When undefeated cruiserweight prospect Johnathon Banks of Detroit traveled to New York to battle once beaten Cuban Eliseo Castillo in the main event of Cedric Kushner’s Gotham Boxing show at the Hammerstein Ballroom on July 26, he expected a good, competitive fight.
Because Castillo’s only loss was to former WBO and current IBF heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitsckko, and he also owned a decision victory over former WBA and IBF heavyweight titlist Michael Moorer, Banks and his manager, Emanuel Steward, figured that Castillo would provide a great learning experience for them.
Neither expected the 24-year-old Banks to become engaged in a fight for his life, which is exactly what Banks found himself in after thunderous punches by Castillo deposited him on the canvas twice in the first round.
“When I got up after the second knockdown and I wasn’t dizzy, I wasn’t worried,” said the 6’4” Banks. “I told myself that it can’t get any worse. I’ve already been through the worst of it, so go out, fight, and win.”
Banks seems much too honest to lie about not being dizzy, but he sure looked dizzy to Steward, the several thousand excited fans in attendance, and the television audience watching on ESPN2’s Wednesday Night Fights.
“When he got up after the second knockdown and looked at me, I just told him to hold on and don’t do anything else,” said Steward. “I know what he can do, and I knew if he could survive the round he would win the fight.”
Banks not only won the fight, as well as Castillo’s NABO cruiserweight title, he won it with a sensational fourth round knockout. Banks stunned a tiring Castillo with a left hook and then finished him off with a right hand. It was the type of knockout that could be shown on highlight reels for years come.
Banks raised his record to 12-0 (9 KOS), while Castillo’s ledger dipped to 20-2-1 (15 KOS).
Banks believes that the tough win over Castillo will only improve his game in the future. An astute student of the sweet science, he began boxing at the age of 14 at the Brewster Center on Detroit’s east side.
The Brewster Center is the same gym where legendary champion Joe Louis got his start many decades ago.
Banks still doesn’t know what led him into boxing because he rarely watched it on television and no one in his family ever participated in it.
Although he was always a good athlete, even he was surprised at how natural some of the rudiments of boxing came to him.
“From my first day, I could slip punches and it was hard to hit me, but everything else I had to work really hard for,” Banks explained. “But the harder I worked and the better I got, the more I appreciated the sport. It became my dream to be a world champion.”
As he roared through the amateur ranks, winning one tournament after another, Banks says he was blessed to have the wholehearted support of his mother Charlene and his grandfather Charles Edison.
Among the prestigious competitions he won were the National PAL, Ringside, Black Expo, and Black Gloves tournaments.
While still an amateur, he even attended college for a while, majoring in electronic and computer technology.
Unable to give his all to both schooling and boxing, he took a hiatus from college after his grade point average dropped below a perfect 4.0. Banks, who plans on returning to college someday, doesn’t have the ability to do anything with less than a total commitment.
Right now his sole focus is boxing and winning the cruiserweight title. He believes that can be accomplished by his own natural ability and desire, as well as the mentoring of manager Steward, with whom Banks has been involved since 1999.
Banks now trains with Steward at Detroit’s fabled Kronk Gym, which in the 1980’s turned out world champions the way the Motor City once churned out automobiles.
“Being with Emanuel is a godsend,” said Banks. “He’s been there and back and there is nothing he hasn’t seen or experienced. From day one we had great chemistry. He is like a father figure to me.
“He is such a giving man,” he continued. “If you came up to him and said you were cold, he’d give you the shirt off his back or he’d buy you a new one to keep you warm. I’m in good hands. I wouldn’t trade my situation for anything.”
“Johnathon has real good skills and real good instincts,” said Steward. “He’s a tall fighter who fights tall. Having such a tough first round [against Castillo] is only going to make him a better fighter. Those types of moments happen to all fighters. Some survive, some don’t. Johnathon passed a big test by scoring that knockout.”
Banks hopes to pass even more tests in the future as he marches onward toward an eventual title shot. He is not married and has dedicated his whole life to boxing. He will next lace them up in September against an opponent to be determined.
It doesn’t matter to him who the opponent is or where the fight takes place. He sees it as just another step to the world title he hopes to garner in the not too distant future.
“The fight against Castillo only made me more determined to get better,” said Banks. “Of course I don’t want to go through that again, but having gotten through such a tough fight will only help me in the long run. I am sure of that.”