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Lightweight Prospect Jude Franklin: Good Boys Do Fight

I started following lightweight prospect Jude Franklin three weeks ago as he trains for his seventh professional fight this weekend. He will be on the undercard in the “No Turning Back World Boxing Championship” on May 20 at the Raleigh Convention Center in North Carolina. At 22 years-old, he is in the first year of his professional boxing career with a 6-0 record. His story is every boxer’s story in that it is a life of hard training, commitment, taking risks and grabbing opportunities. This is the second part of Jude’s story. The first part of this feature, Starting Out: A Young Boxer’s Journey, Introducing Jude Franklin, was published on May 3, 2017.

Last Fight Prep

The boots are laid out neatly on top of a shelf. The gold vest has been dry cleaned. The golden colored gloves are worn in. It is fight week for Jude who goes by the ring alias “King Zar” and May 12, a Saturday, is his final training day before fight night.

Franklin arrives in Gleason’s Gym shortly after 10 AM. He gives his trainer and manager of eight years, Elmo Serrano, a hug and goes off to change out of his blue sweats. He will be sparring with another pro boxer, Riccardo Colosimo, from Australia, who is also scheduled to fight in Raleigh on May 20. Both are training under Serrano for their fights and they start their last training day chatting in Elmo’s office at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn.

At past 10:30 AM, Jude and Ricky get into one of Gleason’s four boxing rings for the scheduled sparring session. Fighting at 128 lbs, Jude is nearly 20 lbs lighter than Ricky who is a welterweight. Ricky is aggressive and fights on the inside. Jude tries to keep him at bay with jabs and more movement. He looks calm, his experience apparent to those watching from the ringside.

Their session is getting plenty of attention from a tour group and other guests, including those who came in with Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin. Quillin has not had a fight since his loss to Danny Jacobs in 2015 and his presence at Gleason’s spurred speculation that he may be preparing for a return fight. Amidst the bustle around them, Jude and Ricky continue to spar hard for four rounds while captivated onlookers record the action on their mobile phones.

After the session, I ask Elmo what he thinks. He is generally happy with his protege’s performance and preparation. In the few days before the fight, the goal is for Jude to stay loose and maintain weight. As expected in a training camp, the last few weeks have been hard, and it’s time for training to taper off. Team Franklin is now ready for Raleigh.

Behind Every Promising Boxer is a Brave Mother

Boxing is replete with stories of broken homes and abusive families, of extreme poverty and deprived childhoods. Floyd Mayweather Jr. was famously used as a human shield by his own father when he was two years-old. Andre Ward lived with a father who had a heroin addiction. Gervonta Davis moved through the foster home system after losing his parents to drugs. Not a few women boxers have endured sexual abuse and abusive relationships.

By the standards of boxing sad stories, Jude Franklin has, thus, lived a normal life. There have been no run-ins with the law, no family horror stories. Born in the US, Jude spent his childhood in Trinidad and Tobago where his family is from. He has two older sisters who both live in Trinidad, and a brother in the navy. He studies accounting and business at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and has one year to go before he finishes college. Everyone I’ve encountered who knows Jude says he is generally a “good kid”.

Veronica Franklin recalls how Jude started boxing. “He used to stand outside the gym next door, peeking through the glass. He said mama, I’m going to box.” So Veronica, a busy single mother, went to the gym and talked to the coach, Elmo. Her condition was for Elmo to take care of Jude and be the father figure. Jude’s father, also a boxer, died when Jude was nine years-old.

Jude started boxing at 14, starting out at a gym in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood and following Elmo when he moved to Gleason’s. Veronica credits Elmo and Gleason’s for their support for Jude’s career. When she lost her job, Gleason’s waived the club fees and took Jude under its wing.

Boxing life can be consuming for a boxer’s family but Veronica has managed to carve out a successful career for herself and is, thus, a model of hard work and dedication. Today, Veronica works as a nurse in Brooklyn, and will graduate with a Master’s degree in education on May 21st, the day after Jude’s bout in Raleigh. She plans to move on to do a doctorate. She is active in church, spending Sundays with her church community. “He says I motivate him but I think he motivates me,” she says of Jude. “He is very committed, he trains every day.”

“I used to be nervous when he fights,” Veronica recalls. “I would be shaking, I couldn’t take a straight picture and he would get upset,” she laughs. But after several years, Jude’s boxing is now a part of her life. She urges him to stay focused, to “live boxing” if he wants to get to the championship level. “I told him you’re going to meet challenges but you have to stay focused.”

Like any mother, Veronica still gets worried about injuries. This is a sport where anything can happen to a boxer’s body, which can change his life. “I do get scared. But it goes with the territory.”

Veronica’s support for her son makes Elmo’s coaching job easier. They are, in fact, a solid team not just in stirring a young boxer to a title, but in guiding a young man to live a life of meaning and direction. The one thing that Veronica will not negotiate on is Jude’s studies. And for good reason. Boxers need to be able to know how to take care of themselves, make sure their finances are in order and can outlive their careers. They need a fallback if boxing careers don’t pan out.

But for now, Jude’s life is in the ring. “Boxing is something that he loves and wants to do,” Veronica says. “It’s his passion. Many people search for their passion and never find it. He has found his.”

Not Taking Chances

Jude is fighting 24-year-old Matt Murphy from Missouri. Team Franklin found out about Murphy just two weeks ago. Murphy went pro in 2015, has a patchy 2-12-1 record, which suggests that he is willing to take the risk to fight an opponent with a perfect record. Murphy has a lot to gain from fighting Jude and nothing much to lose if he is defeated.

Jude, on the other hand, has more to lose in defeat and not much to gain except more experience and exposure as an undercard to three title bouts on May 20. But what is important at this stage of his career is that he remains active and is seen in the boxing circuit.

Murphy was a second choice to fight Franklin after the first opponent apparently declined to do the fight. An undefeated record at just six professional fights is not yet a big deal. However, with 83% of fights won by KO, Jude’s record is enough to keep other strong contenders who would also like to maintain a perfect record at bay. The absorption with maintaining perfect records has made boxers risk-averse, thus making matchups difficult.

But even with Murphy’s 2-12-1 record, Team Franklin cannot afford to be complacent. Elmo points out that out of 12 losses, Murphy has only been knocked out thrice. Thus, the possibility of a loss, no matter how remote, is not far from everyone’s mind, including Jude’s.

“When you learn to accept the fact that there’s a chance that you could lose a fight, that’s when you go there and fight to your full potential,” Jude told me three weeks ago. “I feel like you have to own something, you have to own losing, you have to own getting hit, so that when it does happen, it’s not overwhelming. Time to go on to the next thing.”

Jude’s fight will be eclipsed by more high profile fights on this big fight weekend. On Saturday alone, Terence Crawford fights Feliz Diaz in New York’s Madison Square Garden for the WBO and WBC junior welterweight title. Gary Russell defends his WBC featherweight belt against Oscar Escandon in Maryland. Gervonta Davis travels to London to defend his IBF junior lightweight title against Liam Walsh.

But Jude’s fight is no less important. It is a fight upon which boxing careers are built and is a reminder that champions become who they are because of commitment, dedication, hard work, a positive attitude, and a supportive family.