PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                     December 03, 2011


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Mike Jones did exactly what he needed to do in his 12-round IBF title eliminator against Sebastian Lujan at Madison Square Garden Saturday night. Using a diligent left lab and a very cool head, Jones stuck to his script and carved out a lopsided decision over the chugging Argentine in the biggest fight of his career thus far. His precise, workmanlike performance earned one-sided scores in his favor on all three official tallies (118-110, 119-109, 119-109) and paved the way for a shot at the welterweight title in his next bout.

Jones started his evening with a tribute to the recently deceased Joe Frazier, the man who not only scored his career highlight in the same building some forty years ago, but who was also Mike's first trainer during his amateur days. Upon entering the ring before the raucous crowd of 21,239, Jones stripped off his boxing robe to reveal he was wearing a Frazier tee-shirt. The crowd, mostly unaware of the personal ties between Jones and Frazier, still acknowledged the shout-out, probably for the more obvious Philly connection between the two.

Jones cruised through the first three rounds of the fight, picking and poking at the shorter Lujan. Pre-fight expectations that Lujan would jump out and test Jones immediately proved unfounded. Lujan started slowly and Jones boxed carefully.

In round four Lujan chugged forward and pressed more and did his best to rattle Jones. It was the first hint that a fight might actually break out. Lujan won the round, as Jones kept in check any temptation he had to engage in a war. He knew this was a fight that HAD to be won and would be won, if he didn't make any mistakes. So this fight became a chess match.

When you talk to Mike Jones, he doesn't open up very much. He's a reserved guy who keeps his circle close and mostly responds to your questions with answers that seem previously thought out and maybe even rehearsed. He fought the same way in his Madison Square Garden debut. 

That loud and greedy mob packing MSG was in the mood for a little blood-letting, something that might warm them up for the big fight between Cotto and Margarito, which would begin a few hours later. The preliminary bouts were quite good, but Jones-Lujan was the first of the four main bouts and the crowd was ready to get into it.

So when Mike Jones resumed control of his game plan in round five, and picked backed up his no-frills dissection of his most fearsome opponent to date, that passionate crowd got a little restless. As Jones snapped out his jab and Lujan thought better of pressing his luck, the crowd began to boo. It was a night when everyone in attendance expected fireworks all evening long.

But Jones and trainer Vaughn Jackson did not come to the Garden to please 20,000 Cotto fans. They came to stay on track and to clear the final hurdle that was blocking the path to their dream. So Jones maintained the fight plan, and what figured to be a real test and perhaps even a rugged night for the undefeated Philly contender, turned out to be a cakewalk.

The best Jones could do to thrill the crowd was to take an opportunity here and there to air it out and rip a flurry at his gun-shy foe. He ended round five that way. With Lujan against the ropes, Jones landed two body blows and then popped his rival with a straight right. The crowd roared their approval, hoping it was the start of some feisty action. But I doubt Jones even heard their cheers. And if he did, he just put it out of his head.

The assault was just a combination that fit the bill - easy to land with little risk in return. Lujan shook his head, telling Jones he wasn't hurt. And then the bell sounded, ending the exchange. However when it was over, Lujan started going to the wrong corner until like a traffic cop, Jones set him straight.

Jones continued to edge out many of the next rounds doing what he needed to do to bank the round, but Lujan stayed in the fight during the middle rounds when the action slowed dramatically. Lujan won the eighth round by a hair on my card when it appeared that Jones might be tiring a bit. But Jones rebounded at the end of the session by cracking Lujan with another right that jolted him and almost stole the round.

Jones took a close round nine but seemed to be puffing in his corner afterward. Lujan used the lull to press a bit harder in the tenth. He chugged forward and applied better pressure, and it seemed the tempo of the fight might be changing. But it wasn't.

Even with the decision already in the bag, Jones pushed himself in the final two rounds. Mike rocked Lujan in the eleventh near the bell, but again avoided kicking in into overdrive. Instead, Jones carefully picked his shots and played it safe. It was the smart thing to do.

The final round was all Jones. He jabbed and moved and easily coasted home for the win. Having tasted Jones' skills and strength throughout the night, Lujan clearly decided that an all out attempt for a KO just wasn't worth it. 

So Jones smartly bagged his 26th victory and won the fight going away. It was not the dangerous outing some predicted it would be because he was able to dominate Lujan well enough early on to shut down the usually risky brawler.

Jones collected the win he needed, but lacking in his performance was the passion that wins fans and makes the public demand that a fighter get a big  opportunity. But then again, Jones didn't need that. A title fight was mandated for the winner of the bout. So Jones went out and seized the exact opportunity he was presented.

When George Benton was Philly's greatest trainer, he used to say (quoting his own trainer Joe Rose), "Win this one and look good in the next one."  Although it must be said that Jones did both, he may have missed yet another opportunity to impress the boxing world on a huge night when everyone was watching. Jones can win and be exciting, and perhaps next time he'll do both - really do both.

Many boxers today approach the sport as if it were a tennis match. They fight only to hold their serve and don't go for the big shots. But the great fighters aren't afraid to find out just how great they are. Being careful is smart, and being smart usually wins fights. But being a fighter is what this game is all about.

Jones is still learning in the ring, and he's come a long way from his pure punching days. To be able to go in there and neutralize a tough opponent like Lujan - and make it look easy - is no simple feat.

Jones proved his discipline and his ability to use the skills that can best deliver victory. But how great would have it been for him to step up and win with passion? It would have been really great.

He won the fight but he did not seize the opportunity. He used his head beautifully but muffled his heart and spirit to ensure the victory. So no matter how many rounds he won, the victory felt a little incomplete.

To one day have 20,000 fans backing him on a single night (not to mention a major network), Jones must trust his heart. Perfect only looks good on paper. He has to believe more than anyone.

Win this one and look good in the next one, but it is important to be sure that the next one comes.

For Jones, Randall Bailey (and that vacant IBF title) is the "next one". It is a fight he should win and he should be able to do it with the signature victory his fans have been waiting for. It is time.

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John DiSanto - New York - December 03, 2011

Photos by Chris Toney Sr. (