Banks: "If Povetkin didn’t have the WBA title, I wouldn’t mention his name at all"
Over the past few months, few have had to endure what Johnathon Banks has. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, having to deal with the loss of close friend, mentor, trainer and father figure Emanuel Steward. Banks took the reins of heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, training him for his recent defence against Mariusz Wach in Germany, then returned to America to attend Steward’s funeral the week of his fight with hard-charging, power-puncher Seth Mitchell. Of course, we know how the Mitchell fight played out with Banks scoring a career-best, second round stoppage over the previously unbeaten Mitchell. The victory advanced his ledger to 29-1-1 (19), something Steward would doubtlessly be looking down and smiling about. Word is circulating that Mitchell will exercise a rematch clause as soon as February, which is just fine with the 30-year-old Detroit native. Despite having an eye on becoming a trainer, Banks still has aspirations on winning the biggest prize in sports.
Anson Wainwright - It’s been a rough and hectic past few weeks for you. Could you take us through the rollercoaster time with Emanuel Steward passing, training Wladimir Klitschko in Germany, then stepping in the ring with Seth Mitchell? Of course, in the middle of all that was Emanuel‘s funeral.
Johnathon Banks - It’s been a hectic last three months; it’s been a rollercoaster as far as emotions, to deal with so much going on. The passing of a legend, mentor, father figure is devastating. It hurt. There will always be piece missing of him; it will always leave an empty place in all of us. At the time it came, no one’s death comes at a good time, but especially with the timing of it being in the middle of training camp. I’ve had three big fights; I had to fight the emotional rollercoaster of a great individual that I’ve been around and got to know for a little over 15 years. I had the task of having to train one of the biggest, most powerful heavyweight champions in history and then on top of that, I had to fight a big powerful heavyweight myself. It’s been a very tough, up-and-down rollercoaster last three months and I tell you, I’m happy to sit at home and take a deep breath.
AW - You stopped Seth Mitchell recently. How much of a difference do you believe being a boxer through and through whilst he only took boxing up at 25 off the back of an American Football career played?
JB - I don’t like to say I had or have advantage over this man because in no way, shape, form or fashion do I want to take away from the ability Mitchell has. At the same time, I don’t want to take away the ability I have either. So I don’t want to say I had such a huge advantage over him but it’s just a matter of whoever was the best on that night. As I’m going through the fight, I’m seeing what he’s doing. I’m moving around; he was faster than what I thought he was gonna be. He caught me with some good shots; he caught me with a good right hand over the top. I thought, “OK, I don’t want to get caught with that again.” I’m just moving around actually trying to feel him out. I never moved around and felt an opponent out before. You know, I always went for the attack or went and did my thing. I didn’t know how his speed was going to be. I didn’t know [what he had]. I knew he had power so I had to feel him out, get his speed down pat and I took it from there. Then before the second round, coach Sugar Hill was kind of upset. He said, “Listen, Johnathon, you didn’t throw any punches in the first round.” After the fight, I explained to him but he didn’t really know at the particular time. But I came out the second round and was a little more aggressive because I knew [Mitchell] wouldn’t expect it. You have a guy who backs every opponent up and pretty much dominates and knocks out his opponent. He’s kind of used to it, so I figured if I backed him up, I’d have a better chance of either catching him or making him come forward one to one.
AW - Of course, you’re now in the very different situation of also being a trainer to the heavyweight champion of the world. You’ve known Wlad since 2004. What was it like for you to train Wladimir Klitschko and be the head trainer for his most recent fight?
JB - It was different but I quickly adjusted to it and I was able to deal with it. When I thought of the opportunity I was left with, I was saying to myself in training camp that I really have an opportunity to make history. This has never been done before. If Wladimir gets a win and I get a win, I’ll make history. That’ll be cool. I was very excited not only about my fight but both fights. I was excited about his fight and my fight. I just stayed with the program like I was supposed to [and] get Wladimir ready and myself ready.
AW - Is a fight with Wladimir or even Vitali something that you’re interested in having, being so close to them for so long and now training Wlad or would you like to go a different way like Alexander Povetkin for instance?
JB - Those are more so in my avenue. A fight with Povetkin, a rematch with [Tomasz] Adamek are more in my window than anything else. Being around these guys for so long, I’ve known them for many years; I don’t think it would be smart to fight them as of now. I’m their trainer and they’re my promoter so it would be difficult to do that. I think things would be pretty good for Povetkin and one of these days, I’d like a rematch with Adamek. I’m not crazy. There’s no money in it right now. If we do it, let’s do it for something that’s worth it. I don’t want to fight nobody just to fight them. The only reason I want to fight Povetkin is for the WBA title. If he didn’t have it, I wouldn’t mention his name at all. I want to fight for the world title. It’s not [like] I see someone I want to fight. People only want to fight the Klitschkos because they got the belts.
AW - So would you say to Alexander Povetkin, “If you fight me and beat me, you get one of the Klitschkos.”?
JB - I don’t think Povetkin wants any part of the Klitschkos. He was offered that fight, I want to say, three years back. As a matter of fact, Povetkin had a tour bus and he was calling out Wladimir, showed up at the press conference [of one of Wladimir’s fights], calling Wladimir by name all day long, saying Wladimir was scared to fight him. After Wladimir fought his fight, he went back and called out Povetkin and Povetkin turned the fight down. I don’t think Povetkin wants to fight one of them.
AW - We talked about Emanuel’s passing. He touched many lives but could you talk us through the relationship you guys shared and what he meant to you?
JB - I guess it got to a point when I was 16, maybe 17, we started talking. I was in the Olympic camp with Emanuel. I think I was training for a tournament myself. Emanuel said, “Come on up here.” I was up there; we always got to talk. What he liked about me was I wasn’t raised like the ghetto kids. He liked the way I carried myself. Me and Emanuel we always got along. We talked so much, so many times. You know, I’m growing up pretty much around this guy. I moved into one house he owned with some other fighters. One night, we had a bad snowstorm. I came over there I said, “Do you have anyone to shovel your snow?” So I shoveled the snow; it took 2 hours. [Steward] said, “Why don’t you go upstairs and sleep instead of going over to the house, walking in the snow a couple of blocks over?” I did that one night and it took me three years to leave! I was living with him at that point. A lot of times, he’d knock on the door and come in and we’d be talking. He was such a great figure and good man; he had so much going on. It was very rare somebody would say, “What’s going on with you?” Our bond changed from there. I guess you could say being in the right place at the right time, I just think things are meant to be. Things happen for a reason. I never knew at that moment but I was excited this man took an interest and I was surprised yet thankful to be around him. This was a great figure in the sport and the world and was amazing.
AW - Now that those situations have played out, do you have any plans or is it a little early still to know or tell?
JB - Just a little bit. Most importantly, I get to relax and I’m very happy to do that. As of now, no plans, just enjoy the holiday and back to work, make a phone call, try to figure out what’s next.
AW - I know your long-term vision is to be a trainer when you retire from professional boxing. Do you have anything set up for this?
JB - It’s a little early. I’m at a point in my life now whatever role or situation [I’m in], I’m confident I can fulfill that role. As a trainer or something else, I think I can do it but it’s still early. I’m just willing to help out whoever needs help and I would love to see Emanuel’s dream kept alive, meaning the Kronk gym being there, it helped a lot of inner city youth. I know a lot of guys myself. When I was 15, 16, one guy was sitting on the steps crying. I was talking to him; I figured what was wrong. Three of his boys got shot the day before. I said, “Where were you when they got shot?” He said, “I was here.” He was so happy and thankful having a place to go, having a gym to go to. That’s why I think it was so terrible and sad for the city to close up these recreation centers because the kids already had an excuse to do crime but now they have a bigger excuse. They have nowhere to go; they had pretty much nothing to do.
AW - You’ve shared a ring with both Klitschkos. That’s a very real way to see up close and personal exactly their incredible arsenals. What’s it like sparring with them?
JB - You see a giant! You see a giant coming across the ring; the next thing you know; an even bigger shadow covers you. Like Muhammad Ali said, when he fought Joe Frazier, Joe Frazier comes out, starts punching. I start retreating and the next thing you know, you’re sitting ringside. You get to think of things like that. These are gifted athletes. They got power; they got speed and they know their craft. I’ve been privileged to be around them and I look forward to spending more time with them. It’s a big learning lesson. With Wladimir, you see this big man with good footwork and great speed and with Vitali, you see this big man who throws so many punches during the rounds.
AW - Tell us about your interests outside of boxing.
JB - I have a mentoring program in Detroit. I do a lot of work with different charities. The mentoring program I have, I try my best to guide whatever children I have. I talk to a lot of people who just don’t know a lot of things. I say I’m not saying y’all are gonna make it. What I’m saying is none of you will have an excuse not to make it. That really means a lot to me. I also have an AIDS awareness program and I teach at the program every Sunday for maybe an hour-and-a-half, like 9-10.30. I teach kids. A lot of them have AIDS; a lot don’t. I go there to delegate my time to the community whenever I can ‘cause I believe so much knowledge is power. You can’t do it without that power and knowledge is that power. I go to the schools; I try to get different people to donate. If it wasn’t for education, you could be the best sports guy in the world but if you can’t read or write, that’s no good. I delegate my time in the community. I get nothing from it; I put all my money into it but it’s a joy to me to be able to help out. I thrive on that.
AW - In closing, do you have anything you’d like to say to the heavyweight division?
JB - Ready or not, here I come!
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