J’Leon Love, (one of three talented Mayweather Promotions’ fighters who will highlight this Saturday’s Special Presentation of ShoBox: The New Generation on SHOWTIME which airs live immediately following the premiere of “ALL ACCESS: Mayweather vs. Maidana 2” at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT) took part in an Open Media Workout Wednesday at the Mayweather Boxing Club.
Then he spoke to The Shadow League’s J. R. Gamble via telephone about his rough childhood, quest to become champion, failed drug test in 2013, being the sole provider for his deceased brother’s 10 children, rolling with Mayweather’s ever-expanding Money Team and how he uses each life experience—regardless of the outcome—as one building block towards constructing a totally positive, focused and accomplished life.
Love isn’t trying to be known for anything that happened in the past – the good, bad or the ugly. The talented middleweight is all about his future. If his future shines bright like a diamond, the foundation is set for his family members to follow suit and achieve remarkable things.
That’s what the 26-year-old is about at this point in his burgeoning boxing career.
Love is 18-0 as a pro and grew up on the crime-ridden streets of Inkster, Michigan. His brother, Gerald was eight years older and had served as J'Leon's father figure because their father was M.I.A. Gerald Love, known on the streets where he was king as "Little Jerry," had 10 children. When a bullet snuffed Gerry’s life from him at the age of 33 on March 26, 2013, instantly J'Leon was transformed from a carefree single guy with a thriving boxing career into the surrogate father for 10 young children, ranging in ages from one to 10.
When he gets busy in the ring, he craves the praise, but Love doesn’t want any pats on the back for being a responsible man or making it out of the poisonous streets to not only survive but soar towards international fame and riches. It’s an American Dream that seems unreachable for the majority of kids growing up in these areas.
J'Leon: “God has a plan for us all. I’m not the only one who grew up rough. It’s all what you make out of it. I use that as fuel. I don’t have any kids now but I got nieces and nephews that I want to raise and give them everything I can and more…put them in the best position possible. So that’s what drives me. I want more for myself. I want more for my life. Period. I’m surrounded by a lot of great and successful individuals so I want to be one of those guys that’s not only successful throughout my career but outside of the ring as well."
"I have a great family, aunts, uncles, grandmother and they help. It’s not just me taking care of 10 kids. They definitely help and are there. My brother’s wife has her side of the family who does a lot for the children as well. I’m more the financial provider, where I can do extra and a lot more for the kids. That’s what I do. That comes first nature to me, you feel me? Something happened to my brother and he’s no longer here, I just pick it up from there. I never thought twice about it. I never even looked at it like a responsibility. I’m supposed to do that for family. That’s the way life works you know? You have Godparents and that’s what they’re there for, but with me, those are my nieces and nephews so if I’m rocking the latest Giuseppe or Jordans my niece and nephews should have something nice. Haircuts. Nice clothes. The same kind of stuff. That just comes with doing what you got to do as a man for your family."
Mayweather Promotions super middleweights Love, Badou Jack and Ronald Gavril will be showcased in separate bouts from The Pearl at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
“This is another breaking point in my career," Love, a cocky and socially conscious dude, who will meet Rogelio Medina (32-6, 36 KOs) of Mexico in the 10-round main event, tells The Shadow League.
J'Leon: “This is the first time Mayweather Promotions, which recently received their own licensing card in Nevada, is doing such a card…and I’m headlining the card. I mean you can put me as the main event in the smallest part of Omaha, Nebraska and I’m going to make cash still…know what I’m sayin'? It’s still something great to me. But here I am in Las Vegas, in the city I reside in. It’s special. And I get to showcase my talents. Not only that, you also have a lot of other great fighters in the Mayweather stable that will be displaying their talents as well. It’s definitely a blessing.”
The once-beaten Jack (16-1-1, 11 KOs), of Stockholm, Sweden, will try and regain his winning ways after getting stunned by Derek Edwards, when he meets Jason Escalera (15-2-1, 12 KOs) of Union City, N.J., in the 10-round co-feature.
Romanian Ronald “Thrill” Gavril (9-0, 7 KOs) is on the come up and is making his ShoBox debut. He will be opposed by Thomas Falowo (12-2, 8 KOs) of Pawtucket, R.I., in the telecast’s opening match.
J’Leon has much respect for Medina’s punching power and heart, but he doesn’t see the challenger as any more than a tune-up for greater conquests and a further affirmation of Love’s progression as a technician.
J'Leon: “Medina’s a tough fighter. No matter what, some guys just give you a hard time and he’s one of those styles that can give you a hard time. He's a rough, rugged, guy, that’s going to come and fight. He doesn’t have the best skill but he’s a puncher so you always have to be careful. He’s going to be in it as long as I allow him too, but we’re not really worried about him. We’re just worried about focusing on our talent and executing our game plan."
J’Leon says he has his eyes set on the ultimate prize – the title. He’s willing to go through friend or foe to get it.
J'Leon: “I’m not the type to call people out but obviously I have a common goal to be world champion that other boxers share. You’ve got newly crowned super middleweight champion Anthony Dirrell, who recently beat Sakio Bika. He’s from Flint and that’s like my neighbor. I grew up boxing with him and his brother Andre. Two great fighters. Congratulations to him!"
"Again, I’m not calling anybody out, but at the end of the day they’re champions and I want to reach that pinnacle. That’s who I want to be. Not only them, but you have Carl Frotch and Arthur Abraham. I don’t think those guys would fight here in the states. I hear Frotch will, but those are all great fights. I want to share the ring with all of those guys."
That ambition has lifted Love out of humble beginnings and into a of gladiator sport inspired by potent punches and potentially lucrative pay dates. His refusal to quit and his drive, he says, are his biggest assets.
J'Leon: "I just have this work ethic where I know I just have to do it. I only have one life and I gotta make the most out of it. I love boxing so much. It’s in my blood. I love it to death. I drink, eat and sleep boxing. And my life is easy now. All I gotta do is work hard to do something I love. You ain't got to say no more. That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Just work period. Don’nobody have to tell me to run. You have to tell me NOT to run. They say, 'Yo, J slow down a little bit.' Know what I mean? Or, 'Yo, J we going to cut the time on the bag today and we’re not going to spar any rounds today.' I’m always at 100. I think I want it so bad and I know I gotta get it…I have a tendency to try and overdo it."
Like when he failed a postfight drug test last year, opening the Mayweather-Robert Guerrero card on May 4, 2013, against Gabe Rosado. For whatever reason, Love's training camp for that fight was shaky and he took a diuretic not long before the match to help him cut weight.
Luckily, the Nevada Athletic Commission showed him some mercy and he was only suspended for six months instead of the usual nine for a failed test. It was a desperate act, but one which can be forgiven and understood, when you take into account the fact that all Love ever did as a kid was hustle to make ends meet. With so many mouths to feed, sometimes cutting corners is necessary in the larger scheme of things.
J'Leon: “I don’t really see it as a second chance. I dealt with my consequences behind the Rosado fight. I paid my dues behind it so pretty much, I’m here doing what I got to do. I mean, Rosado... that dude done had four or five more fights by now since me. So he has already has another career – BKB boxing or something like that . So he’s not thinking of me and I’m obviously not thinking of him. I done had bigger fights since then. We just moving on with it."
J'Leon: “I never took an enhancement drug. I took a drug to help me lose weight. You know it was a dumb decision and the pill could have hurt me more than it helped me, so a lot of people get that misconstrued. They just see J’Leon failed a drug test, but they don’t know what’s behind it. Critics speak on anything they can. They run with some negative feedback and they make whatever story they want out of it."
"My thing is not even to silent the critics because half of them – all of em’ – couldn’t do half of what we do to make it. As far as getting in this ring and living our day to day life, growing up like me, anything…I’m just sayin’ like... everybody has an opinion and you’re entitled to your own opinion, but that’s all it is just an opinion because if you were in my shoes I guarantee you wouldn’t be able to make it out of what I made it out of."
In light of that incident J’Leon not only has to battle critics, but the haters who say he’s only reached this point because of the influence Floyd Mayweather holds in the boxing world. Love laughs at the notion and stands by his merit and supreme skill as a ring warrior. He brings an excitement and the drama.
J'Leon: “Taking nothing away from Mayweather Promotions, I’ve been boxing for 16 years now. And God puts us in different positions man. We are in learning positions...every position that we are in it’s about what you take from it. So for me, I’m trying to take the most out of what I’m getting and show that with hard work and dedication this is the outcome."
"My last opponent [Marco Antonio Periban] was a title contender, one of the best out of Mexico. He was very elusive and threw a lot of punches. I faced adversity and I was able to bounce back, not everyone can do that. I got hurt in the sixth round, he caught me with a right hand and it hurt me but I got back up and did what I had to do. It was definitely a learning experience for me because I had to fight under a lot of pressure, but I came out with the victory which shows that I can handle adversity. Periban was just another test in my career that I passed."
"People say oh you’re with Floyd, so you get these crazy opportunities. Sure I’m with Floyd, but at the end of the day I worked hard to get with Floyd. The man didn’t just see me on the corner and pick me up and sign me. I had to work for my position and I have to continue to work to keep my position. Not only that I have a lot of pressure from people always trying to compare me with this guy or that guy and dissect my game. I like to satisfy myself. Obviously we want to put on great performances for the fans and TV and stuff like that, but at the end of the day self preservation and working hard for me is what I have to do. The position that I’m in is definitely a blessing, but it takes a lot to be in this position and I’m still hungry for more."
More has already come in the form of a photo shoot with world-renown supermodel Kate Moss.
J'Leon: "Honestly, like I said before, God puts us in crazy positions. Here I am, 17-18 years old in Kronk Gym just messing around. I just finished my workout and these photographer dudes came in with some lady. I had no idea that Kate Moss was this supermodel from Great Britain...and she was pretty you know? So here I am, I’m playing in her hair and joking around with her. She was cool with it. It was all fun and games. We hit it off and they were like, ‘honestly this what we’re looking for. If it’s possible we would like to get you to take some pictures with her if that’s possible.' I thought modeling was for girls and wasn’t going to do it. But my mom was like, 'boy shut up. You about to do this.' So she had a lot to do with it but it was a great opportunity and a lot of times people bring it up before boxing. They ask me how the hell I got to do a shoot with Kate Moss. I say yeah, but I’m a boxer too. It was a just a regular fashion shoot with Vogue Italia and W magazine. It was more like the European style of clothing."
Love has seemed to master the marketing and branding side of things and he’s not just a pretty face that is being pushed to draw ratings.
He honed his skills under the tutelage and boxing titans at Kronk Gym in Detroit, which was owned by the late Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward, who mentored Love, took him to see Floyd fights at the MGM Grand and [Wladimir] Klitschko training camps as a reward when Love would win a national event or place well in a tournament.
J' Leon: “So I knew there were things outside of the streets. Emmanuel, Walter Smith, Thomas Hearns, Milt McCrory, Cornelius 'K9' Bundrage, Caveman Lee all those guys … all those champions and former champions were the ones that pushed me. I was a little kid running around there and they would show me the right way to do things. .. so many other great fighters that could have been something, but it just didn’t work out. Back then it was harder to make it. The quality of competition was thicker. Everybody was going 15 rounds and everyone was a puncher; white, black, Asian or Mexican. They all could fight. It didn’t matter. Everybody could fight back then. The competition was insane and there more distractions, but I took all of that and just ran with it. I wanted to be something great. It had so much to do with my career."
Growing up is about building on experiences, learning from mistakes and then turning your turmoil-filled trail into titletown and using your shining moments as a healthy nest to secure your future.
J'Leon: "When I was a kid I wish I had the role models that I have now around me to help me but just go out no matter what it is basketball, football, baseball, tennis, law or science, just give your all and put 100% into it at all times and maybe even put 105 %, because that extra 5 % will get you over the hump. Whatever the case, just keep God first and grind. Life is about the grind and everybody has to do it. No matter what, nothing comes easy, just go ahead and go for it."
When Love reflects on his brief quarter-century of life he already knows he's a winner. He beat statistics that condemn young black youth to a life of pine box or penitentiary purpose. He can speak on them too.
JLeon: "The schools need improving and there needs to be more recreational activities for kids and teenagers outside of school. Let’s get the police force properly paid and so that they actually care about protecting and serving the streets. Where I’m from, they don’t have their own police in the city so that creates a problem right there. There’s a bunch of young kids and adults just going around the city doing reckless crimes. Detroit was once a beautiful place. Bring more of an attraction back to the city. There used to be jobs and the automotive industry was booming and when the recession hit people lost jobs, real estate collapsed, people lost their homes. It was different. If we can somehow get more of these jobs and money back into the city and state of Michigan so people can be paid a livable wage, it would make things a lot easier."
These days, J'Leon flaunts flash and fame with his hands and captivates boxing fans, while dropping jewels on the youth.
Not just the 10 he cares for, but the thousands that are growing up like he did—with a puncher’s chance