Johnathon Banks (29-2-1, 19 KOs) fights Antonio Tarver (30-6, 21 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round fight this Thursday, December 11th at the Pechanga Resort and Casino, in Temecula, California. Banks vs. Tarver is part of an ESPN2 special edition card aired in the U.S.
With just days until the fight, Banks took some time for this exclusive interview with ProBoxing-Fans.com to talk about Tarver as well as his alternate career as trainer of heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko, along with the future prospects of the heavyweight division.
You fight Antonio Tarver on Thursday. How are your preparations?
Johnathon Banks: Preparations are going great. I had a wonderful camp, a very strong camp. I’ve got no complaints, the fight is just a few days away and I’m looking forward to it.
You’ve had an 18-month layoff since your last fight, the longest spell of inactivity in your career. Given that and the fact this fight is a 10-rounder, are you worried about ring-rust at all?
JB: Am I worried about it? No. Am I thinking about it? Yes. I’ve been used to being in the ring all these years, I think after the first round I’ll be good.
Your last fight with Seth Mitchell was a strange one. You stopped him first time around, but couldn’t seem to get going in the rematch. What happened there?
JB: Well I broke both hands in the first round, so every time I threw a punch it was excruciating pain. I didn’t want to quit, for me it was a nightmare.
Tarver stopped his last heavyweight opponent. Do you think he’s carried his power up with him?
JB: It is possible for any man with a pair of 10-ounce gloves on to knock another man out. Tarver’s a grown man and he’s got 10-ounce gloves on, and if anybody gets caught with 10-ounce gloves they’re gonna be in trouble, especially at heavyweight.
Tarver’s last fight at cruiserweight against Lateef Kayode was ruled a no contest as he was found to have used anabolic steroids. Does that weigh on your mind at all as you prepare to fight him?
JB: No. I’m hoping the commission do their job. Both of us have been tested and, to my knowledge, both (of us) are doing the same medicals. I’m just focused on what I can control.
Wladimir Klitschko – who you train – fought Kubrat Pulev on November 15th. That only gives you between three and four weeks to train yourself with Javan Hill. How do you work around that?
JB: Me and Wladimir have been together for so many years, it’s easy to do. We do have our own schedules. If I’m training Wladimir at 8 o’clock in the morning I do my personal training at 5 o’clock. Everything is about scheduling.
Do you spar with Wladimir at all?
JB: I haven’t sparred with Wladimir for years; it’s been quite a while since I sparred with him. I’ve been training him for the last two years.
Against Pulev, Wladimir put in his most impressive and aggressive performance for quite some time. Can you tell me how you got that out of him?
JB: I don’t know…I remember him telling me: “JB, you’re making me more aggressive”. I told him that my goal is to have the world see (him) as I see (him). He asked me what I meant and I said: “I look at you as a fast, aggressive heavyweight with maximum punching power. That’s what I want the world to see”, and from the bottom of my heart I believe that. I believe he’s the best heavyweight in the world. I believe he’s fast and aggressive.
He signed a contract with HBO prior to the fight. Did being back on US television influence the way he approached the Pulev fight?
JB: Wladimir is a star all around the world. When he won the Olympic gold medal, he won it in the United States. He’s used to performing in front of the world, he’s a global fighter. It’s the not the fact that it influenced him, but it was a plus to the fight. He has a good relationship with HBO and he loves the States, and he wants his fights to be shown all over the world.
He wanted to put a good performance on, but did HBO influence that? No. RTL didn’t either. No TV company influences the way we perform. We went in the gym, Wladimir worked extremely hard, he followed instructions to a tee and he performed brilliantly. He’s been doing this for almost 11 years straight!
Do you think he gets a lack of respect considering his achievements?
JB: The respect he wasn’t getting, I think he’s getting after that last performance. I think more people are going to be in tune and writing positive for his next fight. I believe he added so much more momentum to his career. Even HBO commentators, a lot of writers like yourself, they had so (little) negatives to write about.
There are positives and negatives in every fight, but it’s easier to pick out the negatives in Wladimir. People see him dominate the competition, but they don’t (always) see him knocking (his opponent) out. They say: “He’s a big guy, he shouldn’t be holding”. In the Pulev fight he showed that if he got punched, he was coming back. If Pulev could take it, Wladimir would have given it to him all night! He made a big statement with that fight and I was just happy to be a part of it.
On your personal bio it says that your aim is to become heavyweight champion of the world. Is that still the case or are you more focused on Wladimir’s career at this stage?
JB: Well, Johnathon always focuses on Johnathon’s career (laughs). That is my dream and I’m not going to defer my dream because of the current situation. A lot of guys have pipe dreams but there’s no reality involved in it. I believe my dream can happen. If I didn’t I wouldn’t still be fighting.
The logistics of it would be difficult given that you train Wladimir. How do you intend to realize your dream of becoming heavyweight champion while training the heavyweight champion?
JB: To be honest with you, I have no idea. If me and you had been talking in 2011 and you asked me, “Johnathon, will you ever be a trainer?” I would have told you “No.” If you had asked, “Will you ever train the heavyweight champion of the world?” I would have said “Dude, what are you talking about!?” but now look at what I’m into. So it’s really difficult to predict something like that.
As long as you’re in a good position you can take things as they come. I was in a good position when Wladimir called me. I took it as it came. When the world title presents itself, wherever I’m at in my life or career, I’ll take it as it comes.
Let’s talk about some up-and-coming heavyweights that could be potential opponents for you and Wladimir. If I say a name, you say what naturally comes to you…
JB: A lot of momentum. Very powerful.
JB: A lot of momentum. A big talker, but he put in a very good performance against Chisora.
JB: Another guy with a lot of momentum. He’s a very good fighter with good fundamentals, I really like the way he boxes.
JB: Big talent. He may be the most talented of them all. If Anthony Joshua is moved the right way, he could go down in history as one of the best heavyweight champions to come out of England. They would sit him at the table with Frank Bruno and Lennox Lewis. Bruno and Lewis weren’t rushed to the top, they were matched with guys that hit them hard, they recovered and they fought back. They were matched with guys they could grow with and learn from.
Joshua is going to fight Kevin Johnson. It’s a bad fight for him right now because once you beat Johnson you’re going to be rushed into the top 15. He has to stay (at that level). What if he doesn’t perform well? What if he doesn’t look good? They could have had a few more fights and then put him in there (with Johnson).
(Joshua’s team) are trying to rush him to the title. You know how you have to take a long shower? You’ve got to wash your back, your feet, everything…to me they just want to run the water, turn it on and hop back out. It’s not the same. There is no quick fix to the title.
Jennings has been linked to a fight with Wladimir. What are your thoughts on that fight?
JB: I’ve heard about that. I think it would be a good fight, Stateside and for the heavyweight division. When the top guy is fighting the top (contenders), that’s good for the division.
It’s just over two years since Emanuel Steward passed away. How does the time you spent with him influence your career as a trainer and a fighter today?
JB: It influences me with every move I make and everything I talk about. Even with the questions you ask me, for a lot of my responses I pause and think of something he said to me. It’s incredible how many things come to mind when I talk because of growing up around him. (The time I spent with him) was the best part of my life. That’s why I’m thankful to him.