November 18, 2012

Johnathon Banks - Can the champ's trainer become a title challenger?

Banks, Belts, and the Champ
By Jeffrey Freeman

"I have so much momentum going right now and I am so thankful for Emanuel Steward. He taught me the game of boxing. Everything I know about boxing I learned from Emanuel - from a training standpoint and from a boxing standpoint." 

~ Johnathon Banks

Following his upset win last night in Atlantic City over Seth Mitchell, heavyweight contender Johnathon Banks finds himself in a very unique position. Even more unique than the one he's already in considering his dual role as fighter and trainer. That might not be such unusual circumstances were Banks not the trainer of the Heavyweight Champion of the World, Wladimir Klitschko.

Banks is also now arguably the top ranked American heavyweight contender and it's no secret that America has been out of the world heavyweight title picture for some time now. Where there were once Great White Hopes in the heavyweight division, there are now Great American Hopes and like the not so great white hopes who came before them, American hopes tend to lose just as often. Exit Seth Mitchell, enter Johnathon Banks.

Banks and Steward
Picking up where the late Emanuel Steward left off, Banks has taken over Steward's role as Klitschko's trainer and he successfully guided his charge through a recent title defense against the iron-chinned Polish Viking - Mariusz Wach. To say it's been a busy month for Banks would be a serious understatement. The heavyweight trainer and Kronk boxing protege from Detroit was getting ready for the biggest fight of his own life against Mitchell while preparing the heavyweight champion of the world for a giant sized challenger, and to top it all off - his ailing longtime mentor Emanuel Steward suddenly and unexpectedly passed away just weeks before both fights. Between funeral arrangements for Steward and time spent getting Klitschko ready for Wach, it's hard to believe Banks found any time at all for himself.   

If things had gone as many expected, Banks would have fallen to football player turned fighter "Mayhem" Mitchell and his current options wouldn't be quite as appealing or as interesting as they suddenly are with the win. Had he lost, perhaps his primary focus would have shifted away from his own boxing career and more solidly onto his new role as head trainer to the Heavyweight Champion.

Mr. Banks shocks Mayhem Mitchell
However, things did not go as expected and Banks scored the biggest win of his career, knocking out the previously undefeated Mitchell in just the second round after scoring three knockdowns in a surprise victory clearly inspired by the passing of Steward.

During a recent media conference call to promote the Mitchell fight, KO Digest asked Banks about the possibility of fighting Klitschko and whether his role as the trainer of the champion would in effect block him from the goal that all heavyweights presumably share - the heavyweight championship of the world. "To the naked eye, it does seem that way doesn't it? Honestly, I don't know. I'm not the type to say too much too soon about the future. That's just one of those bridges you have to cross when you get to it."

By beating Mitchell, Banks took a significant step towards that bridge and during his post fight interview on HBO, the possibility of trainer versus fighter intrigued Larry Merchant enough to inquire about it as well. Asked by Merchant if he knows how to fight Klitschko, Banks offered another diplomatic response saying,

"I made a half a living knowing how to fight Wladimir Klitschko."

It's a question Banks should get used to hearing and a question he should start asking himself especially if he continues to win in the ring. What we can take from Banks' responses to the inquiry is that he doesn't summarily dismiss the idea out of loyalty and he seems comfortable leaving the possibility open. "Whether it's training or whether it's fighting, my number one priority is boxing. Fighting is my life, and I'm ready to continue my rise to the top."

Can Wlad's sparring partner become a title challenger?
Known more for sparring with Klitschko, Banks now confronts the possibility of challenging him for the title he's already helped him to defend. After the Wach win, Klitschko publicly stated that Banks wasn't a "great trainer" like Steward but he did give Banks proper credit for the win by saying that it was not only his win- but Banks' win as well. 

"Sparring with Wladimir is a dirty job but somebody has to do it."

Fighting him for the title is an even dirtier job.

Is Johnathon Banks willing to do it?