Whenever a boxing champion loses his title, a long climb back to the top often takes place. For Jamal “Shango” James, that proverbial first step begins this Saturday in downtown Minneapolis.
The former world welterweight champion will face Alberto Palmetta on the Saturday night card at The Armory as part of the Showtime-televised fight event. It will be James’ first fight at the famed downtown venue since July 2019, and his first bout since October 2021, when he lost his WBA title to Radzhab Butaev in Las Vegas.
Outside of a couple of fights, James has fought in front of his hometown family, fans and others at The Armory since turning pro—I have witnessed four of his “home” fights. Whenever he climbs into the ring, James carries with him not only his own pride and that of his family, but he will quickly tell you he’s also fighting for his city.
“When you’re doing it for something that you feel is bigger than yourself, then you’re willing to push yourself further,” James told me after a sparring session at his training base, The Circle of Discipline (COD) gym in Northeast Minneapolis. “I’ve got to go back because I am not the only person I’d be letting down. You feel like you are letting your community down, your family down. You know you don’t quit, that isn’t an option.”
James speaks not with braggadocio, but with confidence. Losing the title was hard but a lesson learned as well, he continued.
“I just had a really rough night, a lot of things wasn’t working for me [that night)],” recalled James. “I don’t like to make excuses… I feel like if I was at 100 [percent], I think it would have been a different story. I think it was a good learning lesson.”
The fight was stopped in the ninth round. “I definitely didn’t think that they should have stopped it and I wanted to keep going. But I guess that’s why we have referees and coaches,” he added.
After more than a year away from the ring, James (27-2, 12 KOs) is back. “We are anxious to get back in the ring,” he stressed. “I believe I can get in there with the best of them. I believe I am one of the best of them. My confidence wasn’t hurt at all [with the Butaev loss].”
Also, since his defeat and loss of the WBA title, James’ family has increased by one. He and his wife welcomed their son Salim (which means “safe” and “grounded one” in Arabic), who was born last July 14.
“I’ve been very blessed, man,” said Salim’s proud father. “I got a beautiful little boy.” As a result, he’s now fighting for his son as well as his city, he added.
Also, James’ longtime stablemate and training partner is on Saturday’s card, Ve Shawn Owens (13-3). He has fought five times previously at The Armory, which reopened in 2018. Showtime has shown four Minneapolis cards; the cable network televised three shows from the venue in 2022.
The main event is Subriel Matrias vs. Jeremias Ponce for the IBF junior lightweight championship. But most of the crowd that is expected to be at ringside Saturday night will be there to see the two COD fighters, James and Owens. If he wins, James gets a step closer to his goal of recapturing a world title, in arguably the best weight class in boxing.
“I gotta get that belt back,” concluded James.
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