The duality of Johnathon Banks: Trainer by day, heavyweight contender by night

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Johnathon Banks has two of the most pressure-packed jobs in boxing.

His day job, so-to-speak, is to train heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Banks is a protégé of the late Emanuel Steward, and when Steward died on Oct. 25, Klitschko immediately named Banks his chief trainer.

But Banks' side job, if you want to call it that, is as a heavyweight contender. He holds the minor NABO heavyweight title and is ranked No. 2 in the World Boxing Organization's heavyweight rankings.

He'll rematch with Seth Mitchell on Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the opener of a Showtime-televised doubleheader.

A win might make him the mandatory challenger for the WBO belt, currently held by one Wladimir Klitschko.

And though Banks plans to win – he won by second-round stoppage in their first fight, on Nov. 17 in Atlantic City – he insists he hasn't spent one moment thinking of a potential match with Klitschko.

"It's hard to say, because I haven't thought about it at all, because the only person I've thought about fighting is Seth Mitchell," Banks told Yahoo! Sports. "It's a popular question, but we haven't talked about it."

Banks, 30, has a bright boxing mind. He was trained by Steward and clearly learned from the man who was one of the sport's finest, and most prolific, trainers.

"You've got to understand that for literally 15 years, I traveled [the world] with [Steward]," Banks said. "I've been around him and lived with him. I learned a lot from this man. So, like I say, a lot of the things I accomplished in boxing I owe to him, because he taught me so much, and he was a big influence." 

Following Steward is the boxing equivalent of succeeding John Wooden or Vince Lombardi or Red Auerbach. When a team or an athlete loses a highly successful, long-time coach, there can always be a time of transition. But the transition for Klitschko from Steward to Banks has been flawless.

Klitschko is 2-0 under Banks, winning a 12-round decision over Mariusz Wach on Nov. 10, then scoring a sixth-round stoppage of Francesco Pianeta on May 4.

Banks has looked in charge in the corner. Klitschko has clearly been well-prepared and Banks not only developed smart gameplans, but gave the right instructions in the corner.

Working with a brilliantly gifted fighter like Klitschko could pose a set of problems, but thus far, there have been no issues. Banks has also been good enough that he hasn't let his preparations as a fighter get in the way of his work with Klitschko.

"I have a trainer's hat, and a fighter's hat, and when the one job is over, I can go right to the other with no problem," he said.

His life is now almost like one long training camp, but he said 24/7/365 exposure to boxing has been beneficial.

Even though the body needs rest, being immersed in the fight game as Banks has been has made a difference in his boxing IQ.

"It keeps me busy all the time and more tuned into boxing," he said. "I leave his camp and start my camp. Then I leave my camp and start his camp. I'm around it a lot and I'm learning a lot. I'm a harder worker as a fighter now."

Banks is 29-1-1 with 19 knockouts and has been a heavyweight full time since 2009. But it was only with the high-profile knockout of Mitchell in a fight that was televised on HBO that he began to be recognized as a legitimate heavyweight contender. 

It's hard to imagine him ever agreeing to fight Klitschko – the two appear to have a very tight personal bond – but the win over Mitchell at least solidified him as a high-level heavyweight.

The first Banks-Mitchell bout was originally made as a sort of showcase for Mitchell, a one-time Michigan State University linebacker that Golden Boy hoped could develop into a star.

Banks upset those plans by knocking Mitchell down three times and scoring a one-sided, second-round win. But as so many underdogs have to do, Banks has to do it again to prove it was no fluke. Mitchell exercised a rematch clause, as was his contractual right, for them to fight gain.

The bout was postponed once when Banks pulled out with a broken thumb. He hadn't told the promoters and was planning to go forward with it until Klitschko talked him out of it.

He realized that Klitschko was right – Banks said he couldn't even ball up his fist – and stepped aside.

But on Saturday, he'll face the most important fight of his life. If he beats Mitchell a second time, he'll be ranked at or near the top of the division and will have to make the decision no fighter or trainer has ever had to make.

"I get asked that a lot because of Wladimir, but if I were thinking about that, I wouldn't be doing right by myself because it would mean that I wasn't putting all of my focus and attention on Seth Mitchell," Banks said. "And I can promise you, I have thought of nothing else but learning and preparing to fight Seth again these last couple of months.

"When the time comes that I have to think of my next fight, that's when I'll think about it. It's a great story, everyone talking about me and Wladimir [fighting], but this is my career and I know what I need. And what I need to do is to be ready to fight, and defeat, Seth Mitchell, and no one else."

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