Johnathon Banks is one of the few fighters in recent years who has made a successful transition from world class boxer to world class trainer. The reason behind this natural progression may be down to his boxing foundations.

Banks hails from Detroit, Michigan, whom many will tell you is a real fight city. Detroit still develops world champions to this day, but back in the 1980s and 1990s the city was the place to be due to the exploits of one man, Emanuel Steward.

Steward was the brains behind some of boxing’s greatest ever champions, most notably Tommy ‘The Hitman’ Hearns. Talking to Boxing Social, Banks reflected on his upbringing in boxing under the late, great Steward at the original Kronk Gym in Detroit.

“It was a blessing to be brought up in boxing by Emanuel Steward,” said Banks. “He taught me boxing, but he [also] taught me so much about myself and so much about life. It was an amazing experience coming up in the 1990s around the likes of Tommy Hearns, Michael Moorer, Julian Jackson. These were the fighters who were around at the time I came into the Kronk Gym.

“I remember taking a jab in sparring with Tommy Hearns, I would have only been around 14-years-old at the time. I got a black-eye from a jab and I showed it off to everyone. I couldn’t stop telling people that Tommy Hearns had given me this black-eye! Emanuel Steward saw me win the Detroit Golden Gloves at 147lbs and then that became the start of the rest of my life. It was such a blessing to be part of that era.

“In later years, I spent time around the likes of Andy Lee and Tyson Fury. They were both really cool people and I enjoyed being around them both, and I’m really happy to see them both being successful in their own careers. Most notably, I spent numerous camps with Wladimir Klitschko, which was fantastic. Wladimir is a man who paved the way for my success after my time in the ring came to an end.”

Due to his recent exploits as a trainer, many forget about the success of Banks inside the ring. He held the IBO cruiserweight title back in 2008 after defeating Vicenzo Rossitto (W12) in the chief support to stablemate Klitschko’s unified world heavyweight title defence against Tony Thompson. Banks described the emotion of fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a champion that night in Hamburg, Germany.

“It was a surreal moment becoming world champion,” said Banks. “It was one of the best moments in my life and I owe it all to Emanuel Steward. He believed in me since I was a 147lb kid and he took me to becoming a world champion. After I got back to the USA after the fight, I went back to Detroit and I was given the keys to the city. It was a surreal experience all around and one that will live with me forever.

“It was a great night not just for me but for Wladimir who defended his world titles that night. We have had some great nights together as fighters and as a trainer and fighter and this was one of the most special ones of them all. It was really cool that Wladimir and I boxed for the IBO titles on the same night and thank you to the IBO for giving me that opportunity.”

Since retiring from competition with a 29-3-1, 19 KOs record after a run at the heavyweights in 2014, Banks moved into training fighters after a call from an old friend that changed everything. 

“I was with a few friends one day and I saw my phone ringing and it was Wladimir [Klitschko]. It came out of the blue and Wladimir asked me if I wanted to come on board as his head trainer. I was shocked but that is basically how it happened,” said Banks. “I went to camp with Wladimir and we had some fantastic nights. We had a couple of disappointing ones, too, but the good massively outweighed the bad when it comes to Wlad, and I am so grateful for the blessings he has given me in boxing as a fighter and trainer.

“When I get asked about the [Tyson] Fury fight, I genuinely believe Wladimir had a bad night. It was just one of those bad nights, but I don’t want to take anything away from Tyson Fury on his achievements.

“As I said before, there were far more good times than bad times with Wladimir and I’m very grateful for how he brought me into the camp as a head trainer and gave me a voice to speak. I never had to worry about being talked over, I was in full control and for Wladimir to show that faith in me was fantastic and I still appreciate that to this day.”

Since training Klitschko, Banks’ career as a trainer has truly taken off, with elite talents such as Gennady Golovkin and Cecilia Braekhus enlisting the services of the Detroit powerhouse.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with Gennady Golovkin. ‘G’ has been a pleasure to train,” he said. “Gennady was really enjoying training prior to the Covid-19 outbreak as we were preparing to defend his titles against [Kamil] Szeremeta and I believe Gennady still intends on fulfilling his obligations to fight Szeremeta when called upon.

Winning combination: Banks and GGG. Photo: DAZN

“Of course, Gennady wants to fight Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez again in the future. Canelo is a pure boxer, so you’re not going to bring anything that he hasn’t seen before. What we would bring though is a different approach to what you have seen in the past two fights against Canelo. I think G would be happy to face him at 160 or 168 and I honestly believe that if the fight was at 168 it would be an advantage to G as he is naturally the bigger man.”

Banks also discussed the success of arguably the greatest woman fighter of all-time, Cecilia Braekhus, who he trained previously. “I agree with you that Cecilia Braekhus is the greatest woman [fighter] of all time. She really is and she has the accolades to prove that,” said Banks. “I really enjoyed training Cecilia Braekhus and we had some great times together. I am very proud of being part of her amazing career and I wish her nothing but the best in her career.

“I’ve just begun training [two-weight world champion] Badou Jack and I am really enjoying [it]. He is such a talented fighter and I believe he can, no doubt, become world champion once again. I would love the [Jean] Pascal rematch for Badou. I believe he won the first fight and, if the [opportunity] was to come around, I would love for Badou to fight Pascal again. I am confident Badou would win in even better fashion this time around.”