|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - August 18, 2014||
FOR MIKE JONES
Story & File Photo by John DiSanto
If anyone asked me a year, or even six months ago, if I ever expected to see Philadelphia welterweight Mike Jones back in the ring again, I would probably have said Ďnoí. Itís been more than two years since his last fight, and that fight had the look of a career-killer. Randall Bailey knocked Jones cold with a right uppercut and obliterated his championship dreams in an instant. It was a devastating loss, and he hasnít fought since. As the months, and years passed by, it seemed more and more certain that Mike Jones was gone for good.
However this weekend, Jones, 26-1, 19 KOs, will finally reappear at Ballyís Atlantic City, in a 10-round welterweight fight against Jaime Herrera, 11-2, 6 KOs, promoted by Peltz Boxing. I canít wait to see this comeback. After that loss and the long layoff that followed, questions about Jones abound. Can he come back? What does he have left? Where is his head? And especially, two years after the Bailey fight, who is Mike Jones?
Since we saw him last, heís done his best to change everything. So it remains to be seen what Ė and who Ė heíll be on Saturday night.
In the Bailey fight, Jonesí career went up in flames. After 26 straight wins, 19 of them by knockout, the #1 ranked contender suffered his first-ever defeat in a fight for the vacant IBF 147-pound championship. That was June 9, 2012. Ever since that date, Mike Jones has been a ghost. No fights. No interviews. Very few sightings.
The moment the Bailey fight ended, with Jones lying flat on his back, blood splashed all over his face, the Philly contender seemed to make a conscious effort to change almost everything in his life Ė both personally and professionally.
Jones vacated Philadelphia and moved himself, and that huge chip on his shoulder, out to Las Vegas, and uprooted his personal life. Business wise, he dumped his longtime trainer Vaughn Jackson, tried to split with his managers (Doc Nowicki & Jimmy Williams), and did his best to tolerate his promoter (J Russell Peltz). Unable to sever ties with Nowicki, Williams and Peltz, due to rock-solid contracts, Jones did his best to keep his distance. About 3,000 miles.
Over the past two years or so, I regularly asked anyone connected to Jones how he was doing, what he was doing, and when weíd see him back in the ring again. No one ever knew. No one had even talked to him. I tried e-mailing Mike several times, asking him for an interview. The few times he answered me, he wasnít ready to talk. Then he stopped answering my e-mails, even as this latest fight approached.
Since the loss to Bailey, Iíve wanted to do a story on Jones and his always fascinating career. That career was now even more interesting in the wake of the loss. I wasnít looking to stir up the bad feelings of a wounded boxer. I just recognized this as the most critical moment of his boxing life, a real crossroads for him. Careers get more interesting when fighters hit the bumps in the road.
Losses can hurt, but they are not the end of the world for a boxer. They are reminders of just how difficult the sport of boxing is, and are perfect lessons on how not to take important things for granted. Often these bad nights can be the milestones that lead a fighter to greatness, or at the very least a new and improved version of themselves.
That Jones didnít want to talk, and the fact that he seemed to be trying to divide himself from everything and everyone connected to the sour taste of that defeat, didnít give me much hope that he was anywhere close to having turned the corner from his first loss. He was still blaming everyone else, and worst of all, he seemed paralyzed by defeat and unable to move forward.
However, the announcement of this fight, a simple 10-rounder back on the East Coast, sparked the optimist in me to hope that Mike Jones is ready to give it another shot. Who knows? Perhaps this fight is just the easiest way for him to make some money, but I doubt it. The Mike Jones that I knew, shoulder chip and all, wanted to be a great fighter. So maybe this bout with Herrera is his first step toward doing that.
He certainly wasnít headed toward greatness before. That beautiful right uppercut by Randall Bailey closed the first chapter of Mikeís boxing career Ė and it was a chapter that needed to be closed for good.
Although he started out as an aggressive and feared puncher, he became more cautious as he began to rise to the top. He wound up a safety-first fighter who fought without passion and refused to give everything in his performances. By the time he fought for the world title, Jones was doing just enough to win rounds, taking no chances, and not fighting up to his potential. The worst part of it all was that he thought this was enough, and that doing it could make him a champion.
But Bailey showed Jones what being a champion is all about. Hopelessly down on the scorecards, Bailey dug deep and came up with that clutch right uppercut that not only knocked Jones cold, it perfectly contradicted Jonesí new-school philosophy that believes that a win is a win, no matter how it comes.
Baileyís uppercut made the case that thinking this way is dead wrong.
Had Jones continued his cautious performance that night and went on to win the title, it would have been more embarrassing than the KO loss. Champions earn their titles with effort and hunger. They donít nudge their way in, doing as little as they can.
I hope that Jones learned this against Bailey. Perhaps we will see on Saturday night.
Great fights get all the attention, but they are not everything that boxing is about. Although thereís not much better than a great fight, to me the most interesting part of the sport is watching how boxers respond to the problems they are faced with. Whether those problems come on fight night or between fights, they are the true test of a fighter.
At this moment, Mike Jones has a problem.
Heís waited more than two years to return from a devastating loss. Presumably, heís spent the time rehashing the defeat and hesitating about his return. Until now heís never been ready. Jones was always an over-thinker, even when everything was going great in his career. Imagine what fills his head these days.
Chances are heís over-thinking the upcoming fight, just days before the first bell. It is understandable. From his perspective, everything, his whole career and his whole identity, are riding on what happens on Saturday night.
This is when boxing really gets interesting.
Mikeís back is against the wall, even if heís gotten it there himself. The stakes are high in the fight, and Jones really needs this one. What happens on Saturday night will be extremely compelling, one way or another.
Now that heís learned what it takes, maybe Jones will go in there and fight for his life, something heís never done before. Itís time for Jones to show us some passion. Donít be afraid to want it. Donít be afraid to need it. Enough time has already been wasted.
This is what boxing is all about, and for Mike Jones itís finally time to fight.