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Michael B. Jordan on becoming a boxer and being the People’s Champ

Highly anticipated ‘Creed’ sequel showcases Jordan’s commitment to training

Down the hall and around the corner, there’s a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd who just saw a superhero live and an arm’s length away from them. They’re sated. Beyond.

The eclectic audience at this year’s ComplexCon, which is held in downtown Long Beach, California, had a chance to hear from Michael B. Jordan, who wowed international moviegoers months earlier with his portrayal of the emotionally complex character Killmonger, from Ryan Coogler’s most excellent Black Panther.

As Erik Killmonger, Jordan delivered a relatable black guy from Oakland, California, who lost his father at a young age and as a result was displaced by the family he never knew — and the family who never knew he existed. He grew up with hatred in his heart. And, quite frankly, disappointment. He knew that his family on his father’s side had the wherewithal and the resources to make life better for black Americans but, for whatever reason, they weren’t aiding. That pissed him off. He wanted to do something about it. In his own way, he wanted to uplift the people he saw suffering back in the States. And — somewhat surprisingly, considering that Jordan’s character was the archenemy to Chadwick Boseman’s do-gooder Black Panther — it made Killmonger a hero.

But this day in Long Beach, he’s there to drum up support for another hero he brings to life. Jordan’s Adonis is the son of Apollo Creed, the greatest fictional boxer of all time, who was tragically killed in the ring by Soviet Olympic boxer Ivan Drago. Smartly, Coogler crafted a new story for the long-running Rocky franchise years ago and gave Apollo Creed a son he, and the world, never knew he had. That son was ultimately reared by Creed’s widow (Phylicia Rashad), and that son was naturally gifted in the sport that took his dad’s life.

Michael B. Jordan is Creed. And he’s back with the highly anticipated sequel that picks back up on the match that killed Apollo Creed — in this one, Jordan’s Creed fights Drago’s son.

Jordan was barely finished with doing all of the press and promotion for Black Panther when he had to swing-shift into bringing Creed to life again. Almost immediately after the film opened in February, Jordan headed back to Philadelphia to begin intense training to get him back into light heavyweight boxer shape.

And to, quite frankly, get ready to resurrect a tangible representation of a superhero — the familiar sports trope of the burgeoning, underdog athlete whom fans want to see become victorious when he battles the big guy.

“Ryan and I … were trying to figure out this character that was complicated, that was layered, that seemed somehow relatable to people. Coming through systemic oppression but also having a valid argument. Take myself out of it, there were moments in the movie that you would look at and be like, ‘Oh, wow, I understand what he’s saying. I feel that.’ But then he goes off and kills something really quickly. You’re like, ‘Oh, no, he can’t be on this side!’ That character [was] kind of more of the people’s champ in a sense,” Jordan said, pausing to take a sip of water while we’re hiding out away from the crowd in a private room inside the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center. “He was, like, for all the people that don’t have a voice, I’m going to be that voice for you. For the lost tribe … for African-Americans … I represented that voice, and that anger and that hurt and that pain. And it was a necessary conversation. [But] I think Adonis is, like you said, more tangible. He looks and feels a little bit more like somebody that you would run across. But I wanted him to be flawed as well, to go through real struggles of identity, of knowing who you were, of living in your father’s shadow that you haven’t even met. Growing up without a father. Having daddy issues, for the most part. And what it means to be a man. What it means to be a father when he starts his own family. And legacy, what he wants to build, what he wants to become.”

That transition seemed natural for Jordan. But it was more than figuring out how to move into a new space and into a new genre of film. So much of what creates Creed is his physical presence as a boxer, and even though the actor shared much of his training to get into fighting shape on Instagram, audiences still will likely be wowed and marvel at his actual physical transformation in Creed II. This film is far more physical than the original, and it required Jordan to step it up.

Fantastic Four was the first time when I first met Corey [Calliet] — he’s my trainer — and started to change my body. When we did the first Creed, my body was the best it’s ever been, in shape as a boxer. When we did Black Panther, it was the evolution on top of that. So we already had a great core and structure because now you have a nice muscle base that you’re working with,” Jordan shared. “We built upon that. Less cardio, more mass. I wanted to be big — somebody in the superhero world, I wanted to physically look intimidating or as intimidating as I could standing next to T’Challa. And then you take that base, and then you build on it again, and you strip it down and you get back into more of a fighter shape, living like a fighter, eating like a fighter. Eating six times a day, you’re working out, doing cardio in the morning, faster cardio in the morning and then doing cardio at night. Boxing, I’m running, I’m swimming. Man, sleeping when I can, rest and recovery is so important. Just hard work. And just putting in the time, lifting weights.”

And Jordan absolutely surprised himself with what his body was physically capable of doing.

“One thousand percent,” he said, shaking his head in agreement. “I never thought I could physically look the way I did. Your mind is also a crazy muscle. So we filmed the boxing over the course of nine days, 10 days. If I had to do one more day, I physically probably couldn’t have done it. On the last day, as soon as we finished the last shot, the next day I got sick. Bedridden. I couldn’t even get out of bed.”

That was all from the sheer physicality of boxing and going through the fight scenes.

“It’s like my mind had a mission, it had a finish line. And once I got through the mission, then my body was like, ‘OK, you can shut down now.’ And the same thing happening during the first Creed. Once we set that deadline and my mind said, ‘All right, all you’ve got to do is get there.’ And once I get there, my body was already shot probably two days before,” Jordan said. “But for whatever reason, your mind pushes your body to limits that you didn’t know you had until you finish the job. Then after, it would shut down on you. So that’s what happened.”

The boxing montage was the last thing filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. shot, enabling Jordan’s body to transform while they’re actually shooting the film.

“So during the montage I was really working out. Me and Corey and everybody else were really getting it, running. It was hot, and this was towards the end of the movie, so I’m run down at that point. I was running on fumes during that montage,” Jordan said. “But we had to give it the energy and the feel as if it was like it was right before that last fight. And I think we accomplished that.”

The first Creed was a box-office darling. The 2015 film grossed an impressive $173 million — the Tuesday night preview grabbed $1.4 million, which was a box-office record for a Thanksgiving week release — and it solidified Coogler’s filmmaking abilities. Creed also was quite critically acclaimed, as it nabbed a Golden Globe win for Sylvester Stallone, who also earned a best supporting actor Academy Award nomination; Coogler, Jordan and Tessa Thompson all earned awards from the African-American Film Critics Association, and the film landed on several top-10 lists that year.

That this sequel is coming on the heels of a successful launch of the first film and following such an epic moment for Jordan in Black Panther is also indescribable for Jordan. There’s pressure there — and the actor is ready for it.

“When you have a smash hit album, everybody’s looking for what they do next. So you have this dope, this movie that crushed all these ceilings, broke through all these stereotypes, shut all these records. And as an ensemble, it was a great cast. Big story, under Marvel banner, which historically does well. But not like that,” Jordan said. “So now to come back on a film that’s more rested on my shoulders as front and center — my film — it means a lot. And I think that’s why I put so much into it to make sure that it was going to be right. And I’m really curious to see how people are going to react to it, react to the film, react to the performance … just in general after a film like Black Panther.”

And maybe Jordan has another superhero character to bring to life. In September came so many rumors about Jordan being on a short list to play the next Superman. A black actor becoming everyone’s beloved Clark Kent? Michael B. Jordan becoming Superman?

Why the heck not?

“Humbled. I think I’m very humbled. Because these are the things I was fighting for coming up in my career. When I used to get frustrated while I only go out for these more stereotypical roles and wanted to go out for this role or that role. And some casting directors wouldn’t even see me for roles that were written specifically for African-Americans. So now to get to a point where my journey has helped push the narrative and opened people’s eyes to what can be and what should be universal, I feel amazing,” Jordan said. “And the fact that people do consider me for all these other roles, it’s exactly what I want. And the fact that I’m getting that is sometimes surreal and really humbling. So keep them coming.”

Jordan pauses after speaking and drops his head a bit before looking back up.

“I can’t do everything,” he said before laughing. “I can’t do everything, but that’s the beauty of it. If I can’t, and someone like me can, that’s a goal, that’s a win across the board. That means that they can open their eyes to anybody else. And that’s a win.”

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment reporter and the host of Another Act at Andscape. She can act out every episode of the U.S. version of The Office, she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.