In the debate to determine the greatest British boxer never to capture a world title, you’d struggle to eclipse the claims of monster-punching Welsh welter Colin Jones.
A scowling silent assassin, 23 of the 26 victims on his 30 fight CV failed to finish and several were rendered prostrate for minutes as opposed to seconds.
In a 22 month period in the mid 80s, ‘Jones the Punch’ challenged three times for versions of the 147lb world title and was denied by a draw, then a split decision loss in two instances – both across in the United States.
Louis Daniel visited the current Welsh national amateur coach at his Gorseinon home and departed with the impression that, even at 60, you’d not be advised to chance your luck with him!
“I had this split personality that I could switch on and off. I never felt remotely sorry for any opponent I’d badly knocked out, even as a schoolboy. I felt good knocking people out. That’s the name of the game. It’s not a bully thing. It was business and you’ve got to be ruthless.
It didn’t take much to get me ‘up’ for a fight. I felt the same disdain for every opponent, hated ‘em all. I’d have been up for it scrapping the local bin man. I was really in love with the game. Too many today aren’t. They just love the money, the ballyhoo and bulls***.
On the streets, in the bars around Gorseinon and Swansea, it was like when the gunslinger rocks into town. In my pomp, plenty wanted to have a pop at me…and I was always happy to accommodate them. [Welsh folklore has it that he once knocked out massive Welsh rugby captain Richard Moriarty outside a Swansea nightclub, thought Colin diplomatically takes the Fifth Amendment.]
In the amateurs, there’s all the respect and sportsmanship but things move on, once you turn pro. Money. Providing for your family. I didn’t have much to smile about. It was my job to hurt people and that’s what I did. I never got friendly with opponents afterwards… I might have to fight ‘em again shortly after.
Looking back, I was quite intense. I’ve been with my missus [Debbie] for 45 years but I must have been a nightmare to live with back when I was fighting. Snappy. Eddie [Thomas, his manager], being a boxing man, knew to get me away from my home. For title fights, I’d stay in Merthyr for five to six weeks. If he hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be married now. You see that [film] ‘Raging Bull’?! I was like that even outside a fight! I never had a break from boxing, see. I’d fight Saturday and be back in the gym on Sunday.
In sparring, I couldn’t be light-handed if I tried to. I couldn’t help myself. By necessity, Thomas put me in with heavier guys, middleweights and up. In my prime, even the sparring partners I wasn’t paying, I wasn’t particularly nice to. They couldn’t believe the change in me, once I finished boxing.
I didn’t consciously try to intimidate opponents but it wasn’t something I needed to work on. I had shaved hair, unshaven, didn’t say a lot, never smiled. I laughed inwardly. I just had a job to do. It wasn’t contrived like they try today. Social media is ruining it… I don’t do any of that. Load of bollocks. You get more respect saying nothing, focusing on the job ahead. Say whatever you like to me during the build-up. I’ll be seeing you soon inside that ring.
Lloyd Honeyghan [the future world welterweight champion who succeeded Jones on the British throne] was coming up but I had to vacate my [British, Commonwealth and European] titles because of my world title obligations. But his London mob wouldn’t ever have had it, even when I was washed up. I’d have come back for that one.
I came just after the golden welterweight era of Leonard, Hearns, Duran, Benitez. When Sugar Ray moved up, I was matched with Milton McCrory, an undefeated 21 year old for the vacant WBC belt in Reno, Nevada. I’d always concede home advantage for a few quid extra. My purse for that was more than ten times what I’d ever earned before. For the effort I was putting in, I wanted tidy money.
Before facing him in the ring, I’d never seen McCrory box. He was favourite, touted as the next Tommy Hearns. Manny Steward coaching him but I was confident, I took a good ‘choir’ over with me. At the time, the miners were on strike so a lot of the boys had no money. I was a big favourite at the banks because the lads would go in requesting a thousand-pound loan for ‘home improvements, new windows’ but used it to watch me in Vegas!
We prepared well for it. I went over to the States four weeks in advance. We trained 10 days in Lake Tahoe, 10 days in Reno before finishing up in Vegas.
We fought indoors at the Convention Centre. Milt had something different to the others I fought. Like me, he’d had a lot of amateur fights and he knew his way about the ring. He’s probably the tallest I fought [6ft 2in] and his height and range caused me a few problems. There was nobody similar to spar with. I used Brian Anderson, Achillies Mitchell, Lloyd Hibbert who were good fighters but not as tall as him. They got tidy money and I made sure they earned it.
McCrory had stopped 17 of his 20 opponents but I had to chase him the whole fight. You can only do what the other fella allows. I had him tottering in round nine. Body shots.
The verdict [a 12 round draw]? I really didn’t know. It was very close but my mindset was, being in America, if it lasts to the final bell, his hands is going up, whatever I’ve done. I was delighted with a draw, ‘cos I knew there was a bucket load of money for the rematch and a second bite at the cherry. Happy days!
The rematch was mandated for five months later, this time outdoors in Las Vegas. I’d worked really hard for it; six weeks in Merthyr then five in the USA.
Two evenings before the McCrory return, Duke, Don King’s ‘heavy’ knocks my hotel door and says: ‘The hotel who are sponsoring are going into bankruptcy and the fight’s gonna be called off unless you take a cut of 100 thousand pounds.’ Really, he should have approached Eddie.
Obviously, I wasn’t happy. That’s a very large drop when you’ve been working underground for £49 a week. Long story short, we recruited Mike Trainer, a little Jewish lawyer from New York who’d done wonders with Sugar Ray Leonard and marched upstairs to Don’s suite. He was sat several tiers above us. He completely denied the fight was going to be called off and so did his heavy but Trainer insisted the full purse was paid into my account the following day or I wouldn’t box and Trainer would see to it that King never promoted in America again. That’s what happened but that simple little trick upset me. It’s not an excuse but it certainly didn’t help.
I started badly. McCrory dropped me late in round one with a sharp left hook; stunned me more than hurt me. I wasn’t tottering but in shock. Only Lloyd Lee had floored me before, back in the amateurs.
After that, the fight followed an identical course to the first one. No real surprise. There was only one way I could fight McCrory, only one way Milt could fight me. He went into reverse again and it’s hard trying to knock someone out who’s going backwards the whole time.
Again, I had him wobbling badly, this time in round seven. For a second time, I was just one clean punch away from becoming world champion. I could hear the grunts, could hear Milton wincing. After round seven, Gareth’s screaming at me to go get him but Eddie advised caution. It was very hot, outdoors, 110*Fahrenheit. Even for a white man, I’m pretty fair. I was conscious of the heat. If I’ve any regrets it’s not throwing all my eggs into the one basket but, at the time, that’s how I fought, that’s how Milt fought.
As in our first contest, Milt bluffed his way to winning the last round with little taps. You have to give him credit. That’s what the game’s all about. I was very tired. The heat took a bit of zip out of me. [Colin conceded a split decision after 12 memorable rounds].
Again, it was tight and I’ve never watched the fight back in full. I had relatives in Michigan who sent the press cuttings over and I was getting better write-ups from the US press than the Brits. They treated it as a bad decision against me. Whatever. It took me a long time to get over the defeat.
I’ve met Milt twice since in America. First time, when Barry McGuigan lost to Steve Cruz , he wasn’t too friendly. But a couple of years ago, I went to Niagara and he came up. I was older and had mellowed a lot. He’d got off his high horse, he was different. It was pleasant.
When I got home, Frank Warren jumped in, organised two warm-up fights in Aberavon and put things in place for an IBF title shot against Donald Curry.
I knocked out Allen Braswell from Brooklyn, quite a bad one that [round two], but was very badly cut in the second warm-up against Billy Parks, a pitter patter type from Denver.
I’d never previously struggled with cuts but, post McCrory, the edge had slightly gone. I was still only 24 but wasn’t living quite as well and my skin started to suffer. Every fighter knows when they’re at the end. It’s the habits you get into, your social life changes, the hours you keep, it effects your sleep.
Then, one night I was out in Aberavon having a meal with Debbie when Eddie returned from New York with a £1.2 million deal for me to fight Sugar Ray Leonard. The contacts were actually signed but Ray’s first comeback fight against Kevin Howard – when he was dropped and struggled [w rsc 9] – ruined it for me. Ray retired again. 1.2 million! Heartbreaking.
True to his word, Frank delivered the Curry fight for the NEC in Birmingham. I was in tidy shape but, if I’m honest, that fight was all about money. The desire had gone and I never boxed again after. I’d lost the will to hurt my sparring partners. Also, at the time, I had a legal issue [a pending assault charge]. I didn’t do it. It went to court. Not Guilty. But it didn’t help.
Unfortunately, I copped for Curry just before he started having weight problems. It was scheduled for 15 rounds and, if I’d have got to half way, who knows? Donald was never the type of opponent to be backing off, he’d have held his feet. I’d have had a chance.
But Curry was brilliant that night, the best I fought. So sharp. He sliced my nose open late in round one and the doctor stopped it in the fourth. I needed eight stitches inside, eight outside. I don’t think the crowd could see how bad the cut was, some started performing [plastic bottles were launched into the ring and there was sporadic brawling] … not the best way to bow out.
I carried on sparring until I was well into my 30s but never fought again. With hindsight, I’d change a few things. I should’ve taken lesser money to have fought Milton in London the second time. Mickey Duff proposed I take 125 grand less. The final decision was with me and my thought was: ‘If I can find McCrory’s chin in London, I’ll find it in the Las Vegas’. Out of 26 wins I had, 23 were inside distance. The odds were in my favour. Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way.
In retirement, I had four years in the car trade and laughed every day so money well spent. Later, I took up a trainers/manager’s licence and had some tidy fighters. Peter Harris [father of reigning European flyweight king Jay Harris] became British featherweight champion. Trouble is, you can be the most honest John in the pro game but the ‘big players’ will try to corrupt you, no scruples at all. That drove me back to the amateurs, a breath of fresh air. For the last 16 years I’ve really thrown myself back into coaching, and for the last eight, I’ve been Welsh national coach.
Coaching is a different career to boxing. You need a bit of kidology, psychology. I’m pretty good at that. Today, I’m around 12stone. Being away at so many tournaments, you’re living off supplements.
Boxing’s such a great game, an honest game, a game for good people. I’ve so much admiration for fighters, ex-fighters, even the kids who are 11 years of age.
I’d be happy if fans remembered me as an honest ‘all or nothing’ fighter who never shied away from a shot. I’d fight anyone, anywhere. for any amount of money.”