Jamal “Shango’’ James adopted his nickname from his grandfather’s reggae band, named “Shangoya.’’ Musically, James is an old soul, so it was unsurprising that his choice of a walk-up song for the biggest night of his life was deft and pointed as one of his left jabs.
He walked into the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on Saturday to fight for the interim WBA welterweight title to the sounds of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.’’ He hopes that the sentiment proves as apropos for his Minneapolis neighborhood as it was for his boxing career.
Saturday night, James took a unanimous decision from Thomas Dulorme, giving him a title and setting him up for title defenses and perhaps title unification bouts. He hopes the victory will resonate in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, offering hope to the neighborhood where he and his allies provided youth mentoring and food deliveries during and after the city’s riots.
“That song had two meanings,’’ James said Sunday after returning from Los Angeles. “I meant that change is going to come because I’m getting ready to be the new champ, but also because that’s what we’re fighting for on these streets — a better system that is able to deal out justice across the board, for all of us.
“We need that change as a society and a nation as a whole.’’
The lanky, skilled James beat the powerful, brawling Dulorme by landing hundreds of punches over the 12-round bout, peppering Dulorme while trying to keep him at a distance. Dulorme bloodied James’ nose in the second round and hit him with dangerous flurries in the later rounds, but to a layman James seemed to dominate the fight with relentless jabs and combinations.
“I wanted to win this title not only for myself and my organization but for the community and Minneapolis and Minnesota in general. I think the city needed a win.”
James fights out of the Circle of Discipline gym in Minneapolis, which is not far from where Floyd was killed. His father figure and trainer, Sankara Frazier, also trains Cuba emigre David Morrell, who on the same card won the vacant WBA interim super middleweight title with a unanimous decision over Lennox Allen.
It was the third professional fight for Morrell, 22. James, 32, started boxing at the Circle of Discipline with Frazier before Morrell was born, and he viewed his title fight as a culmination of both his life journey and a troubling year.
James started training to fight Dulorme in February, but the fight was delayed because of COVID-19. A proposed July date was also postponed. James went through two training camps in Barnum, Minn. During the second he had limited training partners, left to visit his grandmother before she died, and watched his neighborhood become a tragic and momentous international story.
“We were doing everything we could to help people in our community,’’ James said of himself, Frazier and other mainstays of the nonprofit Circle of Discipline. “We wanted to rebuild the community. We did food drives and helping any way we could when we found out the fight was back on.
“We went through my birthday, Father’s Day, my grandmother passing away. It was all rough to deal with. Then we go out to LA to quarantine for a week and we’re isolated on two floors of the hotel, can’t go outside. It’s really been a process.’’
He would like to fight a big name like Manny Pacquiao, but first he needs rest. He said he felt rusty on Saturday after not participating in an actual fight for a year. Sunday, he said his nose, elbows, and the back of his head were particularly sore.
Soon enough, though, he and Frazier will begin training for another big fight, while fighting for what they believe is right.
“I wanted to win this title not only for myself and my organization but for the community and Minneapolis and Minnesota in general,’’ James said. “I think the city needed a win.
“I wanted to make sure we can bring some positivity and a light of hope. It’s really been a monumental and historic event for David and myself to bring two world titles back to Minnesota — all coming from the COD. I’m very satisfied.’’