From boxing video games to actually living out his dream in a boxing ring, Ja’Mykle Wade is just beginning to discover the fruits of his hard labor at West Monroe’s Boxing Gym.

A journey that now finds the 2014 West Monroe High School graduate defending his American Boxing Organization Junior Middleweight Championship (154 pounds) began when Wade attended the Ouachita Parish Alternative Center as a 14-year-old boy. Wade’s only interaction with boxing came via Fight Night Round 2, where he spent hours playing as his favorite boxer in the game, Evander Holyfield. Then Sparky McDuffie entered Wade’s life.

Imagine the look on Wade’s face when he saw boxers like Holyfield throughout the walls of McDuffie’s West Monroe Boxing Club for the first time.

“During P.E. time, I would bring kids over here and let them work out,” McDuffie said. “He was one of the ones that really took to it.”

Shortly after that first interaction, Wade began his amateur boxing career. He compiled a 6-3 amateur record before graduating from West Monroe and attending Louisiana Delta Community College. That’s when he took a roughly two-year hiatus from boxing, but little did he know, boxing wasn’t his past. It was his future.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” said Wade, as he recalled his college days. “I kept thinking I could have been at a certain level by now, so I just kept thinking about what I could have done.”

Wade finally put words to action when he returned to McDuffie’s gym in 2016 to start his professional boxing career. Wade does some landscaping work on the side, while he puts approximately two-and-a-half hours in the gym daily. If you ask McDuffie, he’d like to see those hours spent in the gym increase, and the reason for that is Wade’s growing potential.

Wade’s bright future was revealed in his first professional loss. Wade entered a fight against undefeated Arturo Marquez in El Paso, Texas with a 2-0-1 professional record back in 2017. The bout drew the eyes of several in the sport because of Wade’s opponent. Marquez is the son of Raul Marquez, who is a former professional boxer and IBF champion and is currently broadcasting for Showtime.

“(Wade) fought on HBO Latino, and even though he lost the decision, that was one of his best fights,” McDuffie said. “That’s when we saw that he had some potential. That was a heck of a fight.”

The reason why Wade’s fights were so entertaining was because of his willingness to engage his opponent. Early into Wade’s career, he was looking to either finish the fight with a knockout or get knocked out in the process. That line of thinking drove his trainer insane.

“If you’re a spectator it’s great to watch, but it’s not as fun in the corner,” McDuffie said.

As a result, Wade endured ups and downs over the next couple of years. After a TKO loss to Christon Edwards last June, a title opportunity arrived for Wade. Michael Lemelle was willing to give Wade a shot at the belt in Dallas last October. It would be a six-round bout against a champion in Texas, and Wade knew it was imperative to change his approach and become a more patient fighter to get a victory.

The strategy didn’t work out in the first round. Lemelle got the better of Wade, as Wade was caught thinking rather than reacting.

“I was just trying not to get knocked out,” Wade said. “I was thinking of all the different ways I could get hit or caught with a punch. But once the first round went by, I got into the groove.”

He didn’t just get into the groove. He out-boxed the champion for the next five round, McDuffie said.

“His last few fights, he’s been patient and has gotten stronger in every round,” he said. “He was an underdog in that title fight. Of course, any time you fight somebody in their home state, go to Texas like that, you’re usually the underdog.”

Wade defended his title on Jan. 31 against Blake Franklin in Shreveport. Wade defeated Franklin with a vicious uppercut and scored his third knockout victory of his young career. The win gave Wade a 6-4-1 boxing record, but more importantly that that, it has given Wade a newfound confidence moving forward.

It’s also given the champ plenty of options. McDuffie said just last week he had an offer for Wade to fight on Showtime, but the bout was going to take place too soon after Wade’s previous fight. He also had an offer to fight in Philadelphia in March.

“We try to look at the total picture with these things, like the opponent, where the fight would take place, the money and the number of rounds,” McDuffie said. “We’re not going to rush anything. It’s about finding what’s right for him.”

Fresh off of back-to-back victories, Wade is hoping to string together a five-fight win streak. But that’s just the short-term goals. The bigger goals involve a green belt.

“I need that (World Boxing Council) belt,” Wade said.

McDuffie couldn’t help but smile.

“That’s what you have to have in this,” McDuffie said. “You have to set your goals just like in anything and just go after them. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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