- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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Heavyweight Johnathon Banks' training camp for his next fight was not a normal camp.
In addition to preparing to face top American heavyweight prospect Seth Mitchell on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., Banks was simultaneously training heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko for what turned out to be a one-sided successful defense of his crown against Mariusz Wach last Saturday in Germany.
Banks, a disciple of the late Emanuel Steward, had been part of Klitschko's team since 2004, when Klitschko began working with Steward. Banks, from Detroit like Steward, first met the famed cornerman when he was 15 at Steward's Kronk Gym and boxed in the trainer's amateur program. He and Steward grew close, and Banks eventually lived with his mentor for a time and considered him to be a father figure.
When Steward died last month, Klitschko asked Banks to step in for Steward to train him for the Wach fight. Banks was happy to oblige. But he had to figure out how to juggle the champ's training schedule while getting ready with his trainer, Steward's nephew Javon "Sugar" Hill, to face Mitchell.
It took a little time work everything out, but Banks said he was able to balance both tasks at their training camp in Austria.
"I'm a fan of boxing, I love boxing, and it's just all a part of it. It's all a part of boxing," said Banks, who, along with Klitschko and many other boxing luminaries, attended the memorial service for Steward in Detroit on Tuesday. "I didn't have to step outside my box one time. I didn't have to step outside the sport.
"It actually sounds harder than what it really was. It wasn't an easy task. It had a little difficulties because, like I said, I had a big fight coming up and I also had to get Wladimir ready for his big fight. But I thought that I handled it pretty well. I'm glad his fight is over with, and I'm looking forward to mine."
In Saturday's main event, Antonio DeMarco (28-2-1, 21 KOs) defends his lightweight belt against former junior lightweight titleholder Adrien Broner (24-0, 20 KOs).
The way Banks (28-1-1, 18 KOs), 30, worked it out was by immersing himself in boxing to the tune of four training sessions a day. He trained with Hill in the morning before Klitschko got to the gym. Banks would take a short break and then train Klitschko in his morning session. In the afternoon, Banks would do his second session of the day with Hill, take another break and train Klitschko for his second session.
"I was completely exhausted," Banks said. "I slept like a baby every single night."
Banks drew on all he had learned from Steward, a man he idolized.
"You're talking about going back to a 15-year-old kid that looked up to this guy, who kind of started growing up in and around Lennox Lewis training camps," Banks said. "He kept me in boxing, he kept me around boxing, and I really, really learned a lot from him as far as life, as far as a man, as far as a fighter and as far as actually the fundamentals of training about boxing.
"I used to even live with him for a few years at one point, so, I mean, there was that one point for years and years we were together every day. We traveled together. Even when he went to Germany [for Klitschko camps], I would go with him a lot of the time. So as far as what he meant, I mean everything I guess, what a father would ever mean to a kid. He meant a lot to me. The guy was a great mentor. He was a great father figure. He just was a great overall person, and for me to be a part of his life was nothing but a blessing."
A former Michigan State linebacker, Mitchell (25-0-1, 19 KOs), 30, of Brandywine, Md., has been touted by many as a possible future opponent for Klitschko, who has said he wants to fight again in the United States but needs an American opponent for it to make sense.
That puts Mitchell in the interesting position of having to bump off Klitschko's trainer to move a step closer to that goal and Banks in the position of wanting to knock off his fighter's hoped-for foe.
"I was thinking the same thing as I was watching the [Klitschko] fight Saturday," Mitchell said. "But I think a victory over Johnathon Banks will ultimately get me closer to my title shot, whether it's Klitschko or whoever it is. But it's still, I think, it will still be at the latter part of 2013. My team and I, we have a plan, and we had a plan since day one, and the latter part of 2013 had always been that plan. [Beating] Johnathon Banks would definitely increase those chances, and Wladimir would probably want to fight me."
Banks also has title aspirations, but he knows it won't be against Wladimir or his brother, Vitali Klitschko, who also holds a title. Banks, who is promoted by the brothers' K2 Promotions, said he wants to fight Alexander Povetkin, who has a belt.
Mitchell-Banks was originally scheduled to take place July 14 on the Danny Garcia-Amir Khan undercard, but it was postponed because Mitchell was nursing a right hand injury suffered in his exciting third-round knockout of Chazz Witherspoon on April 28.
"This fight has been postponed for a while," Mitchell said. "The first time it was due to a hand injury that I had gotten in my fight against Chazz Witherspoon. But, on record, my hand feels great. I've been training very hard. I'm very excited for this fight, very motivated. It's going to be a good fight. I respect Johnathon Banks. He has a lot to bring to the table, but at the end of the day, I truly believe in my heart that I'll be victorious.
"Whatever he comes to the table with, I'll be able to respond by training. We have about three to four game plans, and it's going to be a great fight. I don't know if you can tell by the excitement in my voice, but I'm ready to show up."
Banks is 8-0-1 as a heavyweight. He moved up after being stopped in the eighth round of a cruiserweight title fight against Tomasz Adamek in 2009. It has not been a memorable campaign so far and includes a draw with journeyman Jason Gavern on a Vitali Klitschko undercard.
But if Banks wasn't already motivated enough for his most notable fight as a heavyweight, Steward's death surely will serve as an inspiration, even though Banks said he will try to block everything out and just think about the fight.
"Emanuel told me when it comes to fighting you have to shut everything out," Banks said. "Fighting is like going to war. You have to shut everything out, and you got to go to war. No matter what's going on at home, when you got to go, you got to go, and that's just the situation that it is at hand. Saturday night I have to go. No matter what's going on this week, no matter what's going on last month, on Saturday night I have to be prepared to go."
Said Mitchell, "Johnathon Banks is just another step, another hurdle that I have to get over. I'm not underestimating him. I expect him to bring his A-game, and with the unfortunate passing of Emanuel Steward, may his soul rest in peace, that probably is going to bring more excitement and more enthusiasm out of Johnathon Banks, which is only going to make for a better fight. But at the end of the day, my hand will be raised."
While training Wladimir Klitschko for his last fight, Banks found the time to prepare for his fight Saturday against Seth Mitchell.