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By Jason Pribila: In December, I had the opportunity to pen a piece announcing Mike Jones as the 2009 Secondsout.com Prospect of the Year. In the months that passed I developed a sour taste in my mouth as I’ve witnessed two of my favorite fighters (Shane Mosley and Allan Green) show little resistance as they got overwhelmed in high profile fights. As I looked at the boxing landscape for a fighter that could renew my enthusiasm in the Sweet Science, I secured my place ringside for Mike Jones – Irving Garcia.
By no means would I put added pressure on a fighter so close to the opening bell, but when I was thinking of a title for this piece, a Princess’ plea to Obi-Wan Kenobi came to mind. At first I thought I was being slightly over-dramatic, and soon realized that no one would describe Friday Night as being their “most desperate hour”. However, Jones’ broad shoulders will still be asked to carry the hopes of his team, fans, and perhaps Atlantic City Boxing itself into the ring with him on Friday Night.
As any fighter prepares to climb the ranks from prospect to contender, he realizes that his most important fight is his next fight. For Philadelphia Welterweight Mike Jones (21-0, 17 KO)there is added pressure because his bout against Irving Garcia (17-4-3, 8 KO) will be the first time that he gets to ply his trade in the main event on Showtime’s popular Shobox series.
For those who have followed Jones’ career, this opportunity has been long overdue. However, without the luxury of having a cozy relationship with a cable network, Hall of Fame Promoter J. Russell Peltz did the unthinkable. He built Jones’ career off-television and made him a draw in Philadelphia and more recently, Atlantic City. And now with the boxing world focused on what the unsilent minority have been screaming about, Team Jones knows that their time is now to make some noise.
“I’ve had a great camp and I’m in terrific shape. I’m ready”, Jones stated as his camp came to an end. “I take nobody for granted. When it’s time to shine, I’m gonna shine.”
Shine is exactly what Jones did in his April bout against Hector Munoz. Jones showed off his complete arsenal en route to a Round 5 TKO. On that evening, Jones performed in front of the HBO suits that were in town to air the Kelly Pavlik – Sergio Martinez Middleweight Championship. Although his bout was not televised, HBO was impressed enough to air a Jones Highlight Package.
“I’m happy I’ve been getting so much positive feedback”, Jones confessed. “But there’s always going to be somebody who hasn’t seen me fight before, and that is who I want to look good for. Like they say, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.”
Perhaps that is a lesson that Jones learned in February when he was matched against former title challenger, Henry Bruseles in the main event of an edition of “Top Rank Live”. Jones began the fight by showing the veteran far too much respect. He abandoned his jab, and allowed the smaller man to set the pace for the first half of the fight.
Jones’ trainer, Vaughn Jackson, is not expecting an even fight after six rounds on Friday Night.
“He’s (Garcia) a nice counter-puncher, with a good right hand, but he’s too laid back. Mike’s too tall, too young. Youth (Jones) will overwhelm him. I’d be surprised if it goes past the 5th (round).
While no one is putting the cart ahead of the horse, one does not need to look far for Jones’ next potential foe. Florida’s Antwone Smith (18-1-1, 10 KO) will face Lanardo Tyner (23-3, 14 KO) in the televised undercard. While Jones’ career momentum was stalled in 2009, as he battled an injury to himself and several opponents; Smith was the guy in the right place at the right time.
Smith burst on the scene when he won back to back decision upsets against Norberto Gonzalez (16-0) and Richard Gutierrez (24-2-1). He parlayed that success into a pick-em fight against previously undefeated Henry Crawford (22-0-1). Against Crawford, Smith gave away early rounds in order to time the slick boxer. Eventually he imposed his will on Crawford, and forced him to retire after Round 9. Interestingly enough Gutierrez and Crawford were supposed to be matched-up with Jones, but neither bout came to fruition.
When asked if he had Jones in his sights, Smith responded, “I have said that I don’t think it’s a secret that we will get it on if we both keep winning, possibly just once more. But we both have to focus on Friday Night. If we don’t, one of us might get caught.”
When I had the chance to briefly talk to Jones ringside at his stable-mate Teon Kennedy’s bout in May, I asked him if the plan was for an autumn fight against Antwone Smith. When someone overheard my question they yelled, “We want bigger names than Antwone Smith,” but Jones humbly acknowledged that it was a possibility.
One thing that may prevent a Jones-Smith clash is the fact that Jones’ victory in April took place in front of representatives of the four world sanctioning bodies. The impressive performance allowed Jones to climb as high as #2 in the WBO. A title that Manny Pacquiao is expected to vacate. This time it was Jones who was in the right place at the right time.
“There was a convention (In Atlantic City). So everybody was at Mike’s fight, and everybody was impressed,” explained Peltz.
And while Mr. Peltz admitted that Jones did not have the name recognition to face a Mayweather or Pacquiao, he did admit that the WBC belt held by Andre Berto has been discussed. “I could see a Berto fight being made or a fight with the WBO’s No. 1 contender, Kell Brock.”
While Friday will go a long way in determining the future of the welterweight division, perhaps no one is pulling more for Jones than Atlantic City itself. Once a staple for Boxing’s biggest fights, it has suffered since their unofficial franchise Arturo Gatti called it a career in 2007. Miguel Cotto looked like he would carry the torch, but he has proven to be a better fit for New York. Kelly Pavlik and his Youngstown faithful emptied the casinos of bottled spirits during three straight trips to the Boardwalk, but as Pavlik’s career hit a speed-bump, the 6,179 fans that followed him in April proved that he is no longer a sure thing.
In 2009 there wasn’t a single bout contested in the main room at Boardwalk Hall. 2010 has only seen Pavlik-Martinez. David Tua is scheduled to fight at the Tropicana later this month, but could anyone count on a division that even HBO has closed their wallet to?
Philadelphia continues to produce quality fighters. Why the local television and print media failed to latch on to guys like Steve Cunningham and Eddie Chambers could only be explained by the unpopularity of their divisions. Other prospects like Danny Garcia sign with a promoter like Golden Boy, that see more value in putting their prospects on high profile undercards in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, rather than cultivating a ticket seller on the East Coast. With television exposure being the goal, it is hard to second guess those decisions.
In an era that has seen the line between being an athlete or entertainers go from being blurred to erased, it is refreshing to see one that has remained grounded as he climbs the ladder.
“I’m humble and don’t like to brag or boast,” Jones said. “But on fight night, I let my fists do the talking. My fists are rather loud.”
The hopes of many are riding on those fists to roar.