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Barry Jones: "Once I've seen a fighter live, I always remember them"

02 Jan 2013

Former WBO super-featherweight king Barry Jones is habitually more chipper than he has cause to be.

It is now 15 years since the affable Cardiffian was cruelly stripped of his world title, before he had time to reap the material benefits, after an anomaly was found in a routine brain scan.

When finally cleared to fight, the twinkle-toed stylist was cast against ferocious Brazilian banger Acelino Freitas...and on challenger's wages!

He copped a beating and initially struggled to come to terms with the injustice of it all. However, it came as no surprise to those who knew him well that the bitterness proved short lived and it wasn't long before he was again contributing productively to the community, working with disaffected youth.

And after fading from the scene for a decade, Jones the Jive made a welcome return last year as a knowledgeable and insightful analyst and co-commentator with BoxNation.

Over the holiday period, boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with him to reflect and pontificate.

Barry Jones Press Con


You were just 25 when you retired from boxing, following the only loss of your career to Freitas in a January 2000 WBO super-feather challenge (RTD8). Why depart so early? Were you ever tempted to return?

I just gave up. I'd had enough, run out of love with boxing, more or less. I'd forfeit my world title following a query with a brain scan and, when another query arose, after the Freitas loss, I just couldn't go through all the aggravation again.

At the time, I felt I'd been cheated on, used as a scapegoat for the Board to show they were serious about tightening medical safeguards following the injuries to Michael Watson and Spencer Oliver. I consciously stayed away from gyms. Having won a world title, you want to lose it in the ring, not by default. It left a real bad taste. It still upsets me when you ask me to talk about it now.

Barry Jones (R)Jones (R) suffered a torrid time against Freitas

Then around 2004-5, I started training again at the TKO gym in Canning Town and ironically, discovered something I'd never had during my career....a punch! (Barry scored just a single stoppage win, on cuts, in his 20 fight pro career). Physically, my body had matured but I'd still have made super-feather.

I sparred the likes of Ashley Theophane, Ross Minter and Dave Stewart, who was training for a British lightweight title shot. Though I was rusty, I'd retained enough moves to compete and, remember, all those guys were quite a bit heavier.

But after a real good think about it, I just didn't bother. I never wanted to be famous. I'd already achieved my boyhood dream of winning a world title and, after Freitas, wasn't too confident I was good enough to repeat that. I was always a realist.


What have you been up to in the subsequent 13 years?

I moved over to London way in 2000 and, for the first five years, I managed a wine bar in Twickenham that was owned by (ex pro featherweight) Wally Angliss.

Since then, I've mainly being going into schools and working on Self-Esteem Through Sport projects. Basically, I work with teenagers who are on the verge of exclusion. It's hard work and getting harder due to government cuts but absolutely brilliant. Richmond Council initially provided most of the funding but now I work a lot in conjunction with John Holland, son of the boxing promoter Harry Holland.

Quite recently, a 15 year old kid we were working with was shot dead for dealing drugs but if we get them young enough, we can hopefully give them a chance. It's very rewarding.


How did your opportunity to work in the media materialise?

Whilst I was world champion, and shortly after, I did a few bits as a panellist for Sky Sports. Spencer Oliver was around the same weight, had a higher profile and was probably more confident at the time so he got a lot of the jobs for fights in the lighter weights. I never pushed it.

Then, last year, out of the blue, I was invited onto The Bunce Hour to discuss my career and had a good time, a good laugh. Shortly after, Jim Bentley the BoxNation producer, asked me to help out with the Kevin Mitchell- Felix Mora show at the York Hall last February and, a month later, I was chucked into the co-commentator's job for Ricky Burns' WBO lightweight title defence against Paulus Moses in Glasgow. Thankfully, they've stuck with me since.

What was your view of the boxing media and commentators when you were fighting yourself?

I see it very differently now! I always remember Jim Watt saying I'd never win a world title boxing back foot. Well, he did! But I weren't too bothered by criticism and in fact most of the time the media were quite kind to me. The one thing is, there's no hindsight. You have to call it as honestly as you can, as you see it at the time. It's more difficult than it looks.

As an ex-fighter, what specifically can you offer to a broadcast?

It's impossible for me to be as articulate as someone like John Rawling but us fighters have been there. To my knowledge, John has never been punched in the face by a boxing glove.

Having boxed at the highest level, we understand the pressures. We understand the frustrations a fighter might be feeling mid-fight and can probably identify quicker when a fighter is hurt.

Most fans might know what a fighter needs to be doing but an experienced fighter might be able to explain why the fighter is unable to implement his plan because there's so many variables.

The boxing community is very tight knit. Do you find it difficult to be objective in fights where you might know the principals on a personal level?

It could be. A case in point was when Liam Smith beat Steve O'Meara for the Commonwealth light-middle title in December. With Liam being Paul's brother, and me working with Paul at BoxNation, I was very conscious of being seen to be fair to Steve so ended up talking almost exclusively about him... even though I was scoring the fight in favour of Liam!

Thankfully, I've not been too close to the 'scene' since I retired so I'm not 'pally' with the current crop of boxers. It would be hard to be objective if it's a fighter you really like personally but you just have to be professional and give your honest opinion. I never feel pressure that something I might say might offend somebody. It certainly wouldn't be intentional.

 

What research do you do?

I'm not a great one for stats, I don't watch those 24-7 'fly on the wall' documentaries, give no credence to who said what at press conferences or weigh-ins, and I don't talk to the fighters involved before they fight. I don't want to get to know them. You expect fighters to turn up in best shape and confident of victory otherwise they shouldn't be doing it.

During the day, I'll watch DVDs of the recent fights of the boxers involved so they're fresh in my mind.  I'll have mentally established the strengths and weaknesses of the boxers and how they compare to their opponent. That's my big strength. Once I've seen a fighter live, I always remember them and believe I can make accurate assessments from that.

 

What new skills did you need to acquire? What did you find especially difficult?

Two things. Firstly, being from Wales, I'm very conscious of the need to talk slower. I'm actually proud of my Cardiff accent and wouldn't want to lose it but try to eliminate some of the slang and colloquialisms, such as saying 'like' after every sentence!

Secondly, I do find it quite hard to judge a fight. You really have to judge each round as an individual fight. I now understand how you can get a very wide scorecard in what seems a close fight. Every round can be extremely close but if the same fella is edging them, you can end up with something like 118-110.Commentating has made me far more appreciative of our officials. Refereeing or judging wouldn't be for me.

I do record and watch back my broadcasts to hear how I sound and see how close I was with the judging. Mostly, I'm not too far out. If I was, I'd be man enough to admit it. You're only human.

 

How have the team you work with been helpful and supportive?

Jim Bentley, the producer, always gives me little pointers to improve me but he always does it in a lovely way.

(Commentator) John Rawling helps me a lot. He's a brilliant professional who, in contrast to me, is very articulate. He physically grabs hold of me if I'm talking too much - something I've asked him to do - and he's just so experienced, has covered so many huge fights. John and I get along great but don't always agree on boxing matters, like the outcome of a fight.  But I like that. It's healthy.

Steve Bunce is just a great guy who'd do anything for you and, in my opinion, should have an MBE for what he does for boxing in this country. He'll go out of his way to give a little 'gee up' to trade fighters no one else bothers with.

 

What's your normal routine on the day of a broadcast?

I'll arrive an hour before going on air and I'm never late. I always give myself plenty of time to prepare and familiarise myself with my notes and stats which I keep on my iPad. You have to have thoroughly researched both fighters, even if one is from overseas. I'm conscious that not every viewer is rooting for the home fighter!

 

Who are the best fighters and what are the best fights that you've covered so far?

The best fighter, potentially, might be George Groves. I really like his commitment and he's developing with every fight. I had reservations that he might be a bit frail after Kenny Anderson dropped him but I think he proved against that Mexican (Francisco Sierra) over in the States that he can take a big shot.

My favourite fighter, which is a different thing, would definitely be Frank Buglioni. I love everything about him. He enters to a great song 'Seven Nation Army' by The White Stripes and has an 80s style thing about him; high shorts, no sparkly dressing gown....He punches very hard and excites me.

Choosing a best fight is very hard. Leo Santa Cruz has been in some great fights and Marco Huck against Firat Arslan was pretty special. I covered the European bantam clash between Lee Haskins and Stephane Jamoye for ESPN. That was brilliant. Haskins showed more in defeat than he's ever shown in victory.


How would you like your career in the media to develop?

I could happily carry on doing what I'm doing now for the rest of my life. I'm not a qualified journalist. There's no way I could ever do what Steve Bunce does.

I'd perhaps like to go into gyms and do some 'colour' pieces on the fighters, try and get inside their heads, perhaps train alongside them. I'm probably still fit enough. That'd be enjoyable.

 

What are the best and worst bits about the job?

The best would be the buzz you get when you finish a really good show. Sometimes I just can't sleep after, I'm so high. All the people on the team always make you feel so good. I've not really found any worst bits yet. For any ex-fighter, it really is a dream job. You actually get paid to sit ringside for all the best fights.

 

In your opinion, is British boxing presently in a healthy state?

Absolutely. I think sometimes your memory plays tricks on you and you remember past times to be better than they really were. We could obviously do with a bit more terrestrial TV to supplement Sky and BoxNation but ESPN and Channel Five are getting involved.
Also, the top fighters are slowly starting to fight each other... more so than I can previously remember. We've great rivalries developing at middleweight between the likes of Darren Barker, Matt Macklin and Martin Murray and we'll probably be able to add Billy Joe Saunders to that later in the year.

At lightweight you've got Ricky Burns and Gavin Rees who, believe me, will give Adrien Broner a fight. Gav's really underrated. So things are good.

 

Name one prospect that BoxNation viewers need to follow closely in 2013.

Mitchell Smith, without a doubt. His coach Jason Rowland has got a good camp going over in Essex.

Mitchell's debut last year was as good as any I've seen and, at just 20, he's only going to get better once he develops his full strength and power. I love the way he stands in front of opponents and makes 'em miss, slips when he's in the pocket.

Mitchell SmithMitchell Smith (R) is one to watch out for

He's got a bit of the Mayweather defence, attacks the body like a little Mexican and can already throw every shot in the book. He'll lose the puppy fat, tone up and be unstoppable at super-feather. It's gonna be hard to hold him back. The sky's the limit.


Finally, how do you pass your time away from boxing?

Boxing is my life, really. I've a daughter Aimee, from a previous relationship, who's now 19 and lives up in Cheshire with her mum.

Travel is my new hobby. My missus Amanda has worked at Virgin Airlines for eight years and often gets us cheap deals so I've been away to the likes of Mauritius, Jamaica and all over the US. I'm a big NBA fan and, in November, went to see my team the (LA) Lakers for the first time.

I used to follow Cardiff City, home and away, back when they were in the old third division. They've improved drastically since I stopped going, so I'm staying away!

 
Glynn Evans caught up with Barry Jones

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