 contender for the world boxing title. “Joe Louis was an all-time great and one of my all-time favorites, and to do something he’s done and to be the second heavyweight champ of Detroit, I’d be speechless; it would mean the world to me.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Banks will attempt to punch his way into the boxing history books, hoping to win the North American Heavyweight Championship title—simultaneously making a name for himself around the world and in the Motor City.
RISING UP TO RAP
Banks, who graduated from Western High School, believes in Detroit’s comeback-ability and, like the Detroit Tigers and world-renowned rapper Eminem, he wants to be part of the turnaround.
“What I’d like to do is hook up with guys like that, Em and Kid Rock, because in some way we all fight to get the city back to where it’s supposed to be.”
In fact, Banks already has had contact with Marshall Mathers, and likes to enter the ring to the rapper’s intense lyrics and music when possible. Because the fight is on HBO, Banks needs permission to use Eminem’s riffs for his intro and is looking for someone to contact the artist on his behalf.
“I used to work for Eminem before he bought the house from the guy who owned Kmart,” he explained, detailing how that evolved into more. “I was the security guard at the gate, and then I started doing security on the set of the ’8 Mile’ movie.”
Paul Korthuis helps manage the marketing aspect of team Banks, and he thinks his fighter’s time is now.
“He’s part of the younger crowd and he’s come up through the ranks,” Korthuis said. “He is from Detroit, trains out of the legendary Kronk Gym—Detroit’s whole boxing legacy—he’s a hardworking guy. Let’s face it: Who is better than Johnathon Banks to bring the heavyweight title back to the America? And Detroit is due.”
Detroit’s historic rise and fall and emerging 21st century resurrection mirrors the life and times of the boxer who has, like the city he loves, taken his lumps, learned from them and kept fighting.
His is not the golden-boy story with an Olympic medal, undefeated record and million-dollar bouts, but rather a picture of pride and perseverance; a pugilist whose international journey to success truly embodies the spirit of the heavyweight champ of the world title.
As a professional, Banks has a respectable 28-1-1 record, but it’s been his willingness to endure the rigors of the ring around the world and learn from his mistakes while seeking the advice of the best in the business that makes him special.
He has been the primary sparring partner for World Heavyweight Champions Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko since 2004. He’s simultaneously training Wladimir for his fight against Mariusz Wach in Germany while preparing for his own bout against Mitchell.
“If you remember back to Larry Holmes, for years he was Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner—and that prepared him to become champ,” Banks said. “The relationship with the Klitschko brothers has been a huge opportunity for me, learning from world champs and helping each other.
“I’m training Wladimir for his Nov. 10 fight while training for my own,” he said. “We have two training schedules.”
The 30-year-old contender has a resume filled with noteworthy supporters and associations. He fights out of the legendary Kronk Boxing Club and was trained by the late boxing icon Emanuel Steward who died Oct. 25. In addition to sparring with the Klitschko brothers, he is backed by their business venture, K2 Promotions.
Banks’ boxing beginnings were filled with tips from people at the top of the game. At age 13, the athletic adolescent discovered the art of boxing and developed an instant taste for the sweet science.
Banks began boxing at Detroit’s Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center, and his first trainer was Al “Blue” Lewis, who lost to Muhammad Ali in 1972.
Banks’ brother, Paul, who works in his corner, has watched his sensational sibling fight his way through adversity and believes he is ready to be champ of the world.
But it’s the hardships he points to when describing why he thinks Johnathon is ready to win.
“I think his last fight was a defining moment in his career—and he lost,” Paul Banks said, describing how each step of his brother’s journey has helped. “He fought Tomasz Adamek. He fought him and lost to him as a cruiserweight, and that loss taught him a lot and put him into the rebuilding stage and helped him make the decision to go heavyweight.”
Paul Banks remembers the first time he saw his brother show he had the ability to do what it takes when it matters most.
“In elementary school, I remember three boys were picking on him and they pushed him to the point where he had to avenge himself,” Paul Banks said.
The future professional fighter remembered, as well. “I kept avoiding them to the point where I had no choice but to fight them,” Banks said, laughing at the memory.
“They caught me on the playground and cornered me. I told them ‘Leave me alone,’ and they wouldn’t—so I had no choice but to fight them.”
No choice but to fight.
The proud Detroiter says that is the spirit of Detroit and its people. He said he believes the city leaders, celebrities and people going to work every day grinding it out, staying positive and working towards a better day all have something in common.
“I may be a boxer (and) people may do whatever it is they do, but we are all fighters,” he said. “We all have some fight in us.”