By Jake Donovan
Everything is finally falling into place for Mike Jones.
It’s been a rough road to notoriety for the unbeaten Philly welterweight. His first taste of televised exposure came on the previous version of Telefutura’s Solo Boxeo, one of the few African American fighters to be regularly showcased on a series geared towards a predominantly Hispanic market.
From there, it was on to ‘Top Rank Live’ once Russell Peltz, a Hall-of-Fame promoter and matchmaker from the City of Brotherly Love, agreed to allow Top Rank into the fold. The move led to a televised undercard appearance on a Manny Pacquiao-led pay-per-view show last November. He nearly flopped in his first huge break, punching himself out after having Jesus Soto Karass out on his feet early in the fight, and barely escaping with a disputed decision win.
Jones performed much better in the HBO-televised rematch three months later, earning airtime in a supporting capacity to Nonito Donaire’s highlight reel knockout of Fernando Montiel. That Donaire delivered one of the more memorable knockouts of the year left Jones’ own performance something of an afterthought.
The next big break in his career will come this weekend, when he received airtime in the preliminary portion of Saturday’s pay-per-view rematch between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito at Madison Square Garden. However, even that came with its share of anxious moments, given the uncertainty surrounding Margarito’s license status in the state of New York.
All fears wouldn’t be alleviated until a Thursday afternoon hearing that ran well into the early evening, when it was revealed that his license application was approved and the show would remain in New York as planned.
As far as Jones was concerned, there was nothing at all to be concerned about. Call it a gut feeling he had, but something about his preliminary bout with Sebastian Lujan has the rangy welterweight feeling good about the direction of his career.
“I just read about what was going on, but never really bothered to think about what would happen until a decision was ready to be announced,” Jones (25-0, 19KO) said of the entire ordeal that was even covered by HBO’s 24/7 camera crew. “It didn’t get to that point for me because I felt positive that it was going to be there (at Madison Square Garden) when all was said and done.”
The reason for Jones’ sudden optimism is the series of events that have followed the announcement of his appearing on what has become the year’s most anticipated show. When the opportunity was first presented to face Lujan, Jones and his handlers gladly accepted it without truly knowing what would follow with a win.
Jones and his handlers now know what’s at stake.
In the wake of Andre Berto vacating his alphabet welterweight title, Jones’ bout with Lujan has now become a sanctioned final eliminator. The winner will face mandatory challenger Randall Bailey for the vacant title sometime early in 2012.
With two fights on the card that are rematches to previous Fight of the Year candidates and another slot dedicated to all-action lightweight Brandon Rios, the Jones-Lujan bout threatened to merely serve as ‘just’ the fourth televised fight on the card.
Jones was perfectly content with just being seen on a high profile card. Now he gets exposure for a fight that has him one step closer towards living his dream.
“It feels good,” Jones admits of the raised stakes. “I’m always down to fight anyone willing to get in the ring, which is why we took this fight – he said ‘yes. Now, I’m one step to getting a title, so that means a lot to me.”
Carrying even greater meaning is the fight coming weeks after the sport lost one of its legend, a man whom Jones considered a mentor and a true friend.
The death of former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier earlier this month shook the boxing world, including Jones, who credits Frazier for helping him tremendously through the early years of his career. He now hopes to pay respect to his memory by delivering the performance of a lifetime.
“Joe was a great mentor and a good friend. I’ll always carry him with me,” Jones says.
Perhaps even more fitting is the fact that the fight to put Jones within arm’s length of a title shot comes in a venue that helped define Frazier’s greatness.
“Madison Square Garden is a great boxing venue, and where Joe won the biggest fight of his life (first fight with Muhammad Ali). A lot of all-time greats fought there before me. Key word is great,” Jones points out. “I look to show greatness.”
What he’ll have to show is his best stuff in order to get past Lujan, a sturdy veteran who has competed at the sport’s highest level. While tempting to think ahead to a possible vacant title fight showdown with Bailey, Jones remains grounded enough to take things one fight at a time.
“For me, it’s not tough to look past (Lujan). If I don’t take care of business, there won’t be no ahead.”
A setback at this stage wouldn’t be disastrous for the 28-year old, who is in the prime of his career.
Still, it’s a lot easier to reach your destination when you’re not forced to claw your way back.
That is what motivates Jones to win and win big on Saturday night.
“It seems like everything has gone as planned. My career is coming along nicely and I’m learning. I’m looking forward to Saturday, and fighting in prime time in front of a big crowd and for the fans at home to see.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected].