“Shango” is on the phone explaining what “Shango” means. Hint: Think of a different version of Thor, and with a double-headed ax in place of that big-ass hammer as weapon of choice.
“Shango is from African mythology. He’s the god of thunder, lighting and fire,” says unbeaten Jamal James (17-0, 9 KOs), detailing the origins of his nickname, which he took in tribute to his grandfather Aldric Peter Nelson. “He started a real popular [Minneapolis-based] calypso band named Shangoya. I got to see him perform and do his thing a couple of times. He ended up passing away [in 2004]. To kind of keep his memory alive, I adopted the name ‘Shango.’”
James’ boxing nom de plume is telling for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, if you liken yourself to a sky-dwelling deity who pounds out thundering rhythms in the clouds, you’d better be one bad dude.
And the 27-year-old James is that: long, lean and undefeated, a savvy technician with enough pop to make opponents pay for any of the mistakes that he attempts to lure them into. He'll bring his perfect record into the ring Friday night against Juan Carlos Abreu (18-1-1, 17 KOs) in a 147-pound showdown in Winter Park, Florida (Bounce TV, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
James’ handle also hints at another one of his passions in life outside the ring: music, which is practically his birthright.
In addition to his grandfather’s aforementioned background as a bandleader, James’ father owns his own production company, Soul Purpose Productions, and works with hip-hop, R&B and alternative artists.
Also, James’ stepfather, who doubles as his trainer, is a singer who recently released a CD.
For his part, James is more of a writer.
“I do lyrics for songs, mostly hip-hop, what they call ‘conscience rap,’” he says. “You’re rapping about certain subjects that might be on your mind or that you might be feeling strongly about. You’re able to get them out on paper with a pen and put it to a beat. I also like to write a little poetry here and there.”
James’ hometown of Minneapolis has a thriving hip-hop scene, centered around indie label Rhymesayers Entertainment, whose roster includes such notables as Atmosphere, MF Doom, Aesop Rock and plenty of others. Some of that label’s acts, like Brother Ali and Toki Wright, have come to James’ gym, Circle of Discipline.
James’ extracurricular musical pursuits aren’t incidental to the type of fighter he is, they’re directly related. Both are rooted in the kind of big-picture thinking that characterizes the kind of guy James is when he’s fighting—and when he’s not.
“It’s like a chess game for me, an art form,” he says of his approach in the ring. “Boxing itself is a lifestyle when you’re taking it seriously.”
James’ doesn’t take himself too seriously, though. He comes across as a loose, good-natured dude in conversation.
Shango? Not so much.
“That’s what we bring when we step in the ring,” James says of channeling his namesake come fight night. “We bring the lightning, the fire and the thunder.”
For full coverage of James vs Abreu, visit our fight page.