Badou Jack embraces underdog role once again in Adonis Stevenson title fight

If there has been a consistent theme throughout the rise of former two-division champion Badou Jack, it's just how overlooked he has been at each turn. 

From his 168-pound title victory over Anthony Dirrell in 2015, all the way through high-profile defenses against George Groves and James DeGale, Jack was listed as the betting underdog coming in. It's a position that Jack, 34, finds himself in once again entering Saturday's showdown for the world light heavyweight title.

Jack (22-1-2, 13 KOs) will travel to enemy territory in Toronto to challenge WBC champion and long-reigning lineal king Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) at the Air Canada Centre (Showtime, 10:05 p.m. ET). The card serves as the main event of a split-site doubleheader which also includes Gary Russell Jr. defending his WBC featherweight title against Joseph Diaz Jr. from Oxon Hill, Maryland. 

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Becoming boxing's most underrated top fighter hasn't been an easy journey yet Jack, a native of Sweden who fights out of Las Vegas, has only continued to impress each time he steps up in competition. 

A soft-spoken and humble fighter, Jack has never been a huge knockout puncher, trash talker or flashy boxer, which might help explain those regularly betting against him. What he is, however, is solid, consistent and tough, which has helped him overcome not just a devastating first-round knockout loss in 2014 but the pressure that comes with being flaunted as the "next big thing" by promoter Floyd Mayweather. 

While Jack continues to sit on the outside looking in of most pound-for-pound top 10 lists, he has finally started to get his due from critics and fans. 

"It's getting better and better, to be honest, but I don't care about people giving me respect or not," Jack told CBS Sports' "In This Corner" podcast on Tuesday. "Just give me the belt and give me the money and I'm good. All the respect will come after that. First you get the money, and then you get the power."

Jack's recent run is as good as any fighter in the game. After twice defending his 168-pound title, he fought to a disputed majority draw against James DeGale in a super middleweight unification bout in January 2017 -- a fight of the year contender that most felt he won. Then, after announcing a move up to light heavyweight, he stopped and retired Nathan Cleverly last August on the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor undercard to win a 175-pound title that he has subsequently vacated. 

"I'm a natural light heavyweight. I could even fight at cruiserweight," Jack admitted. "I should've moved up a long time ago. Everything happens for a reason, and we are here. I feel way stronger and with more energy. Against Cleverly, I was throwing 100 punches a round over the last few rounds.

"[Against DeGale] I didn't take that much punishment. … the fight speaks for itself. Just look at us after the fight. I looked better against Cleverly and I look better and better in each fight. Look at [DeGale], he looked like s--t, to be honest, in his next two fights. That speaks for itself, I don't even have to say nothing. That tells you who won the fight."

Jack is ready to once again jump into the deep end against the very best in the division. Stevenson, 40, who knocked out Chad Dawson in 2013 to win the title, has made eight defenses and is currently boxing's second-longest reigning champion behind Gennady Golovkin. 

While Stevenson serves as the most dangerous challenge of Jack's career, it's a wonder whether the same can be said in reverse, as well. For all of Stevenson's success since becoming an unlikely lineal champ in his late 30s, he has deftly done his best to avoid some of the biggest threats in the division, including Sergey Kovalev and Eleider Alvarez, the latter of whom was his mandatory opponent for two years. 

Jack isn't willing to call Stevenson out as much as many critics and fans are, saying there are two sides to every story, especially when it comes to business. He does give "Superman" credit for agreeing to face him. 

"I'm the king at light heavyweight," Stevenson said during Monday's media day. "I beat the king to become the king. I know that I've accomplished some great things and me and my team plan to continue to do everything we can to stay on top.

"I'm hungry for knockouts. If Badou comes in aggressive, this could end very quickly. You have to step into the ring with me to understand my power. If I connect right just one time, that's it, lights out. We train specifically for knockouts."

Jack has been remarkably durable since his one-punch KO loss to Derek Edwards four years ago, the kind of derailing blow that many top young prospects never recover from. Because of how quickly he was able to regroup and work his way into becoming a champion, Jack has no fear of stepping in front of Stevenson's big left hand and has no issue being the underdog yet again. 

"That whole [Edwards] fight, that don't mean nothing. That was an accident that happened a long time ago," Jack said. "Of course, you've got to be careful with a guy like Adonis Stevenson. People forget, though, that I'm the one who asked him to fight. I've been calling him out and asking for this fight for a long time. If I was too worried about his punching power or whatever, I wouldn't have called him out.

"I'm ready for war regardless of what kind of fight -- whether it's an inside fight, an outside fight or a boxing match. I'm ready for everything that he brings to the table."

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Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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