A little humble pie never hurts. It gives us a much needed nudge to put things into perspective. Mine happened recently when I received a phone call from former two-weight world champion, Junior Jones.
Over the years I have seen Jones plenty of times at various events, be it a boxing show or banquet. Because of that long-standing familiarity, we have become friendly.
At one time Jones was boxing royalty, one of the best fighters in the world. He defeated Marco Antonio Barrera by stoppage (though it was recorded as a disqualification when the Mexican’s team entered the ring), then outpointed him in a rematch. Barrera had been perfect in 43 fights before facing Jones. Before that, Jones had defeated another Hall of Famer in Orlando Canizales. He also holds wins over former champions Tom Johnson and Tracy Harris Patterson in a career 50-6 (29) record.
The now defunct Boxing Digest magazine put Junior on its cover under the title of ‘Boxing’s Other Great Jones’. This was of course in reference to Roy Jones, the pound-for-pound king of the time. Next to the big photo of Junior were the words, ‘On Top Of The World’. At that time, Junior Jones was just that but, predictably, it did not last. It never does, not really.
When a boxer is on top he has no shortage of people who desire to be in his company, but after his fighting days are over he is often treated as just another guy, even by those who had once made him feel special. No wonder boxers hang on too long or make a comeback after announcing they wouldn’t box again; we tend to criticise their decision, but unintentionally we can push them toward that.
The last time I saw Junior was in November 2019, at the Atlas Foundation dinner in Staten Island, where we had a long and pleasant chat. The affair is put on yearly by Teddy Atlas’ group. Atlas, you might recall, trained Jones for the Paul Ingle fight at Madison Square Garden in 2000. It was the only match they ever worked together, but Atlas was so impressed with Jones’ attitude that a lifetime bond was formed. Atlas always makes sure he puts Jones on the dais with the numerous other celebrities in attendance, reminding him he will be a champion forever.
For a long time, Jones attended many small club shows in New York, but I recall one in particular that he went to shortly after defeating Barrera the first time. The victory had shortlisted him as one of the big stars in the sport, but there were no airs about him that night. He greeted me as always, but I couldn’t help but look at him with awe over what he had just done against the great Mexican.
In his prime, Jones would be given a no hassle pass to any boxing event he desired to be at. However, shortly before the pandemic which has sidelined virtually everyone, Junior often had to go through hoops before his requests were satisfied and, even then, sometimes they weren’t and his access was denied.
So when my phone rang and I saw the caller ID with Jones’ name I had no idea what was up. In the past he had occasionally called but it was more about business than it was personal.
“I am just checking to see that you and your family are doing well during this difficult time,” said Jones when I picked up. No requests on his part, but a genuine call of concern.
I was touched by Jones’ act of kindness. It impressed me more than when he stopped Barrera.