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5th June 2020
By: Michael Frank
Boxing Guru would like to introduce rising talent James “Crunchtime” Wilkins to the boxing world. I had the pleasure to sit down with Crunchtime and speak about his bumpy road to becoming a professional. The super featherweight is currently 9-1 with 6 KO’s to start his career. The 24 year-old was born in Brooklyn, New York and currently lives and trains in Dallas, Texas. At 5’7” he uses his speed, power and stamina to dominate opponents. After his debut in 2016, Wilkins recorded 5 straight TKO victories. With a fast start to his career, he caught the eye of Oscar De La Hoya, earning him a deal with Golden Boy Promotions. On top of landing a contract with Golden Boy, legend Roy Jones Jr. has also taken a liking to Wilkins. Roy has been training Crunchtime since the end of 2017 and even welcomed James into his home in Florida. The respect is very much mutual, Crunchtime has very high praise for Jones Jr.
“Best boxer of all time, great man, great human, Roy is now like my father.”
The rising prospect is coming off a unanimous decision victory over James Early. The January 2020 fight took place in San Antonio at the Alamodome, the biggest arena Wilkins has fought in, to date. With a 2020 victory already under his belt, Crunchtime is eager to get back into the ring. Due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, any fight negotiations have been placed on hold. He’s been using the downtime to focus on conditioning. With no access to gyms, running, pushups and pull-ups have become the new routine. Even the quarantine hasn’t stopped Crunchtime from working hard daily. When asked if the quarantine had been hard on him mentally or physically, he quickly responded:
“It’s not really tough because I’ve been through adversity my whole career, so I wouldn’t look at it as a setback, I would look at it as more time for me to grow with my coaches and my team, I learn how to turn a negative into a positive, and believe in my team.”
Mature words seemed to be a theme throughout the interview for the 24-year-old. Charisma and positivity were booming from the up-and-comer, but that hasn’t always been the case. Crunchtime spent three years battling on-and-off homelessness in New York. His appendix popped, threatening the young mans life. I was at a loss for words hearing some of his stories, but his tough mentality and willingness to speak about his struggles were inspiring.
“I was homeless, sleeping in bags, no food no nothing.”
All of this adversity was intertwined with his professional career. Due to a contract dispute, James had to take his talents to Tijuana, Mexico for a few of his first fights. He would have to take out loans from friends and family in order to fight. On top of the $1200 for each bout, he would have to cover all travel and medical expenses. While homeless, Crunch landed a title fight opportunity against Misael Lopez for the vacant American Boxing Federation Continental Americas Super Featherweight belt. He was skeptical of taking the fight because of his current situation. No coach, no trainer, no manager, no home gym. For the time being, he was completely alone. Thanks to his uncle and some loyal friends, James was able to get back on his feet and courageously accepted the fight. His uncle ended up being the coach in his corner for the title fight, emphasizing his lack of resources.
“For a Showtime title fight, my uncle is who worked my corner. I paid for his license in the locker room before the fight.”
The 2018 ABF title fight ended controversially in Oklahoma, handing Crunchtime his first career loss. The fight was competitive, with neither fighter taking complete control of the fight. Then, in the 7th round, Wilkins delivered a shot that dropped Lopez to the canvas.
“I hit him with an overhand right and his glove hit the floor, and I dropped him. And the reason I didn’t hit him again is because I knew he was down, and I didn’t want them to disqualify me.”
The fight went the distance, and the knockdown was ruled a slip. Eventually, the judges gave Lopez the unanimous decision victory, handing him the title. The loss was tough on the young pro, but how he bounces back is what makes him the man he is today.
Crunchtime responded by rattling off 4 straight wins, starting with his first career knockout in a win over Yahir Patino. He had two victories in 2019 against Ricardo Burgos and Luis May, as well as the 2020 victory over Early. The win against May was arguably the most impressive win on his resume. The confidence is building quickly in the young fighter, which should not be mistaken for arrogance.
“I know by me having fun, people think ‘oh he’s young, he’s not disciplined,’ that’s not the case. I’m focused and determined, but at the same time, I give the fans and the people that support us what they come to see: entertainment.”
While making a name for himself, Crunchtime has been surrounded by high profile supporters. Roy Jones Jr. has been one of his trainers since 2017. Spike Lee was once his sponsor. Oscar De Lay Hoya signed him with Golden Boy. Retired Green Bay Packer Donald Driver is his conditioning coach. He’s also not a stranger to the spotlight himself. In 2018 Wilkins was highlighted in the documentary “Cradle of Champions”. The film focused on the battle of three amateur fighters attempting to change their lives through the New York Golden Gloves tournament. The film pointed out the daily struggles that fighters deal with.
“The movie was great, because none of it is acting, it’s all real, every feeling, every emotion, everything attached to that movie was 100% real.”
Crunch was disappointed in how the film put him in a darker light compared to Titus Williams, but ultimately agreed that any publicity is good publicity.
Now sitting at 9-1, Crunchtime is taking his training seriously. I had the opportunity to speak with two of his trainers, Hector Beltran and Carlos Martinez at the S.W.E.A.T. Boxing and Training facility in Irving, Texas. Beltran, who also trains Vergil Ortiz Jr, said “[the] good thing about him is he stays ready, he’s a horse, he’s an animal. There’s no quit in him, he’s always at 100%.” Pair that with the tenacity and strong right hand, and you have yourself a fighter. When asked if he had any weaknesses, both trainers chuckled in response. After a brief pause, Beltran claimed: “if any weaknesses, his emotions”. Crunchtime has been known for getting into confrontations while sparring, often not wanting to quit and having to be pulled off his opponent.
“We love it, it’s a part of boxing, you want an alpha male fighter.” – Hector Beltran
Roy Jones Jr. did a lot for James Wilkins, including giving his approval of Jason Fowler managing the young man under Elite Sports Entertainment & Management Group (ESEMG). Soon after meeting, Crunchtime flew to Dallas and moved in with his new manager, along with Fowler’s wife and kids. While this has put a unique kind of strain on their relationship, it has also brought them closer than most boxer-manager duos. Like his own son, Fowler watches over James and continues to help him on his path to success. To this manager, “the person [Crunchtime] is outside the ring is more important than who he is in the ring.”
“You literally have to have the will power to break another man down, and that’s what I love about boxing, it gives me a rush.”
James Crunchtime Wilkins is a hard-working gym rat who is dedicated to improving his life. With his passion for the sport combined with his connected circle, brighter days are ahead. He’s a good kid who keeps his friends close and his enemies at a distance. When asked about his friends in the boxing world, Crunch said anyone close to my weight, I don’t wanna be your friend, none of that. He doesn’t want to get too comfortable with someone he could potentially match up against. Crunchtime is a confident and powerful fighter who will not rest until he gets what he wants. He takes pride in his skillset and understands he has “a job to do in the ring.” He’s patiently waiting for the call from Golden Boy and hopes to be back in the ring in July.
“I know what I fight for, I fight for my legacy.”
James “Crunchtime” Wilkins is a name the boxing world needs to know. His story has already had its ups and downs, but it’s just getting started. Look for the charismatic fighter to build upon his success as soon as they let him.
Lights. Camera. Action.
Watch the full James ‘Crunchtime’ interview below…
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