When talk turns to the topic of “Best British boxer to never win a world title” the same old names come up, two of them in fact: Kirkland Laing and Herol Graham. However, there is another British boxer who deserved to win a world title, the man who twice flattened Kirkland Laing in British title fights. Step forward welterweight walloper Colin Jones, the fighting pride of Wales.
Jones was born in Gorseinon in March of 1959. Despite a profitable and successful boxing career Jones still lives close to his place of birth. After a brace of ABA title wins Jones went onto represent Britain in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal – a loss to Victor Zilberman in the third round of bouts ended Jones’s Olympic dreams.
Keenly aware that his hard-hitting style would be more suited to the pros, Jones entered the paid ranks, turning over with a fifth-round TKO of Mike Copp in 1977.
Jones’s route into boxing was aided, and encouraged, by his brothers Peter himself an ABA champion, and Ken. Jones followed his brothers into the gym, and quickly realised that he had an aptitude for dishing out punishment.
At the age of nine a local club opened up and I was there the first day it opened up,” said Jones when speaking to Britishboxers.co.uk.
“Gareth Bevan was there that first day, and was with me until I officially retired at the age of 26. The gym was a few yards from my house, so I just fell into it. The gym itself was a shed, one of the old prefab ones. It was nothing new to my parents as my brothers had boxed previously. We were a fighting family, but we didn’t fight amongst ourselves, it was all done properly – in the gym.
“Boxing was not so much in the genes as my father was not a fighter, he did a bit of training, but it was nothing serious, the sport was always there though. The gym was a place where me and my brothers felt at home.”
Jones was on the wrong end of a bad decision during the 1971 Welsh Schoolboy’s semi-final; he decided that he would have to be ruthless, and kept to his word. He said: “The turning point in my boxing career was when I was on the box-offs for the Welsh title. The first time I entered the finals I was 11 and Gareth thought I was on the wrong end of a decision, as most trainers do when they have a good prospect.
“We decided that I should try knocking a few people over, but it wasn’t a conscious decision to stop with the pitter-patter punches and really start knocking people over, it just happened over a 12-month period. People stopped going the distance with me, and the championships started coming thick and fast.”
Jones’ power punching took him to three British schoolboy’s crowns, the third one came off the back of 11 consecutive stoppage wins, Jones was on a roll, and he rolled over the opposition at the senior level. Such was his domination over boys his age they had to draft in older sparring partners to push Jones, Colin was not fussed; a victim was a victim.
“You get people that are freaks,” said Jones. “They are little bit beyond their age, and I was one of them, I was hurting people at a
young age, and enjoying it. I had the right temperament for boxing, in other words I enjoyed hurting people. I am a big believer that boxers have got to have a split personality; the person you take into the ring is not the same person that comes out after the fight. It is a strength of good fighters.”
As Jones’s power increased so, too, did his ruthlessness, Jones left many a twitching body in his wake, the no-nonsense Jones would often give his stricken opponent one last belligerent look. This ruthless attitude towards the KO has never quite left him.
“I can honestly say that I never felt sorry when I knocked an opponent out, and I was involved in some really nasty knockouts,” he declared. “I realise it now but at the time it was happening I didn’t think about the people getting hurt, and I make no apologies for that.”
Jones was given the opportunity to enter the Senior ABAs at the tender age of 16, and he grabbed his chance with both fists. He said: “I was allowed into the senior ABAs at sixteen. I was due to turn 17 in the March, the championships started in January, so by the time the finals came around I was 17, that meant that I was very young going into the British finals.
“The ABA wins meant that I had virtually qualified for the Olympic games. There was another obstacle of having to box an American at Wembley, and I got over that little hurdle as well. That got me my ticket for the Games.”
Until Amir Khan came along Jones held the distinction of being the youngest Brit to qualify for the Games, in retrospect Jones accepts that he was a little bit too young at the time. “Now I know I was too young,” recalled Jones.
“As you get older you realise just how young you were for these things. You don’t see that type of thing at 17 though. You just see adventures. It was an adventure for me. Many people don’t get that type of experience at any age, let alone 17. I think it was something special.”
His talent had attracted a number of suitors. A big Ken Buchanan fan, he signed with the man who had guided Ken to the top, manager Eddie Thomas. It was a match made in heaven.
“Eddie was one of the most respected people in boxing at that time,” he said. “Eddie was his own man, he did things his own way and if he thought he had a good prospect he would be prepared to lose money in the early shows. This meant that I fought a lot of my early fights in Wales.
“I turned professional with Eddie in 1977 because he told me that he was not going to offer me any fancy figures, he knew I had offers from London, but he said, ‘I will give you everything I have to offer, and the use of one of the best boxing brains in Britain’. So I turned pro with Eddie. I never wanted to go to London anyway, I could train at home and go to Merthyr [the hometown of Thomas] for four weeks before the fights.
“I boxed Mike Copp in Port Talbot on my debut. I had a lot of respect for Mike as I remembered him as a good kid when I was coming through the ranks as an amateur. A fifth-round knockout over a tough man like that was a good way to start my career.”
The noted banger reeled off three more stoppage wins. Then there was a mini-lull; Tony Martey came over from Ghana and took Jones the full eight-rounds distance; Belgium’s Frankie Decaestecker came over and lasted until the final bell; Welsh champion Horace McKenzie also withstood the Jones fusillade. In the modern age, this run would provoke relentless online debate over Jones’s power. For Colin, though, it was a case of matchmaking at its finest.
“I think those fights were good management, stepping you up another level to see how you carried your power there. I could still feel the power coming through in those fights. They were good solid opponents and I probably learned more from those three fights than I had for my previous fights. I was trying to do a lot of damage and trying to put them away, but it wasn’t happening, so then you have to revert to your boxing. It was a lesson well learned.
“When you are noted as a big banger fighters become aware of this. They fight you in a different manner. They are not as open. They will also do more homework on you and that showed sometimes in the way opponents tried to box.”
The McKenzie fight was particularly tricky; Jones had faced Horace twice as an amateur, and would fight him twice as a pro. Jones eventually attained dominion over this fiddly foe with a seventh-round TKO in 1981. In the meantime, Jones had to learn his lessons. I asked Jones if these fights were character building exercises.
“Probably,” he answered, “there were a lot of hard tough fights along the way. People only tend to look at the title fights, the ‘glory’ fights as I call them, but there was a lot of hard graft in the early stages, and a lot of credit should go out to the boxers who get forgotten about, without them you don’t get your experience, and your grounding.
“I boxed Horace about four times in total. We had some really tough rough-and-tumble rounds, and that helped me get the experience I needed. There was Salvo Nucifero who gave me one hell of a fight, while it lasted, you learn from every fight. You can only do in a fight what your opponent allows you to do, if it goes the distance or goes short the credit goes to them.”
Jones’ power caught the attention of fight followers when he bounced Joey Mack around like a yo-yo in a British title eliminator. Down ten times, Mack was finally put out of his misery in round 10. Jones was heading for the British title, and a showdown with the mercurial Kirkland Laing.
Jones watched Laing box Colin Ward, after a few rounds he had seen more than enough, and there was only one thought on his mind. “Eddie Thomas took me to London to see Kirkland Laing I had never seen him box on video so Eddie took me to the Royal Albert Hall, my fist visit there. We were watching Laing and Eddie said, ‘Would you like to fight him?’ So I said, ‘Yes!’ I was confident that he couldn’t beat me with all that prancing about. Eddie said that it might be more difficult than I thought because I wasn’t seeing Laing at his best, but I fancied the job. Although I must now say that out of the 18 rounds I boxed against him I only won two of them, both of them in the round [the ninth] that I stopped him in!”
Jones’ fights with Laing are occasionally explained away as flukes; in reality they are similar to James Toney’s patient destruction of Michael Nunn, they could pace a fight in Jones’s day, as Colin explained. “I must say that it was the conditioning, mental preparation and having everything ready for the fight. I was in such condition leading into those fights. I can tell you that I would have walked through a bloody brick wall those nights. That is how I felt before those fights.”
Laing built up an early lead in their first showdown, eventually Jones’ harder shots bloodied the mouth of the slickster from Nottingham; body shots were also taking their toll. Jones knew that he was behind, but he also knew that the fight, scheduled for 15-rounds, still had a sting or two left in the tail.
I felt that I was in the fight all the way through those tough rounds,” his recollection of those tough early rounds. “As the fight was getting into the latter rounds I was getting stronger, which we had worked on, instead of starting fast and getting weaker why not start slow and get stronger?
“Although both fights ended reasonably suddenly I felt that the fight was slipping from him, and that I would have got him in the 12th, or the 13th, or even the final rounds, it was a marathon back then because of the 15 [round title distance]. Laing was getting weaker at the halfway point, but I was getting stronger with every round. I knew I would catch up with him.”
Jones was hit with a flurry of shots early in round nine, he grinned knowingly to himself, a few moments later he detonated a huge right hand over the lazy guard of Laing; Kirkland was all at sea, Jones applied the finish, and the contest was stopped at the end of the round. For Jones it had been a matter of time.
“I was confident leading up to the fight. I knew that he was getting a little overconfident when he started flapping, tapping and moving, so I gave myself a little grin. A few seconds after giving out the little grin I had him with the right hand. One thing that I wasn’t bad at was finding the finishing post, as soon as I hurt a man I find it [the finish] straight away, on that night I had seen the post, and knew what to do with Laing once I had him going.”
Jones reeled off four more stoppage wins, then faced Laing again. Their 1981 rematch was an exact replica of their first contest. Laing led, Jones chased; this time, though, Laing roused the ire of Jones with some dubious body punching in the eighth round.
“There was a bit of controversy in that one,” he said. “I went down twice after he had hit me low with a left hook. In all fairness to referee John [Coyle] he said, ‘Stay down and have a breather and I will have a word with him’, and he did just that.
“Within 15-seconds he hit me with a right hand that nearly broke my kneecap. I was again told to take my time before boxing on. I took a breather, and took the onslaught, as he thought he had me hurt, but I wasn’t hurt, not in the slightest.
“I managed to clip him with a left hook. That one moved his gumshield and busted his mouth up. It very badly hurt him, I could tell because when I went back to the corner he tried to come with me. I was thinking, ‘Get back to your own corner’, because I knew coming out for the ninth round that it was only a matter of time, and we had plenty of rounds left in the fight.
“I had taken it all out of him, his mouth was gone, he was having a job just keeping his gumshield in, and I could rag him about like a rag doll. I was catching him with good shots, good body shots, you have to give them the credit, then I put that left hook over the top and that was it – they rarely got up from that type of punch.”
Although 17 of his KO’s came before the fifth-round had ended, Jones was the very definition of a slow burner. He knew how to pace fights and would gather momentum with each passing round.
“I smouldered for six to seven rounds and then ignited – that is how I boxed. If it was an eight rounder I would smoulder for four rounds, if it was a ten rounder I would smoulder for five. That is just how I was. The longer the fights went the more I would smoulder.”
Despite the slow-burning nature of his boxing style Jones could explode when required to do so, and had every reason to do just this when losing his unbeaten record to Curtis Ramsey. After a slow start, Jones started clipping his man in round three, a pair of scything left hooks to the body hurt Ramsey, the American fighter dropped to his knees, Jones hit him with a soft right hand. Ramsey rolled around like a Premiership footballer. Jones was disqualified. The memory still bothers him.
“I think it was the killer instinct taking over, it was not malicious,” admitted Jones. “Ramsey half-went, so I followed him and threw the other shot. There was little connection on the shot, but it looked like a big punch in the split-second that the referee had to look at it, so he threw me out of the fight instead of counting the other fella out. I lost my unbeaten record there, but that may have been a godsend – it took a bit of pressure off me.”
“I was upset at the time, mind. I thought I had won, that the last shot did not connect properly, if it had of connected he would not have been reeling about, he would have been in the one position, knocked out. When they announced that I was disqualified I wasn’t thinking about losing the unbeaten record. I was just really disappointed to have lost when I still had fight left in me.”
He added: “Based on what I saw I would have had him out in the first round if we had a return, so it would have proved nothing really. It wasn’t a controversial points loss, it was him winning on the deck and me losing on my feet.”
Eddie Thomas earned his money at this point. Jones said: “Eddie did a very wise thing, within twelve days he had me boxing in London, and I knocked a guy called Milton Seward out clean [in three rounds].”
Jones’ second win over Laing had earned him outright ownership of the British title. The Welshman also wanted to wreak havoc along the continent, and is adamant that the British-European-Commonwealth route makes you a complete fighter.
“I think fighters should be made to go that route,” stressed Jones. “If you can’t be champion of your own country how can you expect to move onto greater things? There is so much value in the Lonsdale belt, so why should people avoiding holding it? There have been so many great fights for the British title. I think it is a massive loss for boxing if people don’t fight for the national belt, there are lots of domestic fights out there that could be fought for that title, and they would sell out big halls.
“You have got people avoiding the real titles because of the WBF, WBU, International continental and the rest of them. Oh no, there should only be two or three titles, maximum, especially if you have two or three great fighters coming up in the country at the same time. That should be a promoters dream, to promote those types of domestic fight. The WBC, WBA and IBF are great – anything other than that devalues what a world title means.”
By 1982 Jones was hitting his peak; a second-round massacre of Sakaraia Ve brought home the Commonwealth title. Jones was a lean, mean fighting machine, but this focus came at a cost, as Jones explained: “I was very, very difficult to live with [before a fight]. I always moved away from my family. I have been married to the same woman [Debbie] for thirty years, but if I hadn’t have done that maybe I wouldn’t have stayed that way. It was just me, Gareth and Eddie in our camp, and we would arrange sparring partners to come in.
“I was not very nice to my sparring partners, or my opponents, not very nice at all. Again, you don’t realise it then but you find out later in life what type of a person you was. I don’t think people can be expected to realise what type of person you are when you are young, especially in boxing because it is a hard and cruel game. You don’t really realise how cruel it is until you have moved on from it.”
In part two, Jones talks about his torrid WBC world title fights with Milton McCrory, as well his agonising WBC/IBF title defeat to Don Curry.
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Courtesy of Rick Reeno and www.boxingscene.com – Photo courtesy of “Big” Al Stevenson