The boxing public isn’t exactly easy to fool. With such a decorated history engraved within its very fabric, boxing has seen a whole range of fighters come and go. For every revered and beloved champion, there’s a handful of failed prospects and with that trend, an understandable cynicism has become simply unavoidable. No matter what a young fighter does, questions will always be asked and considering that for both good and bad, the answers are almost always found, I suppose that’s fair enough.
Badou Jack was once a very real example of that exact prospect. After going undefeated in the first 17 fights of his career, Jack was an emerging contender that many were still unsure of. Jack had been somewhat underwhelming at times and a range of questions still remained around his world level potential. In February 2014 though, every doubt surrounding his name would receive some smug validation, as Jack was stopped by the admittedly limited Derek Edwards, stunningly in the very first round.
Though it’s easy to forget now, Jack was dismissed at that point in time. Another ‘hype job’ emphatically exposed before he’d even reached the top level, or that was the mass perception at least. However, as has since been proven undisputable, this had really just been a minor setback for Jack’s now major comeback. After two comeback wins, Jack perhaps fortunately found himself challenging for a world title. Fighting Anthony Dirrell for the WBC crown, ‘The Ripper’ surprised some as he used effective aggression to outwork the champion for a majority decision win.
Whilst the result was an impressive one, Jack hadn't quite convinced the critics just yet. He’d shown some improvements sure but for some, still looked to be far from one of the sport’s elite fighters. Considering that, within boxing there was a feeling that Jack’s first defense was a formality, many expecting him to lose the title to Britain’s ‘Saint’ George Groves. Within minutes though, Jack quickly showed his genuine quality, impressively flooring Groves in the very first round. The challenger indeed fired back but in the end, Jack did enough to take a tight split decision win.
With a unification bout against James DeGale now looming, Jack took on his foe’s former opponent Lucian Bute, controversially drawing before a failed Bute drug test got the result overturned. Regardless of all that, Jack was very much the fight’s consensus victor and now moved on to the highly anticipated DeGale clash. Once again, certain circles within the boxing world again almost dismissed Jack, citing DeGale’s prior credentials as well as his perhaps slightly flashier style. As had become a constant now though, Jack would prove very much worthy on fight night.
However, in contrast to his prior Groves clash, on this night Jack wouldn't get off to such a smooth start. Instead, this time it was ‘The Ripper’ that found himself floored in the 1st. He quickly regained some momentum though, creating an enthralling back and forth affair that very much lived up to its unification billing. In the 12th and final round, Jack scored a dramatic knockdown that for many, earned him the decision victory. For two of the three judges though, it had only been enough to earn him a disappointing but likely fitting draw.
With that polarizing result, Jack retained his title but just days after the bout, vacated it to move up to Light Heavyweight. Seemingly inspired by the questionable scoring of his last two bouts, Jack showed more aggression than ever in his first fight at 175lbs, violently stopping Nathan Cleverly to take his WBA crown. Jack’s fundamentals remained sublime, his punch variety excellent and his aggression quite incredible. It was a nastier version of Jack than we’d ever seen before and with a world title already under his belt, his world level status had been very much solidified.
Jack soon gave that title away though, opting for a different route. This Saturday night, that comes to fruition as Jack challenges Adonis Stevenson for the WBC belt. This is likely the toughest fight of Jack’s career thus far, especially considering Stevenson’s history of rapid and emphatic starts. Jack is comfortable in this spot though. In just one night, his prospect status was taken from him and since then, Jack has become a gritty and consistent championship level fighter. His ascent has been unique in that sense, with Jack almost reserved and subtle in his simply immense improvement.
Jack’s level at Light Heavyweight will likely become clearer this Saturday night but one thing is for sure, there’s a lot to admire about Jack’s journey to this very point. Slowly but surely, fight by fight, Jack has made himself an undisputedly world class fighter. Considering where he was just four years ago, that really is quite the feat.