“Honestly, I’ve never felt better.”
Jimmy Lange shares his enthusiastic spirit with a confident southern drawl. He’s answering the 3rd or 4th question I’ve asked him. “I’ve learned a lot, I’ve studied a lot, and I’ve really learned my body. I feel better now. The things that I do in the so-called ‘offseason,’ with all of the maintenance work that I do, has kept me in better shape than when I was 20.” A lot has happened since Jimmy Lange was 20 years old. Fame on the boxing reality show “The Contender” brought his likeable demeanor to the public’s attention; his steadfast boxing ability and fighting spirit has kept him there. At age 20, Jimmy was a still a couple years away from making his professional debut; he was just another aspiring kid from Virginia who lived to fight. 15 years earlier, the 5 year old Jimmy Lange was brought by his father to a gym in Falls Church, a small city in Fairfax County, VA. It has been a long and winding road from then until now, a road Jimmy continues with great vigor. “I’m really happy; I’m having a lot of fun. I’m on the right path. I feel with every win, I get closer to where I want to be. I just take one thing at a time, and first and foremost I just have to win. I have to keep winning; I think that my job is to win and beat whoever they put in front of me.”
A few weeks ago, an opponent named Jimmy Holmes was put in front of him. “Jimmy Holmes was a sight unseen. I had never seen anything on him. I didn’t even know what he looked like until the weigh in!” The hometown hero was the main attraction for that evening, which took place at George Mason University’s Patriot Center, a venue that has housed 12 of Jimmy’s last 13 bouts. Cheered on by his beloved hometown fans, Jimmy cruised to a 10 round majority decision, though the fight wasn’t an easy one; Holmes proved to be a rugged brawler who was in there to win. “He was kind of a gangly, lanky, long, gritty guy. He was real tough, a little bit of pop on his punches. It turned into a pretty tactical, dirty fight. He was a dirty fighter; and I say that with all do respect because I don’t believe that he was intentionally dirty. I know neither one of us were intentionally dirty. I just think that’s how it unfolded. Our heads clashed a lot; there were a lot of low blows.” Lange weathered the storm, winning with scores of 97-92 on all 3 judges’ scorecards. “I boxed him, moved, kept him on the end of the jab, and I was successful. He was able to get inside on me, and that was where a lot of the extra-curricular stuff happened. It was just a gritty, good, professional boxing match.”
Just a gritty, good, professional boxer can be a way to describe Jimmy Lange. Actually, it’s perfect…but he’s better than that. Under his spirited instinct to engage in a firefight, you’ll find the subtle boxing ability that has been honed for years and years in the gym. He’s a fighter the world fell in love with on “The Contender,” and like a band that enjoys success for a time with a few hits before touring in front of a niche crowd, Jimmy bides his time racking up wins in front of adoring fans, just one big hit away from the world falling in love with him all over again. To make sure that he’s ready when the next big opportunity comes along, he puts in the work. “I’m a fit person, I have a healthy lifestyle and I keep my weight within striking distance of Middleweight. I don’t blow up like a lot of guys do. I’ve learned nutrition. I’ve learned how important it is to just live a healthy lifestyle. You can’t beat yourself up, it’s like an automobile. The more wear and tear you put on it, the less you’re going to get out of it at the end of the day.”
Jimmy takes inspiration from one of the best. “I watched Bernard Hopkins and watched how serious he was. Bernard Hopkins is not just some tough guy who is a phenomenon. Bernard Hopkins does what he has to do to stay where he’s at and to be where he’s at. There’s nothing magical about Bernard Hopkins. He’s all work. It’s smart. It’s doing what he has to do to remain disciplined. There ain’t no shortcuts in this game. This is a game of work and doing the right stuff. The actual contest is the truth serum for what you did in preparation. The actual contest…that’s the courtroom brother.”
Looking back, Jimmy remembers it as a time in his life like no other.
“I view it as one hell of a memory. That’s what life is, you make memories. What a time man. It was a lot of fun; it was an overwhelming experience for a guy who really had never been on that kind of a stage before. One minute I’m living in the suburbs of Virginia, the next minute I’m living in a loft with Sugar Ray Leonard and Sylvester Stallone for 10 weeks!”
When “The Contender” first aired on NBC in 2005, it was met with excitement from the casual viewer who hadn’t seen boxing on prime-time terrestrial television for years. It gave the average TV fan the opportunity to watch 16 prize-fighters compete in a format that was familiar to them, even if it was a format unrealistic for the fighters themselves. “It was a reality show about boxing that was very unrealistic. You didn’t know who you were fighting until the morning of the fight; you lived with 16 guys, you could fight any of ‘em at anytime. You never knew when you were gonna fight, or who you were going to fight. You didn’t train; the training was pretty much set up. You trained on your own. On top of that, you had what they would call a ‘challenge’ the day before a fight that was just grueling! You’re carrying logs up hills and pulling pick-up trucks and things like that…so it was unrealistic reality…but every single one of us signed up, we knew what we were getting into. I think we all benefited. Whoever didn’t benefit from it, I think it was their own fault.” On the show, Jimmy was placed on the ‘East Coast’ team, losing his first fight on the show to Joey Gilbert. As the show came to an end, Lange was voted back on to fight in a “fan favorite” bout. It was there where he beat contestant Tarick Salmaci in a majority decision. “I don’t watch reality shows, but I would assume that reality shows are popular because people like the contestants. Just like you’ll pick a football team you like, they’ll pick a contestant they’ll like. It was made for the casual viewer; it was not made for the boxing guru.” With exposure from “The Contender”, the casual viewer and the boxing guru became fans of Jimmy Lange. “I know it’s a cliché, people saying: ‘I have the best fans in the world’; but I really believe that my fans are the best in the world. I couldn’t do it without my fans.” Jimmy refers back to fans time and time again. You get the sense that he truly feels the need to fulfill the expectations of those who come to watch him fight. Judging by the way Jimmy fights, his fighting style seemingly programmed for great action fights, you never feel let down. Its part of the reason he is still relevant to both the casual fan, and the boxing guru. That’s important to him.
Everything is important.
The fans, the fights, the lifestyle, the family…they are all small victories for Jimmy Lange.
Boxing is not an easy sport, and it’s even less easy to maintain the overall lifestyle of a boxer. It has however, enabled Jimmy to live this life of small victories; victories that grow in the form of larger successes. Putting that in context, I’m reminded of the 1st question I asked Jimmy, which was how his most recent win over Jimmy Holmes felt.
“Every win is good. They’re all tough…and they all feel good.”