Like most fighters from the “City of Brotherly Love”, Mike Jones embraces the “Philly Fighter” tag, a badge of honor for the towering 6-foot welterweight.
The 28-year-old Jones intends to close out his banner year with a bang, as he faces tough and rugged Argentine Sebastian Lujan on Saturday, the opening bout on the pay-per-view telecast for the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Jones (25-0, 19 KOs) made his non-PPV HBO debut this year, a rematch with Jesus Soto-Karass, against whom he struggled in their first encounter in November 2010. He had the tough Mexican out on his feet in the opening stanza, but when he failed to put him away after throwing 100-plus shots, Jones found himself punched-out, exhausted for the rest of the bout. He escaped with a majority decision victory.
In the rematch this past February, Jones paced himself and cruised to a shutout victory, learning much from the first bout.
“I learned how to be patient,” Jones told RingTV.com. “Just pick my shots, when I see a guy is hurt, don’t necessarily go all out because he might not be as hurt as you think he is. Also, mix your shots down to the body, ‘cause some fighters can take head shots, but they can’t take body shots.”
His opponent on Saturday is best known for his brawl with main event participant Margarito in 2005, a fight where the 31-year-old’s ear was partially ripped off by a stinging shot from “The Tijuana Tornando.” Lujan earned this bout with an upset of Mark Melligen this past summer, and he represents Jones’ toughest test to date.
While Lujan is similar to Soto-Karass in that they’re both rugged pressure-fighters, Jones sees some key differences.
“Lujan throws a lot of punches. Soto-Karass throws a lot of punches, but Lujan throws more punches,” said THE RING’S No. 8 147-pounder. “He’s going to keep throwing, off-balance or whatever, he’s gonna apply a lot of pressure. He has a lot more head movement than Soto-Karass. He’s really tough.”
Fighting on such a high-profile bout, Jones knows that many fans may be seeing him for the first time and he wants to leave them wanting more:
“I want the fans to say ‘Mike Jones is a throwback fighter. He reminds me of all those boxing greats. Pernell Whitaker coming up. Roy Jones. Felix Trinidad. [Jones] is really something to watch.’”
The bout is an eliminator for the IBF welterweight strap vacated by Andre Berto, with the winner slated to face knockout artist Randall Bailey for the title in 2012.
If Jones has it his way, he’ll face Bailey in early 2012, followed by the winner of Berto-Ortiz 2.
But right now, he’s focused on Lujan (38-5-2, 24 KOs), who believes is his toughest fight to date.
“I expect a very tough fight, Lujan is a real tough guy,” said Jones. “I expect him to go out there and go hard and I’ll go hard as well. This is a big opportunity for me this fight, this is a title eliminator, so when I win this fight, I’ll obviously be fighting for the title. So this is everything to me right now. It should be a great fight.”
Jones received some words of wisdom from another “Philly Fighter” — living-legend Bernard Hopkins — leading up to this pivotal point his career.
“[Hopkins] tells me to stay focused and fight your fight, don’t worry about the crowd,” Jones said. “Don’t worry about nothing else but your opponent and winning the fight.”
And beyond even the company of others to emerge from his hometown, the boxer-puncher co-promoted by Russell Peltz and Top Rank is anxious to join the legendary pugilists who have plied their craft inside the hallowed walls of “The World’s Most Famous Arena”.
“Madison Square Garden. Muhammad Ali, “Sugar” Ray Robinson, Joe Frazier. You name it, they’ve fought there,” said Jones. “This is really big. You can’t be great if you can’t do it [in New York]. And I’m trying to be great myself.”
Mike Coppinger is a regular boxing contributor to USA TODAY and THE RING. He is a member of THE RING Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Sports Boxing Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger