PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                     November 23, 2011


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Mike Jones trains at the Joe Hand Boxing Gym under the watchful eye of some of Philly Boxing History's greatest heroes. Harold Johnson, George Benton, Bob Montgomery, Midget Wolgast, Gypsy Joe Harris, and several others stare at him from large banners that hang on the walls of the squeaky-clean fitness center. These hanging tributes to the City's fine boxing heritage that once adorned the walls of the New Alhambra, serve as the guardians of local ring history as they watch Jones prepare for his final hurdle to a shot at the world welterweight championship. They see a good young professional and wonder if he has what it takes to join their ranks. Not all of them are champions, but every one is a Philly legend just the same.

The banner of Gil Turner hovers just beyond the main ring at the Hand Gym. Turner has seen Jones spar, punch the mitts, and shadow box from a seat even better than that great old balcony of the Blue Horizon. Turner was himself a hot-shot prospect back in 1952 when he received his chance at the crown. Unfortunately Turner had to topple the great Kid Gavilan to win the world title, a feat he could not accomplish on July 7, 1952. Turner was 31-0 on that summer night, and not quite 22 years old. He did not win the championship, but he fought a great fight against Gavilan and came awfully close. Still Turner made it to the wall of Joe Hand's Gym, based on his body of work and his legitimate claim as one of Philly's all-time best.

Jones fights Argentine Sebastian Lujan on December 3rd at Madison Square Garden for the number one spot in the IBF welterweight ranks. They call it an elimination bout. So a win against Lujan earns Jones a date with #2 contender Randall Bailey and a crack at the now-vacant IBF version of the title early in  2012, sixty years after Gil Turner tried  to climb to the very top.

Each fight that Mike Jones has, gets bigger and more important than the last. As the stakes have raised, he's remained unbeaten, now 25-0 with 19 KOs. His fight on December 3rd is the biggest of his five-year career. He has struggled at times - most notably in his first fight with Jesus Soto-Karass about a year ago, but Jones still managed to keep his record spotless and his options open. He dominated Soto-Karass in their rematch a few months later, showing improvement, experience and the determination to attain his goals.

Jones has steadily climbed the  rankings of every sanctioning  body in boxing  and currently finds himself at least in the top three position of each. He's already #1 in the WBO under superstar Manny Pacquiao, and goes for his second #1 ranking against Lujan.

It's been a good run for the 28 year old prospect, but like every fight he's had in the past two years, he needs to beat his next opponent to prove himself yet again. The job of being Philly's top prospect comes complete with an army of skeptics who wait for him to stumble. Such is the case with Jones. So he has to win this fight.

Lujan is a tough hombre who hails from the sweet-spot of Argentine boxing, a city called Santa Fe. Ring greats like Carlos Monzon and Victor Galindez come from the same place. Who knows what's in the water there? Let's just hope Lujan hasn't been drinking much of it. But the 5'6" battler brings an experienced resume (38-5-2 with 24 KOs) and a 12-bout winning streak in against Jones. He has the reputation as a tough, pressure fighter who doesn't wear down. The 31-year old boxer can punch, but he's not really a one-punch knockout artist. Still he figures to test Jones' chin, skills, endurance, toughness, and readiness.

The 6-foot Jones  has displayed an ability to box and punch - but very few highlight reel knockouts have come since he's stepped up his competition. His 12-KO streak at the beginning  of his career seems like a lifetime ago. But Jones is one of the biggest welters you'll ever see, has developed nicely as a boxer, and has a palpable desire to stay undefeated - the holy grail for this generation of fighters.

So it all comes down to December 3rd. What a position to be in! Jones can see his destiny and knows the direct route to attaining it. All he needs to do is get by Lujan. A win will place him on the doorstep, and then of course, he'll just need to "win one more". I have a feeling Jones will be hearing that phrase for a long time to come. After all, if he can beat Lujan to earn the title shot and then beat Bailey to win the belt, he'll have mega fight opportunities with Pacquiao and Mayweather waiting for him. Maybe if he can beat all these guys, Jones won't have to worry about "the next one".

And if Jones can do all that, then he will surely be welcomed to the club by the legends that line the walls of Joe Hand's Gym.




John DiSanto - Northern Liberties - November 23, 2011