Jamal James expected a classic boxing match against fellow 147-pounder Juan Carlos Abreu in September. Instead, a fight—no, make that a dogfight—broke out.
After being outmuscled early and floored in the fourth round, James found himself in alien territory. Suddenly, the rangy, 6-foot-2 Minneapolis native was staring at the prospect of his first professional defeat.
He knew it was go time.
“After I got countered for that first knockdown, that’s when I think I showed the most character,” says the 27-year-old James, who is nicknamed “Shango” after the African god of thunder, lightning and fire. “That was my chance to step up and show everybody I wasn’t some cat who was just a bunch of hype.
“I demonstrated that I’m here to fight and not lay down. I’m not going to fold under pressure when it gets tough. I literally rose to the occasion.”
Indeed, James roared back, dropped the hard-punching Abreu in the momentum-swinging sixth and used his four-inch height advantage down the stretch to earn a comfortable 10-round unanimous decision.
“Abreu came out quick, pressuring and muscling me. I felt the knockdown was more of a trip, but I was able to come back and drop him,” James recalls of Abreu, who entered the bout 18-1-1 with 17 knockouts. “I felt like I hurt him a couple of more times and forced him to change up his strategy.
“That was a great learning experience, adjusting to his dirty tricks, timing and rhythm, and making it more my type of a fight. I’ve gone to work since then, so maybe the next time I’ll be able to finish the guy off.”
That next time is Tuesday night, when Jamal James (18-0, 9 KOs) takes on 2008 U.S. Olympian Javier Molina (17-1, 8 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round headliner of a Toe-to-Toe Tuesdays event at Club Nokia in Los Angeles (Fox Sports 1, 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT).
One of three sibling boxers, the 25-year-old Molina is coming off a seventh-round stoppage of Lenwood Dozier in October, part of an eight-fight winning streak (four KOs) since he dropped an eight-round unanimous decision to Artemio Reyes in October 2011.
As was the case when he faced Abreu, James will have a decided height advantage against the 5-9 Molina. Unlike his last fight, though, the unbeaten 147-pound prospect figures to be trading leather with a guy who’s more boxer than brawler.
“I always wanted to box Molina but never got a chance in the amateurs,” James says. “I’m glad that we can compete at this level. He’s a thinking boxer who can adjust, look for shots and make it a little bit of a chess match—until I frustrate him out of his strategy.”
James’ father and trainer, Sankara Frazier, says his son “has an improved mental toughness,” having become even more focused on his overall skills, foundation and work ethic. James agrees with his dad's assessment.
“You want to be in exciting fights and be able to mix it up if you have to,” James says. “But we’ve worked on doing it within my range, because anything can happen in this sport, and you also don’t want to get caught with something silly.
“We have a great stable of guys that I spar with. Some of them apply relentless pressure, so I’m learning to maneuver around big punches and roughhousing. I want to be ready for anything and show improvement every time I step onto the big stage.”
James will be facing a different pressure in this contest: While he’ll be thousands of miles from Minneapolis, Molina will be competing about a 20-minute drive from his hometown of Norwalk, California.
“We’re fighting in Cali where he’s from, but I’m not afraid to go in there and put it on the line,” James says. “If I do everything I’m supposed to do and leave everything in the ring, the win is going to come. I’m intent on leaving it all in the ring and continue to make a name for myself.”
For complete coverage of James vs Molina, check out our fight page.