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Interview: Nicholas Axeman Walters talks Boxing, Reggae and Dancehall

Interview: Nicholas Axeman Walters talks Boxing, Reggae and Dancehall

Interview: Nicholas Axeman Walters talks Boxing, Reggae and Dancehall

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"Jamaica has a strong reggae background and a strong boxing background"

Nicholas “Axeman” Walters is the WBA world featherweight super champion. An exciting knockout artist, he’s also the first Jamaican boxer to win a world title on home soil.

Nicholas was born and raised in Montego Bay, amidst a large boxing family. His father Job was a professional fighter who campaigned in the same weight class, amassing 12 wins and 7 losses.

The younger Walters turned pro himself in 2008 but due to a lack of promotional opportunities in Jamaica relocated to Panama – where he now trains.

Like many a Jamaican youth, Axeman grew up around reggae and dancehall. His cousin is aspiring deejay Fire 5 and when Nicholas won the vacant world belt from Daulis Prescott in December 2012, Sizzla Kalonji performed at the National Indoor Sports Centre. His nickname the Axeman and 5’ 7” stature call to mind the Wailers lyric “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe”.

United Reggae spoke to the Axeman in Panama, where he was back in training, after a bout of the flu, in preparation for his defence against former amateur opponent and fellow puncher Miguel Marriaga this weekend. He talked about how music shapes who he is and his achievements in the ring.

Nicholas Axeman Walters

Your father is professional boxer Job Walters so boxing in your blood.

Most definitely. Boxing has been in my blood from a tender age. I started boxing at age seven. Jamaica has a strong background of boxers and strong champions. The boxing went down after a while but we still have strong champions.

Jamaica has punched above its population size in both music and boxing. Trevor Berbick, Mike McCallum and Glen Johnson are well known to overseas boxing fans.

We have Mike McCallum, we have Glen Johnson, we have Lennox Lewis who is Jamaican and also a strong champion. We have Simon Brown. Whenever we do get a champion we have a strong champion.

I love culture reggae music like Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Beresford Hammond

What was your favourite music growing up in Montego Bay?

My favourite music is a lot of music. As you say, Jamaica has a strong background for music. I love culture reggae music like Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Beresford Hammond. We have quite a few great artists and great musics so I couldn’t say just one music. Music is in my background, music in general. Me personally, I’m a lover of music.

What was playing in your home growing up?

Roots reggae, lovers music and soul music. But on the street we mostly listened to hardcore reggae music and dancehall music.

Your father must remember when Joe Frazier fought George Foreman at the Nation Stadium in 1973 - that era inspired a lot of great reggae songs.

It was a little bit before my time but he was in Jamaica at that time! It was most definitely a historical moment that fight in Jamaica. Not only did it inspire us in boxing but in music also.

I guess training you didn't go to many parties and sound system dances - how much music you exposed to?

A fair amount. Growing up in Jamaica I wasn’t in neglect of anything. I was - how can I put it now? – introduced to pretty much anything because where I grew up was definitely in the ghetto. I grew up in a good loving home but in boy life, you get a chance to do a little of everything.

Where I grew up was definitely in the ghetto

Who were your favourite artists as a kid?

In my time it was definitely Beenie Man, Buju Banton, Bounty Killer, a little bit of Ninjaman. Capleton and Sizzla Kalonji. Mr Vegas, Sean Paul and Mr Lexx. These were the artists that were definitely running in my time growing up. As I said, we were mostly into dancehall reggae music which was running things back then.

Did you grow up with any artists?

Local artists in my community that sang and deejayed. But in terms of big artists from Montego Bay there were definitely very few at the time.

Queen Ifrica is one who artist who is local to you. Did you know her growing up?

No because Queen Ifrica started not too long ago in music. In my time it was more Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Mr Lexx and those guys.

You relocated to Panama as a professional because you didn’t feel Jamaica had an active enough boxing scene.

Nicholas Axeman WaltersIn Panama there is definitely more competition, more events, more fight cards and boxers can be more active in Panama so my manager Mr Jaques Deschamps decided to have me move over there to do some work. We went over there and we liked the environment and the atmosphere and we just stuck over there.

At the time when you were growing up listening to dancehall, reggae artists increasingly went abroad to perform for the foreign markets. Would you say reggae in Jamaica has faced similar challenges as boxing?

The foundation for reggae music in Jamaica is well set. Reggae music in Jamaica is more like athletics in Jamaica – the road is already paved. Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, they definitely paved the way for reggae music. So reggae music doesn’t really face the challenge that boxing fights in Jamaica. Reggae music in the world is in almost every country. I’m in Panama where they speak Spanish and you can go to almost every house or every street and you hear a DJ playing reggae music. It’s like you’re in Jamaica. The people will be singing reggae music like they are English but when you check it out they speak Spanish. So reggae music in Jamaica is well set and in the world it’s well set. The road is already paved.

Reggae music in Jamaica is like athletics in Jamaica – the road is already paved

While you have been in Panama have you had the chance to interact with any of the great Panamanian boxers of the past like Roberto Duran and Eusebio Pedroza?

Most definitely. In Panama I got to meet quite a few of the past world champions and they are good friends of mine. Roberto Duran is a good friend of mine personally and we have been invited to the same events so we hook up, we talk and sit down together. Not only do I get the chance to meet some of the superstars in boxing from Panama but I also get points and instructions from them for my young career so I’m very blessed.

What do you think of the music scene in Panama?

Panama people really love Jamaica. They gravitate to Jamaica and reggae music. On Fridays there are clubs that only play Jamaican music. One day a week they only play reggae music. The people that like reggae music like it all day and all night – they love Jamaican music. Some of the local artists tend to take a Jamaican beat and put the Spanish to it so you have a Jamaican beat with Spanish music. The music is Jamaican based.

Kalonji is a friend of mine and he is one of Jamaica's most talented artists

What was it like having Sizzla perform when you won the WBA featherweight title from Daulis Prescott?

Kalonji is a friend of mine and he is one of Jamaica’s most talented artists right now. He is very influential in good music and I was very happy that he was the one that came out and took me into the ring. His music was so strong and so positive that there was no way you could lose after going into the ring with such a strong performance by Kalonji.

Sizzla told me that boxing is not violent - it is youths using their athleticism to get out of ghetto.

(laughs) That’s what I’m telling you. Jamaicans and Jamaica have a strong boxing background. The Jamaican people – they love boxing. It went down for a few years but it’s coming up now, it’s coming back and we’re catching up. As I say, Jamaica has a strong reggae background and a strong boxing background also.

Your cousin is a dancehall artist and created your theme song Axe Man.

Yes my cousin Fire 5 is a young artist in Jamaica and we are promoting him right now for 2015 and in 2016 the radio will be blazing with Fire 5. He’s a very inspirational young talent and I use his music to take me into the premier fights. In other fights coming up just now he will be the artist who will bring me into the ring and his music will be what I walk into the ring with whoever I’m fighting. Good music, strong music, a song especially done for the Axeman - it doesn’t get better than that.

At one point there was talk of him performing at Sting 2014.

Yeah he was supposed to perform the song but the problem is that Sting got overbooked. But we have other shows lined up for him just now and we are setting up things for him. There is not only boxing in the family but music also. We’re definitely pushing Fire 5 100%.

There is not only boxing in the family but music also

Is anyone else in your family doing music?

His younger brother is a DJ who actually plays the music. He selects the music at different sound systems and different events. He plays at local dances in our community and in the city so music and boxing is definitely in the family. If you have an event then hook him up – DJ Brandish – and he will come and play for the night.

You are also preparing a special ring walk mix of your cousin’s theme with a sample of the first line of Bob Marley’s Bad Card “You a go tired fe see mi face – can’t get me out of the race”.

Yeah definitely. In Panama I go out to Bob Marley music. I walked out to Bob Marley Buffalo Soldier. In Macao the other day to fight Vic Darchinyan I went out to the Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff also. Just now we are promoting Fire 5 and pushing his music but Bob Marley, Dennis Brown and Jimmy Cliff – these are definitely artists that we will be using when we go out to fight also.

Reggae/dancehall is great music for a ring walk. Lennox Lewis has walked out to Bob Marley and Capleton, Glen Johnson has done it to Sizzla, Nigel Benn in the UK used to go out to Conroy Smith.

Most definitely. It’s inspiring music. If you are going out into a battle you want to hear the music that gives you that push and gives you the movements and that motivation to get into the ring. These artists and reggae music definitely do that for you.

If you are going into a battle you want to hear music that gives you that push... reggae music does that for you

Right now there is a new wave of Rasta artists in Jamaica. Would you consider walking out to Warrior or Here Comes Trouble by Chronixx?

Chronixx is a boom artist. A top artist. Chronixx is a very young artist but definitely very tough. He’s not an easy artist to walk over. People really love Chronixx and I personally love the music of Chronixx. Songs like Here Comes Trouble, when we go into the streets of Panama you hear us rocking Chronixx in my car going to the gym because we’re going to have a tough workout and meditating with some Chronixx. So definitely a boxer would like to go out to music like a Bob Marley, a Kalonji a Chronixx a Jimmy Cliff. It’s tough music and he’s a good artist also.

Nicholas Axeman Walters

Favourite dancehall artist:

There are so many that you are putting me in a tough position to pick just one artist! Vybz Kartel, Popcaan, Konshens. New young artists you have Jahvinci.

Favourite reggae artist:

The king of reggae would definitely be Bob Marley, the prince of reggae would be Dennis Brown. Bob Marley is a hero in Jamaica and all over the world.

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