On July 29, 2006, Prince Badi Ajamu will face Roy Jones Jr. in what Ajamu hopes will put him on the road to recognition as an A-level fighter. But if Ajamu plans to be king of the light heavyweight division, he’ll need to come to terms with two realities. He must be able to put aside his respect for Jones and accept that boxing is a business in which one often has to prepare to fight someone he likes.
It’s 5:30 A.M. and while most are sleeping, Ajamu’s day starts with a full stretch lasting 30-50 minutes, a several mile run, aerobics at a fitness center, a nap, and the “usual” workout at the boxing gym; with all this in one day, Ajamu has little time with his private thoughts, but when he does get that time, he’s able to reflect on what a win over Jones Jr. would do for his boxing career and bank account.
A win over Jones would allow him to escape the stress of wondering what’s for dinner, something he dealt with as a child. Ajamu was born in Camden, New Jersey, the middle sibling among nine brothers and sisters. While growing up, he was forced to adopt a personality that was counter to his inner nature. “It [Camden] was ruthless,” says Ajamu, who has both Jamaican and Native American heritage. “People didn’t wait until night to handle their business.”
However, like most athletes from difficult childhoods and neighborhoods, Ajamu found sports to be his saving grace both physically and emotionally. He was introduced to boxing at age 4, and says his grandfather is the first cousin of the late Floyd Patterson, and his father boxed in the Marine Core. But boxing wasn’t the only sport he excelled at; Ajamu took an interest in basketball, football, and Karate. Since sports had been a major part of his life, it never occurred to him that some day he wouldn’t be able to play them. But at age 18, that’s just what happened after being involved in a serious motorcycle accident that tore his calf muscle completely off the bone. “The doctors told me I’ll never be able to play sports again” he says in a low voice, and based on the damage to the calf, he agreed with them at first.
With sports out, Ajamu turned his attention to developing a small business that served barber and beauty shop equipments. Although he enjoyed the business, he missed the feeling sports gave him, and went to the park after work and watched guys play basketball on a regular basis. After a while, he found himself playing pick up games and learned not only could he compete, but could play with minimal pain.
At the late age of 27, he started his mateur boxing career and turned pro in 2001. Although his career moved along, it wasn’t great. There weren’t marquee names on his résumé, and he was little known in the boxing community. So when Antonio Tarver’s camp called and asked Ajamu to help Tarver prepare for his rematch with Glen Johnson, Ajamu knew he might have the break he needed. Ajamu said he would assist Tarver only if his long time friend Denny Brown could attend as well. The Tarver camp initially said no, and Ajamu turned down the offer.
However, 20 minutes later, Tarver’s people called back and said Brown was welcome, and from there, good fortune has been coming Ajamu’s way. He signed a contract with Silverhawk promotions, James “Buddy” McGirt became his co-trainer along with Denny Brown, and Roy Jones Jr.’s. people called for a fight. So, as Ajamu prepares for the Jones fight, he finds himself in a strange situation. Not only is he looking to give an impressive showing against Jones, but he’s planning on winning and being king of the light heavyweight division. One problem: if being king means facing Tarver, he’s uncertain that’s what he wants to do. Ajamu’s reluctance about fighting Tarver is more out of loyalty to Tarver for helping him get his ‘big break’ as opposed to fear. “I can’t never say never, but I don’t think me and Tarver will ever fight because of the mutual respect we have for each other.” Ajamu further adds Tarver doesn’t have any belts he wants, although it cannot be argued that Tarver is the legitimate world light heavyweight champion.
Another problem that might get in the way of Ajamu ruling the division is showing too much respect for Jones. Ajamu says Jones and Hopkins have been major inspiration for him, and adds in a perfect world, Tarver, Jones, Johnson, and he would come together and bring all the belts back to the USA. Ajamu is caught in a double bind: on the one hand the outwardly respect he has for Jones is a part of who he is as a person, and when he says, “I am just happy to be living in this great country” he means it. On the other hand, the respect he’s showing for Jones raises questions: Is Ajamu just happy to get the huge payday? Will he be overwhelmed by the ‘event’ of the fight? Is he happy just doing enough? Does he realize boxing is a tough business that often requires you to put personal feelings aside and go to war? These questions become more important when Ajamu admits he doesn’t know the game plan yet for fighting Jones.
As a man and human being, Ajamu is a great person who’s very likeable. His goal of spreading love and peace is great, but he’s chosen a sport in which many fighters, including Jones Jr., take “the killer instinct” and winner-take-all mentality to heart. So If Ajamu plans to make his mark on the boxing world July 29th, he’ll need to do what ever is necessary to win even if that means employing the same mentality that allowed him to survive the streets of New Jersey. More importantly, he’ll need realize that its OK to be thankful to Tarver for the break, but not to the point where he’s willing to give up his dream.
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