EMOTIONALLY HIGH OFF a huge payday, Shakur Stevenson felt like it was time to get iced out.
He had just claimed the WBO interim junior lightweight title after cruising past Jeremiah Nakathila. His 24th birthday was right around the corner. So, Stevenson decided to spoil himself with a gift: a chunky, diamond-encrusted chain with his initials, SS, as a flashy charm.
Stevenson wanted to splurge. However, his co-manager James Prince, aka J. Prince, wanted to put things in perspective.
“I wanted to go buy another chain. But I didn’t have a house yet. I didn’t have none of that set, so he sat me down and pointed me in the direction of getting a house,” Stevenson said of Prince. “That’s more important than going out here to buy a couple of chains and jewelry and watches.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m trying to be out here looking good. I’m tryna have the chain,'” he explained. “But I actually listened to him and I feel like that was one of the smartest moves to do now that I’m in the situation I’m in. It feels good to have my own spot that I can come to, I live at and I feel secure. He definitely guided me in the right direction.”
That relationship and the guidance that came with it began a number of years ago when Stevenson, then an amateur boxer, met Prince through a mutual friend, Antonio Leonard. Stevenson then played pool with Prince, stayed at his home and bonded through casual conversation.
They grew closer as Stevenson went through the 2016 Olympic experience of winning a silver medal. Stevenson says Prince never chased him strongly to become his manager, at least not outwardly, but a bond was instead formed through conversations about boxing history. Gradually, talks emerged of personal business plans, and it was the personable nature of Prince that eventually made Stevenson want to sign with him.
Stevenson, originally from New Jersey, now lives in Houston — the same city where Prince built his empire as one of the most respected men in the hip-hop industry as founder and CEO of Rap-A-Lot Records.
His business acumen helped inspire fellow Southern hip-hop moguls such as Master P of No Limit Records and Birdman of Cash Money Records, and J. Prince directly mentored legendary rap stars Drake, Scarface and Bun B along the way.
“When you talk about J. Prince, he’s the godfather of this,” Master P told ESPN. “When you talk about hip-hop and even in this boxing thing, I’ve seen a lot of great managers, but I haven’t seen a Black man at this position, where people follow your leadership, people want to be with you and even a guy that’s gonna fight for the people he loves.”
And Prince has fought for Stevenson. Along with co-manager Josh Dubin, Prince feels that the stage he’s on now is the one that they’ve always envisioned for their boxer, ever since they began doing business. On Saturday, Stevenson (16-0, 8 KOs) enters arguably the toughest bout of his career, against Jamel Herring (23-2, 11 KOs). Herring’s WBO junior lightweight title will be on the line in the main event of a Top Rank card at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
“Right now is perfect timing. The work has been put in. The development has taken place and it’s time for us to go and claim and receive what’s ours,” Prince said. “We’ve been on the radar for quite a while and we allowed different things to take place, but we’re looking forward to Atlanta — one of the places that I love dearly down in the South. And we’re gonna deliver to this man an ass whooping of his life. Straight up.”
PRINCE WAS ALREADY successful in his own right well before boxing. When he founded Rap-A-Lot Records in 1987, he built the blueprint for Southern independent rap labels to follow after experiencing massive success with legendary artists such as Scarface, the Geto Boys, Pimp C, Bun B, Devin the Dude, Tela and many others.
But he wasn’t satisfied. Boxing was his first love. As a kid he wanted to box, and as he grew up he wanted to be in the presence of boxers. Ultimately he decided he wanted to break into the industry as a manager.
Around the turn of the century, Prince built a boxing gym in Houston. Then, as he often does regarding the biggest decisions in his life, he got on his knees to pray to God for a boxing world champion.
In 1999, he traveled to Las Vegas and set up a meeting with Mike Tyson, but his trip took an unexpected turn. While in a Vegas gym, Prince was repeatedly approached by a young Floyd Mayweather, who was a big fan of his record label.
Mayweather exchanged information with Prince, and when Tyson ghosted him after their meeting, Prince began working with Mayweather. Prince’s tenure with Mayweather lasted until 2003, ending due to a conflict over finances, but for Prince the highlight of the partnership was his encouragement of Mayweather to face an unbeaten Diego Corrales in 2001. Mayweather won via 10th-round TKO, after Mayweather dropped Corrales five times.
“Me and Floyd is cool right now. We’re cool. We communicate. We have a mutual respect,” Prince said. “I’m proud of what he’s done and I appreciate the opportunity that he gave me, because he gave me my first opportunity in boxing and I ain’t looked back since. … He tells me that he loves me and appreciates me all the time because he understands what I’ve done for his career as well. We’re both at a peaceful spot in our lives.”
Working with Mayweather gave Prince credibility to manage other boxers, including a number of other champions. Prince has guided Andre Ward, Winky Wright and now Stevenson. His current stable at JPrince Boxing includes more than 15 fighters, with Stevenson and rising heavyweight Jared “Big Baby” Anderson the biggest names.
“One of the key roles of a manager is to protect your fighter. And you have to protect your fighter in a combination of ways,” Prince said. “Boxing is a cutthroat business, just like the entertainment industry, and a lot of promoters have robbed fighters for decades and centuries. One of my objectives as a manager was to [stop the process] that [promoters] had been doing for years, like cheating [their boxers] out of their hard-earned money after they get in the ring and risk their lives.”
When Prince first decided to make the transition from music mogul to boxing manager, Scarface had no doubt he would be successful, based on his track record.
“Everything that James does is calculated. And it’s a lot of thinking and a lot of wisdom that comes behind his moves. Like, he don’t just do s—on the whim,” Scarface said. “The wins, the losses … everything. He already knows.”
Scarface credits Prince for helping him make it in the rap industry, after he was raised by his grandparents in the hood in Houston. Just as Prince has been the guiding light in the careers of many young boxers, he looked out for Scarface and helped him thrive. They’ve had their ups and downs over the years, mainly through business, but that brotherhood is currently as strong as ever.
“I couldn’t have made it without him and that’s vice versa when you ask him,” Scarface said. “It wasn’t gonna happen no other way.”
Boxing manager J. Prince speaks to ESPN about his close bond with rising star Shakur Stevenson. Prince, also the CEO of Rap-A-Lot records, is well respected in the music industry and has worked with Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward through the years. Video
WARD WAS 18 and had just lost his father to a sudden heart attack in 2002 when he received a cold call from Prince.
Ward had surprisingly missed a national boxing tournament, and his love for the sport was quickly fading without his father’s guidance.
Prince had heard about Ward’s potential and tracked him down. Ward, open and honest with Prince on the call, told him he didn’t know if he wanted to pursue boxing anymore. He just wanted to figure his life out.
“I think your gift is to be in that ring and I would love to see you back in that ring,” Prince told Ward. “I don’t know you, but from what I’m hearing, it’s nothing we can’t overcome.”
Their relationship grew after that initial interaction. After Ward won gold at the 2004 Olympics, he decided to sign with Prince. Ward credits Prince as being one of the folks to help him get back on track in the midst of that dark period. Prince helped Ward fall back in love with the sport.
It wasn’t always perfect. Like with Mayweather, Prince and Ward also had an uncomfortable financial dispute. In 2008, Ward filed a lawsuit against Prince after a disagreement over his contract. After being served, Prince filed a suit in return to defend his position.
The lawsuits were active for less than a month, as they hashed things out during an intense California meeting, with their pastors navigating the conversation for several hours. In the end, they came to an agreement. When big amounts of money came into the picture, the conversation had got complicated.
“I fought just as hard outside the ring, just as hard as I did inside the ring, and I just wanted J to understand that,” Ward said. “Unfortunately, it took a lawsuit to sort of get his attention, but at that point, after the lawsuits were filed, we started speaking to one another and not past one another.”
Prince has gained respect as a shrewd businessman over the years, and despite some complications in regards to financial deals, Ward says Prince truly cares about his fighters.
“J’s impact runs deep. His roots in the game run deep and the impact he has, a lot of times are not seen a lot of times, because they’re offline,” Ward said. “Trying to help individuals like myself, now Shakur and others with their personal life, their finances, their taxes, their lifestyles, relationships that they’re in and just helping them navigate those kinds of things, those things don’t hit the headlines.”
THE DEPTH TO which Prince cares about those he manages runs deep. It’s now on display with Stevenson, whose bond with Prince goes beyond business to their personal relationship.
Prince often meshes his hip-hop roots with boxing, like when he brings Stevenson and Scarface together for card games at his home.
“Oh, he’s a star. He just can’t play no spades,” Scarface said with a laugh, while speaking of Stevenson. “Helluva fighter, one of the best, but when he sits down at the spades table with me, he’s second best.”
Through stories from Mayweather and Ward, Stevenson is aware of Prince’s no-nonsense reputation. However, that hasn’t driven Stevenson to fear Prince. He respects him.
Their relationship is one of many reasons why Stevenson is in the position he’s in to challenge Herring for his crown. Prince has provided Stevenson with not only the guidance he’s needed, but the protection, too. He’s protected Stevenson from taking fights too soon, from making bad investments, from letting stardom get to his head.
After working with so many stars of the sport over the years, Prince did what he could to keep Stevenson focused on his tasks at hand. Not on a diamond chain.
“I came up as the oldest of nine. My whole dream and everything started from me wanting to provide for my family,” Stevenson said. “I guess, when you’re getting older and stuff like that, I was thinking about that chain and you’ll lose sight of certain things that are really more important than anything. But somebody like J will put you right back on track and show you what you’re doing this for. Just seeing how he is with his family, it’s just real motivation. I want to be that type of way with my family when I get older and up in age.
“It’s way deeper than business. J looks at me like family. It feels like to me that he treats me like his own son,” he added. “He’s got his own sons out here, so the fact that I feel like he treats me like his own son makes me feel good and welcome to even be around him.”