Otha Jones III is in a good mood, and it has nothing to do with him not having to make weight for an April 10 bout in Nebraska that was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I only had to lose a few more pounds and I would have been on weight,” said Jones, whose default mode is “good mood.” It’s a refreshing attitude in a world where snark is everything, but the 20-year-old has seen enough negativity that he chooses to go in another direction.
See, in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, it’s easy to get caught up on the negative. It’s why his father Otha Jones Jr. and brother Roshawn started the Soul City Gym, not just to produce boxers, but to save lives. Even the gym’s web page spells out a different mission statement than most do”
Soul City Boxing Club is an anti-gang and anti-violence organization that is located in the central city of Toledo Ohio. Roshawn Jones is the boxing and wrestling coach and a former High School wrestler. In the neighborhood, only 37% of parents are high school graduates and 70% of the children come from single parent households. Soul City provides a safe and stable place for kids of all ages to go after school and on the weekend. Since its inception in 2008, Soul City has been able to successfully contribute to a 30% drop in crime on Junction Avenue in the heart of Toledo.
That’s real talk, even if the gym has produced the likes of Jones III, former U.S. Olympian Charles Conwell, and a young lady expected to represent the U.S. in the Tokyo Games next year, Jones’ sister Oshae Jones. Yet the heart of the gym is the kids saved from the streets, and no, this isn’t a spot with a smoothie bar or tanning beds.
“We're not the type of gym for that,” laughs Jones, who practically grew up in the family business on 801 Junction. “But the gym is very important. Here in Toledo, everything's not given to us. We gotta get it out the mud and really work hard for it. And having our own gym is truly a blessing because we don't have to come to the gym and always work out. Sometimes we can just be a family here and have it be a family business where we coach boxing.”
Or box, and Jones’ formative years were spent learning a craft that led him to over 260 amateur wins, two National championships and a host of accolades. That kind of success (and let’s not forget he was a three-time State wrestling champion) comes at the expense of a “normal” life.
“It was very difficult,” he admits. “I just wanted to be a kid growing up and sometimes I couldn't. I had to let that go for boxing. I had fights on the weekends, every weekend. Sometimes I wanted to go be a kid and go to parties and stay the night at my friend's house and play videogames with my friends. I had to give those things up to be where I'm at now.”
Where he’s at is 5-0 with two knockouts since turning pro in 2019. He thought about sticking around to try for the Tokyo Games, but amateur politics made him decide to leave that behind.
“I'll let my sister have all the fame from the Olympics,” he said.
COVID-19 put the brakes on the Olympics proceeding as planned this summer, and it also halted Jones from continuing his march through the pro ranks. He is still hoping to add four more wins to his ledger by the end of 2020, though, while also beginning to seek out his first “small title.”
Either way, it’s looking like 2021 will be a big one for the Jones family. So does that mean Otha III pulls dad to the side once in a while to say thanks for keeping him on the right track?
“Yeah, all the time,” Jones said. “We don't see it when it's happening. We see it in the long run.”
Pretty mature for a 20-year-old, one who is taking this pause on everyday life as well as can be expected. Why? Because he knows this won’t last forever.
“A boxer's love is never gonna go anywhere,” he said.
Amen to that.