Not that long ago, Prince Badi Ajamu was just taking fights to pay the bills. Without a promoter, Ajamu was offered fights on short notice. He’d built a more-than-respectable record, sure. But he was going nowhere, and not particularly fast. “I was a journeyman,” says the 34-year-old Ajamu.
That changed three weeks ago, when he got some life-changing news.
You got it, his advisor told him. Roy Jones picked you. You’re fighting a living legend.
Ajamu – and yes, that is his real name, his dad had name-picking rights and bestowed the newborn with that colorful moniker – breathed a sigh of relief and thanked his Creator.
Immediately, some conflict crept into his head. He marveled at Jones’ fistic wizardry back in the day and also identified with Jones’ struggles to maintain a civil relationship with his father. Worshipping your opponent is not an ideal state of mind if you’re trying to be the Kevin McBride of 2006, trying to be the man to convince a living legend that retirement is the only sane choice.
When the Prince got the word that his life was poised for an uptick, he talked to his trainer, Buddy McGirt.
He was pumped beyond belief. But the Journeyman in him spoke up in his head.
“I want to go and fight….” he told Buddy, and paused.
The trainer listened, and helped the fighter fill in the blank. “…And win,” McGirt interjected. Yes, Ajamu agreed, I want to fight and win. Not just show up and spectate. No, he told Buddy, he would meet Jones and would do his best not to regard his opponent as a legend and a role model.
Ajamu (25-2, 14 KOs) wondered why he was getting the call. With the introspectiveness that comes with spending about 8 years on a state sponsored holiday on a drug rap, Ajamu pondered why Jones chose him. Why him, a boxer who was dubbed “The Poor Man’s Roy Jones” by a trainer back in Philly, where Ajamu has mostly learned his craft since he started boxing at age 12 in a New Jersey Boy’s Club?
Jones wanted to fight someone hungry, not a gimme confidence builder, Ajamu decided, but also someone he could look good against.
Ajamu is by no means a ‘gimme’ fighter, a record builder. He has an amateur pedigree. He made it to the Eastern Trials in 2000 and lost a decision to present pro Rydell Booker. That he made it to that level was in itself commendable. At 15, the Prince was tooling around on a motorcycle. He spilled and tore off half a calf muscle. Really, that should have been the end of any athletic exploits, but he disregarded doctors’ orders. “I liked big action,” he says. “I was hardheaded.”
From his pro debut in 2001 'til last year, Ajamu floundered somewhat because he wasn’t aligned with a promoter with a plan. There were opportunities, he says, but somehow what a smooth- talking dealmaker said, and what the dealmaker’s contract terms said, didn’t match up.
The Prince thought he had gone as far as he could go towards the end of 2004. He was 21-2, but he was tired of not making more quantifiable progress. Then he got a call to help Antonio Tarver get ready for his rematch with Glen Johnson. Ajamu’s impressive skills displayed against Tarver caught the eyes of manager Jim Rider. Three sparring partners had already jetted because Tarver was tearing them up, but Ajamu stuck it out.
Living in Camden, NJ, making the trek to all those fabled Philly gyms, Ajamu knew for certain he didn’t want to be a gym champ, the kind of guy who kicks ass in sparring, but when he does it for real, the same skills aren’t shown. Those same gym champs will challenge you to a sparring sesh on Monday knowing full well you already went 15 hard rounds on Friday, and likely recuperated over the weekend with some loving care at the hands of your lady. Ajamu would often take the challenge and would pay for it. A crick in the neck, or a slightly torn tendon in the elbow. But he’s 34 now, and he’s past all the petty gym mental trickeration. Ajamu is ready to shed, completely, all vestiges of the journeyman label.
That said, Ajamu isn’t pumping his own head full of unrealistic expectations. The experts point to Jones’ recent record – he’s 0-for-his-last three, and has been kayoed by Tarver and Johnson before taking Tarver 12 rounds in a October 2005 loss. Ajamu believes Jones’ loss to Tarver is actually a reason for optimism if you’re RJJ. “He might not have won the fight but he won the battle,” Ajamu says. Jones faced off with the man who scrambled his senses, and exited the ring fully coherent, the Prince reasons. That says something, in Ajamu’s mind, and so the Prince will prepare as if he was facing the Jones who made your jaw drop back in the day, with the hand speed, the foot speed, the whole superlative package.
“I give Roy a lot of respect,” Ajamu says. “People who put Roy down, I don’t want to listen. I respect him as the greatest fighter in the world still.”
Separating his admiration and the task at hand will likely be a challenge for the Prince. When he talks of Jones, he often professes the love he feels for the future Hall of Famer.
Ajamu at least has made strides in that he says now that he “loved” Jones. He comprehends that the love must stop when he gloves up against an idol. Yes, the past tense is key for Ajamu. “I was a journeyman; I loved Roy Jones.”
If that mindset overhaul works, if he beats Jones on July 29, then Prince Badi Ajamu can live fully in the present. If he beats Jones on July 29 then he can certainly bury that nickname from years back, the one used by that Philly trainer who said that for people with no extra cash to spend on Pay-Per-View, Prince Badi Ajamu was the “Poor Man’s Roy Jones.”