Barry Jones

The boxing career of Barry Jones was short lived.  20 fights is not a huge amount for any fighter, but what made Jones's career so fascinating is what he achieved, how he achieved it and the risks he faced head on while in search of his legacy.  Today Jones is a prominent member of the only UK TV channel dedicated to boxing, BoxNation, and is a much respected and almost universally liked pundit who has the rare ability to unite boxing fans opinion.

Go back to October 1992 and a 119 lbs boxer from Cardiff was making his debut in his hometown against unbeaten Londoner Conn McMullen.  A points win over six rounds gave Jones a good footing into professional boxing in front of a home crowd.  It was a city that Jones would box in for 11 of his 20 fights, also taking in bouts around other areas of Wales as well as fights around England and a memorable night on the undercard of Chris Eubank vs Nigel Benn at Old Trafford where Jones again outpointed an unbeaten opponent, this time Manchester's John White.

It was in his 18th fight that Jones reached the pinnacle of his career while fighting at the now defunct London Docklands Arena..  Tough Colombian Wilson Palacio stood in the other corner as the two fought for the WBO super featherweight title on December 19th 1997.  12 rounds later and Jones had earned, on paper, a comfortable unanimous points victory to become a world champion.  

This should have provided a launchpad for Jones to become a huge name in the sport.  23 years old, 17 wins from 18 fights (with one draw) and a world champion.  What was more remarkable is that he had achieved all of his wins on points, not a single stppage victory on his record (although there was one technical decision in a fight that ended in the first round).  121 rounds boxed in 18 fights showed the hard work that had been put in to reach championship status.  However there was bad news around the corner, for all the years of graft and hard rounds in the ring, the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) were about to deliver a huge blow to a promising career.

With the first defence of the newly acquired title to take place against Frenchman Julien Lorcy scheduled, there was an anomaly found in a routine brain scan.  The BBBoC were on edge given the very recent issues of Michael Watson hanging over the sport and suspended Jones from competing.  Seven months passed before Jones's team were able to clear their man to get back in the ring but by this point his hard earned WBO title had been stripped with the promise of another shot when he returned.

A return in 1999 against Chris Williams back in Cardiff gave Jones another points victory and an opportunity to tune up for his title challenge against the now belt holder Acelino Freitas of Brazil, a fighter who had stopped each of his 23 opponents before facing Jones.  One fighter with no stoppages on his record, one fighter with 100% stoppage on his record.  When Jones then dropped the Brazilian on 15th January 2000 in the first round it was a huge shock.  Freitas dusted himself down and returned the favour, dropping Jones twice in the first round himself.  The first time he had touched the canvas in his career and the fourth time he had dropped an opponent.  The fight lived up to expectations.

It ended in the eigth round, Jones hitting the canvas four more times before his corner had seen enough and halted the fight.  It was the last time Jones entered a boxing ring.

"I'm lucky, in that I lost to a guy I couldn't have beat on my best day" Jones tells me.  "Listen, we all have reason or/and excuses why we lost and I have plenty for that night. But ultimately I tried my best and it wasn't good enough on the night" he reflects honestly upon the loss.  20 fights and a single defeat, a brain scare and a world title all without being blessed with natural power, it was time for Jones to hang the gloves up.  So were there regrets about his career?  "I think I like every boxer had regrets, but when I turned pro believe it or not,it was never about the money and at the end that was my main focus, added with all the shit I went through with my scans and stuff. I didn't love it anymore which means I didn't live it, then I knew I had to get out."

Jones is one of the few former boxers who has been able to walk away from the sport on a loss, comfortable that he had achieved what he set out to do.  So often there are ill fated comebacks when a boxer either runs out of money or runs out of reasons NOT to box.  But was there one fight that he wishes he had been able to make that never came off?  "Steve Robinson, for my world title. The first all Welsh world title fight, both from the same city, same council estate and for a while growing up on the same street. We both talked about it and both would have wanted it."  It would have no doubt been a huge fight not just in Wales but in boxing.  Given that the fight never came off and the abrupt ending to the in ring career did Jones suffer mentally from not being able to carry on doing what he had known his whole career?  

"Yes I did, it's hard to turn your back on your first love, which is what the sport is for most boxers. I felt sad for a time, angry for a bit, but most of all there is a massive void. You just have to mange your life expectations and move on."  It is perhaps this balanced and reasonable approach that has most helped Jones in his post fighting days.  But boxing hasn't left his life and now Jones can be found on the BoxNation TV channel, one that is owned by Frank Warren who himself was promoter for Jones in his boxing career and helped secure his world title opportunity.
Reece Macmillan
Often you will hear Jones provide insightful commentary during live broadcasts, a knowledgeable commentator on the sport who can shine a light on technical aspects of a fighters game that armchair viewers may not otherwise identify.  As much as the viewers benefit from the involvement of Jones, does he feel that keeping involved in the sport is a benefit to him?  "Massively, it's been a life changer, I'm involved in the sport I love, which I thought had passed me by" he says.  Often it is seen that those fighters who are able to keep a hand in the sport and continue their involvement are the ones who can cope best post retirement.​  

With Warren being at the head of BoxNation, British fans typically have two places to get their boxing fix; either BoxNation or Sky.  Unfortunately the two have had the presence of oil and water of recent years, fighters for Warren being broadcast on his channel while the other large promoter in the UK, Eddie Hearn, has the stanglehold on the broadcasting of boxing on Sky.  However the start of 2016 has seen a potential thawing between the two major players as Bradley Skeete (a Warren fighter) fought on a Sky card when defeating Sam Eggington for the British and Commonwealth welterweight titles.  Granted the fight took place due to purse bids but it could open doors for future cross-channel fights.  Jones himself, as someone at the coal face of the issue, does get frustrated with the situation as fans do but equally he understands the reasoning why.

"It is frustrating, but it's not just here, it's everywhere. Skeete fighting on Sky, just like when (John) Ryder boxed (Billy Joe) Saunders on Boxnation, will always be a rare thing. It will never change, because like the managers and boxers, the promoters want to earn as much as they can. And can you blame them? I left out trainers there, because they are the most underpaid people in the sport, managers get 25% but trainers with all the work they do, only get 10%. Their percentage should be swapped with the managers."  If the walls were to come down between the two broadcasters and promoters, is there a particular fight that Jones would like to see made?  "Off the top of my head, Butler vs Yafai, it would be a war and quality with every punch".  We can but hope.

When you hear the commentary of Jones one thing stands out a mile:  the Welsh accent.  He is a proud Welshman, someone who spent the majority of his career fighting in his home country in front of his own fans.  Boxing right now in the land of the Valleys is have a renaissance.  World champion Lee Selby is making waves both domestically and in America while his younger brother Andrew has just become professional after a successful amateur career and is looking a revelation.  Enzo Maccarinelli keeps his name near the top of the cruiserweight scene and recently defeated ring legend Roy Jones Jr.  Gary Lockett is pulling up trees from his gym in Wales and a stable of fighters both achieving now and shaping up for the future.  Is it the beginning of a golden era for Welsh boxing?

"I'm hoping this is the start of something big.  Lee Selby is the star at the minute, big with Al Haymon ties, I think his future lies in the USA and that might apply to Andrew selby as well. Liam Williams, he looks a bit special, and might just be a challenger for Liam Smith's world title soon.  Imagine that in Cardiff, with a great supporting cast of Big Enzo v Cleverly, Andrew Selby and all the other talent young guns. By the way Gary Lockett and Tony Borg are doing a stella job in South Wales" says Jones, clearly excited about the prospect of a boom in Wlesh boxing to come.

One hole that has recently been left in the diary of Jones is the ESPN boxing podcast that he featured on weekly alongside boxing punditry legend Steve Bunce.  The podcast, despite large numbers listening in, was halted and leaves a gap in audio fixes for boxing fans during the week.  Is there any hope of a revival in time?  "The podcast was my favourite job, to be honest. I'm gutted it's gone, not just because of the money but also the laughs we had and it something always be proud of. Buncey is talking to some about trying to revive it under a different banner, but to be honest financially it might not make sense. But we will see."

One door closes as another opens.  The in ring career may not have had the smooth ending that would a younger Jones may have dreamed of but it still encompassed years of success and as importantly, created a legacy.  The BoxNation work has given Jones a natural fill to the void that boxing left and he has proven a natural in front of the camera and behind the microphone.  The podcast work that he so enjoyed has now ended but Jones has already proven he is adaptable, multi faceted.  What other ventures and avenues he finds himself going down remain to be seen but there are few in the sport who fans will ever appreciate and get behind as much as Barry Jones.