To prepare for his first title fight, Jamal James spent last week rising at 4 a.m., running around Bde Maka Ska, then shadowboxing and doing pushups and calisthenics in the morning chill.
Imagine what his routine might have been if he knew in what month or year the fight would take place.
James' title bout was supposed to have taken place on Saturday night at the Armory. James would have fought Thomas Dulorme for the interim World Boxing Association welterweight title.
Even after the fight was canceled because of COVID-19, with no makeup date in sight, James maintained his grueling training regimen.
He has done his boxing workouts in the basement and in the backyard of the home where he lives. Sometimes alone, sometimes with his crew while promising to respect social-distancing mandates.
At 31, he has spent all of his ambulatory years preparing for this kind of opportunity. He's not going to let a postponement or pandemic alter his approach.
"Yeah, it's a demanding life," James said. "There are times when you're like, man, what am I doing? You've got to love it."
What, though, is there to love?
For every Floyd Mayweather, who lives in a ridiculous mansion in Las Vegas and drives a fleet of flashy cars, there are thousands like James, who punish themselves and take punishment in the ring with no guarantee of making a decent living, and with no assurance that their chosen profession will become a sustainable career.
To an outsider, boxing appears cruel and uncertain. Despite an impressive record, James had to work a second job until just a couple of years ago. Even then, he kept working at a coffeehouse to make a few extra bucks and stay in touch with fans who would drop in.
A series of impressive victories over the past few years earned James enough money to quit his secondary jobs and concentrate solely on his chosen profession.
According to a couple of local boxing insiders, fight cards like the one that had been scheduled for the Armory could produce a total purse of about $1 million. The headliners get the bulk of that money, and every fighter has to pay his own team out of his earnings.
So someone like James might make a couple hundred thousand dollars on a televised title fight, with the prospect of becoming a headliner and making more in subsequent fights. Those closer to the bottom of the card might make a few thousand per fight.
For fights that aren't televised by Fox or ESPN, the purses are peanuts.
At his age, James probably needs to win the title and maximize his exposure over the next few years to be able to leave the sport with significant savings. Even then, his per-hour pay, given all of his training, would be minuscule.
"When you love what you're doing, you're going to stick with it," he said. "Boxing gives you a certain character. It requires discipline and builds discipline. The admiration you receive for doing it well is something I haven't gotten out of anything else I've done in my life. It's all about discipline."
In conversations with a handful of Minneapolis boxing figures last week, that word — discipline — was often repeated. James trains and lives with Sankara Frazier, his father figure. Frazier runs the Circle of Discipline off Lake Street in Minneapolis as part boxing gym, part community outreach program. When James was 4, his mother brought him to Frazier, hoping to keep him out of trouble, and Frazier virtually adopted him.
Frazier's gym was going to fill Saturday night's fight card with its boxers, including Ve Shawn Owens and Celso Ramirez. Frazier was running them through pre-fight preparations at their training camp in Barnum, Minn.
"These were going to be very large staging fights for all of us, for our whole pro squad," Owens said. "This was going to be a big life-changer for all of us. We were all working like crazy in camp.
"But honestly, I don't think this is going to be a huge problem for us because we'll get another opportunity of the same magnitude. I have great confidence that we're going to do the same thing, just on a different date."
None of the boxers complained about the postponement. Whining and discipline, for them, are incompatible.
"We've had to wait before," Frazier said. "At one time, Jamal took off a year because we couldn't get any fights. What I told him at that point was, 'We're going to keep training, and you can keep working at the coffee shop to keep your money right, and we'll be ready when the right opportunity comes.'
"No, the average boxer can't make a living in this game. If you can't reach a level like Jamal has, it's tough, financially."
The pandemic will make life harder for most of us. We are starting to see how it affects people already living a hard life, and that long-term forecast isn't pretty.
Is being a boxer a hard life? Depends on whom you ask.
Boxers at "The Circle" will be working out and suddenly Frazier will yell out, "Something is wrong with us! We're out here talking about knocking some guy out and making sure he doesn't get up!"
"But," Owens said, "it's about more than that. We're not just brutes. Boxing really got my life together. It's about mental health, physical fitness and spiritual health."
Owens, like James, rises at 4 or 5 a.m. to run about 5 miles, in addition to putting in boxing workouts. "Boxing is an art form," he said. "It's not a hobby. It's not just a sport. It's in our blood. It's life, for us."
It has been part of Harry Davis Jr.'s life, as well. His father, Harry Davis Sr., was a boxing coach and civil rights leader. Davis Jr. remains an advocate for local boxing.
"These are incredibly well- conditioned and disciplined athletes, and they train constantly. They have to, to have any chance," Davis said. "And if you're a Minnesota fighter, in a place that is not a boxing mecca, you have to be patient, as well. You have to really impress people to get a title fight, as Jamal has."
Frazier was a promising fighter. Football injuries derailed his career.
"I boxed amateur at 8 years old and I never stopped working out," Frazier said. "My father was a really good fighter and he would tell me, 'I'm so proud of you, that I never had to wake you up to do your job, or for you to work out.' I embraced boxing's work ethic, and I try to instill that in our fighters.
"Hey, if you don't work at it, you don't have a chance. It's all about discipline."