In the world of sports, boxing has ranked pretty low in the state of Minnesota. The Land of 10,000 Lakes has the NFL’s Vikings, MLB’s Twins, NBA’s Timberwolves, NHL’s Wild and fishing, after all.
But the sweet science has seen a resurgence there over the last calendar year, thanks to resident fighters Rob Brant – the WBA (regular) middleweight champion – Caleb Traux – the former IBF super middleweight champion – and rising welterweight contender Jamal James.
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Traux fights in his home state on Aug. 31 in a rematch against Peter Quillin, but James is up first, headlining a Premier Boxing Champions event on Saturday vs. former lightweight titleholder Antonio Demarco at The Armory in Minneapolis (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1).
James returns to compete in his backyard for the fourth consecutive time, winning his three contests there, two via stoppage. The 30-year-old has seen the surge in popularity of the sport in the state, and is proud to help lead the charge.
“It’s huge because I’m one of the parts helping to build the scene back up in Minnesota along Caleb Traux and Rob Brant,” James told Sporting News. “Being able to fight at home, right in downtown Minneapolis at The Armory means the world. It’s really hospitable, and the fans are really getting behind us. For me, it’s just amazing because I know that people are coming to see me. Realizing that makes me work harder, train harder, and fight harder.”
Having the motivation to do what you love shouldn’t be extraordinarily tricky when you choose to do it for a living. Getting the opportunity to ply your craft at home, however, brings the intensity to another level that’s hard for some to understand.
“It’s just the fact of knowing all the people are coming to see you,” James told SN. “Your friends and your family are coming to see you, and all the fans in the arena are from your hometown. You don’t want to lose at all. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t want to lose any fights, but you definitely don’t want to lose at home in front of your people. You want to be able to put on a good show, and the fans can know when the night ends that they enjoyed being because of what you did. After the fight ends and do all the interviews, you can go into the crowd and talk to your family, friends, and fans.”
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James has had a successful career in both the amateur ranks, where he was the runner-up in the National Golden Gloves, and in the pros, where he currently sits at 25-1 with 12 knockouts. The only thing eluding him is a shot at a world title in the talent-rich welterweight division, led by IBF champion Errol Spence Jr., WBC titleist Shawn Porter, WBA champion Keith Thurman, WBO titleholder Terence Crawford and eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao.
“Shango” hasn’t been able to break through to this point. But he feels that, if he continues to do what he’s been doing, his lifelong dream will come true.
None of it happens without beating Demarco.
“Just keep winning and getting my name out there,” James said. “With that said, I’m ready now for a title fight. But I have total trust in my management team, Al Haymon and his team. He and his team have done amazing things for my family. When I get inside the ring, I need to put on a show and make my case as to why I should be in there fighting for a title against one of the champions.
“People like to see fan-friendly fights. As long as I win and do it excitingly, then my name will be at the tip of people’s tongues and get those title shots. We provide a service to the fans. I just need to continue to stay humble, stay focused, give 100 percent, and the time will come. After this fight on Saturday, I will see what they have in store. I think a win over DeMarco does it for me.”