The 147-pound world titlist says he's earned his shot at one of the other top welterweights and plans to prove it again when he faces unbeaten top contender Radzhab Butaev Saturday night in a PBC on SHOWTIME headliner.
The voice on the other end of the phone sounded calm, not harried or hurried.
“I’m at the grocery store just picking up a couple things. Can you call me back later?”
The voice belonged to Jamal James, the WBA welterweight champion, and the boxing pride of Minnesota. It was exactly one week before James defends his title against unbeaten Russian Radzhab Butaev on October 30 in a Premier Boxing Champions featured 12-round event at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
Relaxed? Sure, considering James was grocery shopping on the last Saturday before his biggest moment. The long training camp was in his rear-view mirror and he was ready for his upcoming trifecta of firsts: First defense of the title he won against Thomas Dulorme in August 2020, first time fighting in Las Vegas and first appearance on Showtime.
"We had a full camp, and I feel good, feel strong,” James said confidently. “Now it’s just a waiting game. Got to get in there and give people a show.”
James (27-1, 12 KOs) understands that at age 33, he truly needs to do that to make a name for himself outside of his hometown of Minneapolis—and if he wants to face the cream of the 147-pound crop. He’s prepared for the challenge.
“Yeah, for sure. This isn’t a long-lived career,” James said. “I’m going to try to get everything I can out of these next couple years, and see how my body is feeling, then go from there. I intend to make statements and make a name for myself and I want to compete against the best. I have to prove to everyone why I deserve the biggest fights.”
Boxing is a calling that James has answered since he was five, when his mother first dropped him off at the Circle of Discipline (COD) Boxing Gym in a tough part of downtown Minneapolis. The COD has become a huge part of James’ life and remains a powerful influence on inner-city youth.
"It’s a non-profit organization that’s open to everybody but has a stronger focus on inner-city youth,” James explained, who is also a community organizer. “It’s more than just an organization, it’s like a second family, or village if you will. I’ve been going down there since I was so young that the people who run it and the people who have come and gone have really helped shape and mold who I am today.
“I’ve learned many lessons down there. Amateur boxing is one of the tools to help people get disciplined and help them with their confidence as well as conditioning. Boxing is one of the perfect sports for that, obviously, so I started training when I was five and started competing in amateur boxing when I was eight. And I just happened to be pretty good at it but it took me a long time to get where I’m at today, which is a world champion getting ready to defend my title.”
There he first met COD founder and executive director Sankara Frazier, beginning a lifelong connection. These days James refers to Frazier, who’s been his trainer and coach from the get-go, as his father.
“I probably wouldn’t box if I didn’t have my family in my corner,” says James, whose nickname 'Shango' comes from the African god of fire, thunder and lightning. “With my father and my older brother Adonis Frazier, I feel extremely comfortable. We have obviously a strong bond, so when they give me instructions in the corner, even though I may not see the punches they’re telling me to throw, the movement they’re telling me to do, even though I may not think it, or see it, I’m going to do it anyway because I know they see it. I got that level of trust with them.”
“ I’ve been fighting tough guys throughout my career. ” WBA Welterweight World Champion - Jamal James
Outside of the ring, James is engaged and says he and his fiancée are planning to marry a month after Saturday’s fight, after which they expect to move from the tri-plex he owns with his family and find their own place. They’ll likely remain in Minneapolis, he added.
Minneapolis, of course, is where George Floyd in May 2020 and Daunte Wright in April 2021, died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Those national tragedies still weigh on James’ mind, especially Wright, who was the best friend of James’ younger brother Xavier.
“My little brother took it extremely hard. I didn’t know him as well as (Xavier) did. I was up north at my training camp, training for this fight, actually, which kept getting pushed back. I talked to him on the phone and could tell he was really broken up.
“It’s highly unfortunate that these types of things keep taking place. And there needs to be some type of change…I think we’re getting there, I just feel it’s moving a little slow. I have boxing as my outlet, though. I was able to channel my energy with my career. I could just focus on my training work and get all my frustration and irritation and anger off.
“But I’m the type of person who looks at where we go from this. How can we make these changes and how can I help? And the best way I feel is to be successful and then use my platform to bring awareness to what’s going on, and what are some of the things we as Black men and women have to deal with when it comes to these types of problems.”
At the moment, however, James is dealing with his immediate problem in Butaev (13-0, 10 KOs), a transplanted Russian living in Brooklyn, N.Y. James knows he needs an impressive win to get the big fights at welterweight. His only professional loss, by decision, came against current WBA super world champ Yordenis Ugas six years ago, when he was a late (the week of the fight) replacement. Ugas was himself a late replacement against Manny Pacquiao this last August and upset the legendary Filipino, who subsequently retired from the sport.
In addition to the name welterweights such as Shawn Porter, Errol Spence Jr., Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia, James would especially love a rematch with Ugas.
“He had a great performance in beating Pacquiao, and with us both having full camps to see how that would play out, I think the fans would like that as well,” James said. “I’ve been fighting tough guys throughout my career, but I haven’t fought anybody with a big, big name, those guys who you can say are greats in the welterweight class for this time period. I would like to get my name in there as well.”
While Butaev is not yet in the class of the aforementioned fighters, he does have knockout power, is six years younger than James and has a two-inch reach advantage although he gives up nearly four inches in height to the 6-foot-2 Minnesotan. James is ready for whatever the Russian brings.
“Like any other fighter, Butaev has two arms, two legs and a head,” James said. “He has strengths and weaknesses like anyone else. I know he’ll come in there strong and try to test me. He’ll probably try to get inside on me. It’s my job to out-box him and beat him.”
For a closer look at James vs Butaev, check out our fight night page.