An Olympian at just 17, British welterweight monarch at 21 and a triple world title challenger at 25, the sandy haired slayer from the Swansea valleys was extended to the cards in three of his opening seven pro starts but never required the assistance of the judiciary in any of the remaining 19 victories on his 26-3-1 slate.
Here, in his own words, the sinisterly soft-voiced 60 year old – now Welsh national amateur coach- reminds Louis Daniel of his rampage to continental glory in the early 1980s.
“I was the fifth of eight children, all the boys boxed. My older brother Ken was Welsh (amateur) welterweight champion in 1968, same year I started. My younger brother Peter was later ABA champion and a pro bantam.
I started at Penyrheol boxing club, an old shed come garage, when I was nine. I only lived a few hundred yards away. I was a very, very competitive boy; football, rugby, you name it. It was always in me to have a fight. For rugby, I was the smallest, yet played the hardest position, hooker! I thoroughly enjoyed that.
Whereas our Ken played with the boxing, from day one, I was very serious to the extent my trainer, Gareth Bevan had to send me home from the gym.
Gareth coached me start to finish, amateur and pro. He was a boxing man, a great trainer rather than a technical coach, got me in shape psychologically as well as physically. He was my mentor from 9 to 17, before Eddie Thomas came into my life. Gareth put a lot of hard work in early on, kept me on straight and narrow. He was as important as Eddie, cos he was there all the time.
I was training regular in the gym a good two years before my first contest at 11 so, from the start, I was ahead of my peers. Until 13, I was up on me toes, a pretty boxer, then I had a really bad decision against me in a schoolboy semi-final so it dawned I needed to develop a shot. As a kid, I hated losing, first to admit that. I’d do anything to win.
We had a special bag at the gym, the old tanned original that helped me develop. Pounding it, you knew you were developing your shoulders. Simultaneous, I had a bit of a growth spurt around 13 and started punching real hard, knocking good boys out. One year, in nine fights, through the Welsh qualifiers to winning the British (schoolboys), no one went past two rounds with me. I had some great knockouts as a schoolboy. When I was 13, 14 I hit a kid called Ryder with a left hook and he hit the deck like he’d been shot with an elephant gun.
I had well over a hundred as an amateur and I doubt 20 lasted the distance. You don’t win Welsh and British schoolboys three or four times without being able to box, mind. I could do all the flashy stuff but, fight night, I just parked that up. I enjoyed the fighting part!
By my mid-teens, I couldn’t get fights so the Chairman of the Welsh ABA gave me a special dispensation to box in the Senior ABA championships when I was still only 16. The championships started January and I wasn’t 17 until the March. I was working underground (in the mines) for £49 a week. I did that for two years.. I had to mature early. I also dug graves by hand. Tough old work that hardened me. You weren’t doing anything that could make you soft.
I won both the Welsh and British Senior ABAs that year, beating Paul Kelly from the Navy, the blue-eyed boy of (national coach) Kevin Hickey in the final at Wembley. I never lost a title fight until I fought for a world title….then I never won one!
After that, I boxed against America at Wembley and was told: ‘Win, you go the Olympic Games, lose, you don’t’. I boxed Rocky Fratto, a marine from New York who later challenged for the (WBA) light-middleweight world title. Weren’t a bad fighter but I stopped him in three rounds and qualified for the (1976) Montreal Olympics at 17, the youngest Brit ever at the time.
I left for Canada a boy, returned a man. My life took off. Robbie Davies the light-middle from Birkenhead who I teamed up with, left a big impression on me as a person… ‘Don’t mess about.’ Neither of us tolerated fools… be straight. He was a very generous man. Honest. Loyal. Just like Eddie Thomas, later. Robbie’s son (British and European super-lightweight champion Robbie Jr) is doing good now.
We had a great time in Montreal. I mixed with great athletes, Nadia Comaneci the Romanian gymnast, Sonia Lannaman, Geoff Capes, Fatima Whitbread… There was the great US boxing squad; Sugar Ray Leonard, the Spinks brothers (Leon and Michael), Howard Davis… America were a real force in amateur boxing then, not now. Back then, you only became a star in the US if you won something at the Olympics.
I had a bye first series, then beat the Irish boy (Christy McLoughlin) and I was probably just one more fight off a medal when I lost to a Jewish Romanian, Victor Zilberman who won bronze. But I was too young to realise how big it was. The whole GB team failed. Only (bantamweight Pat) Cowdell got a bronze.
When we landed back at Heathrow from Montreal, we all had a brown envelope pushed in our jacket pocket. I thought no more of it and stuck the suit in the wardrobe. Shortly after, we had a reception with the Prime Minster Edward Heath so I put the suit back on and discovered two and a half grand in the envelope…… a lot of money in 1976….Following a few calls, it became apparent the other boys had had the same. A few weeks later Jarvis Astaire calls me: ‘I represent Mickey Duff, Harry Levene and Mike Barrett and can offer a further £10,000….’ I told ‘em I’d think about it.
Once I came home from the Games, I won the ABAs again and went the European Seniors in Halle, Germany, but lost at the first stage to a Yugoslav. No preparation. In those days, there wasn’t a Welsh set-up. Give you tickets, get on the train, do your best! Thank God that’s all changed.
Truth is, once I returned from the Olympics nobody wanted to touch me. I had no intention of turning professional but could only fight championships and internationals which wasn’t enough for me. I went back to working underground for £49 a week.
Then, one night, Eddie Thomas (the former British, Empire and European welterweight champion) came down to our working men’s club when I was playing pool. I’d never heard of him, seen him, met him but he told my father he wanted to turn me pro.
Thomas said: I’ll give you no fancy figures but I’ll give you a thousand pounds worth of kit. I’ll take no money off you for your first 12 fights and I will look after you’. And he was a man of his word, a great man.
Only a boxing man could’ve handled me and Thomas was a boxing man, through and through. He didn’t want anyone on his books who didn’t give 100%. Before me, he’d managed Howard Winstone and Ken Buchanan to world titles, Eddie Avoth to the British and Commonwealth. Mind, I was probably one of the easiest to handle because I loved the game: training, running, everything.
Eddie was a good pro coach and very shrewd. I was a destructive puncher, very young, but, if I’d had a few early blowouts on the bounce, he’d always find someone to extend me, keep my feet on the ground, force me to learn the game.
The toughest boy I ever fought, the hardest I was ever hit, was Salvo Nucifero from Cornwall who I fought in my 10th pro fight in Plymouth. Salvo was a real big lump, the physique on him, certainly no welterweight. But Eddie didn’t put me in with many welterweights. On home shows especially, he always wanted it to go a few rounds for the paying punters.
Cardiff versus Swansea was another massive issue for Eddie. He’d never had a boy lose to a Cardiff fighter and instilled that in me from early as a pro. Horace McKenzie from Grangetown and me never got along on. It was a Welsh thing, ‘Who’s king of the castle?’ I boxed Horace three in the amateurs, twice in the pros. I won ‘em all.
Then there was Billy Waith from Ely (a British title challenger). Billy made a big mistake by stating in the build-up that he’d forgotten more than I’d ever learn. I left him writhing on the floor from body shots (KO6), squealing like a pig!
Three months later, about a week after my 21st birthday, I entered my British title challenge to Kirkland Laing at Wembley Conference Centre as a big underdog, even though I was unbeaten in 13. Mickey Duff won the purse bids so we had to go up to London. Duff was billing Kirk for big honours.
Laing was class. Great physical attributes. Massive for a welterweight and talent in abundance. He could control a fight. After fighting me, he beat Roberto Duran, remember. I guess I was just his bogey man.
Though I fell behind early doors, I never lost faith. Every time I could connect, I knew I was hurting Laing so, in my head, I knew it was just a matter of time. You’re a good man if you can stay away from someone who can hit for 15 rounds, as championship fights were back then. The one thing I could always do was finish. If I clipped ‘em clean, I’d really go for it. Kirk finally made a mistake in round nine and ‘Bang’! (Laing was rescued while still upright).
Four months on, I defended my belt against Peter Neal from Swindon at the Eisteddfod Pavillion in Gowerton, near to my home. I’d imagine there was about 5000 crammed in there and it was really bouncing, that night. I had a big following because of my style, even back in the amateurs. (Jones retained in round five)
The night I added the Commonwealth title by stopping Mark Harris from Guyana (round nine), I had a hell of a chest patch and it was touch and go whether I was going to box. But I was one of those who always want to fight. In the post-fight interview with Harry Carpenter I could hardly talk I was coughing so much.
After that, they arranged a rematch with Laing for the Lonsdale Belt at the Albert Hall. Kirkland said first time was a fluke so I was really chomping at the bit for our return. The fight followed a similar pattern and again I was a bit behind. The worst thing he did was hit me low in round eight (Twice Colin was left writhing on the canvas).
I don’t think it was deliberate, just careless but the ref Coyle handled it brilliantly because the place was bouncing, full of Welshman. He must have thought ‘I can’t throw Jones out’, but then he’s got Terry Lawless (Laing’s influential manager) glaring at him so must be thinking, ‘I can’t throw Laing out, my work’ll dry up’!
The fight continued and Kirkland went for gold. He was very heavy handed but I clipped him with a short, hard beauty on the bell and suddenly, he’s walking back with me to my corner…completely out of it. It didn’t take me long to put him away with a left hook next round. First fight, I’d done him with a right hand. Could take ‘em out either glove, see!
Back then, I was flying but very next fight a Welsh referee (Adrian Morgan) chucked me out in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff for hitting (American) Curtis Ramsey while he was on the floor (round three). Almost caused a riot. Ramsey was going down from a left hook and I threw a right hand as he was dropping. It only skimmed his head but he gave an Oscar performance. Losing my unbeaten record broke my heart but Eddie Thomas was clever again, put me back out 12 days later, then again soon after that…no time for my momentum to be checked.
Just five months after the disqualification, Thomas got me a European title shot against the Dane, Hans Henrik Palm over in Copenhagen, for my biggest payday which was tidy as I’d moved from a little terrace house to a big detached, up the road.
I’d trained extremely hard but, on the day, I knew something was seriously wrong because my eyes went yellow. Because of the house I thought: ‘I gotta fight’ but the doc picked it up straight away. He prodded me in the stomach and I doubled up. Appendicitis. Fight off! I was devastated, my whole world caved in.
They rushed me home and I had the op straight away. They rescheduled it for nine months later… Bonfire Night. Again, I had a bit of a chest infection but I’d trained very hard. Now I’m challenger rather than fighting for the vacant title. My purse is about five ground lighter so Palm was going to pay! Henrik was a decent fighter but caught me on a bad night. I wasn’t at my happiest….
I was focused that night, right on song, no pressure. Thomas somehow managed to get an extra layer of wrapping on my bandages and we managed to secure 6oz gloves with all the weight up the wrist. Nothing too ‘em, like bag mitts…..criminal! In the changing rooms, I almost felt sorry for Hans Henrik Palm! He tumbled inside two rounds. One left hook. That was my best ever performance, got me a high WBC ranking. I was so fired up. That night, I’d have held my own with anyone in the world.”