It would have been very difficult to imagine Carson Jones being in the position he is now just three years ago. Jones, who is rated third in the IBF welterweight rankings, is perhaps a year away from the world title opportunity that had always seemed out of reach.
Prior to stringing together an impressive run of victories over favored opposition during the past two years, the Oklahoma City, Okla., native was known as an “opponent,” someone who comes into his adversary’s backyard under disadvantaged circumstances with the purpose of propping up the other combatant. Jones often came into fights on short notice and out of shape to face opponents who outweighed him by as much as eight pounds just to make a buck.
“It doesn’t bother me, I actually like it,” Jones said of the ‘opponent’ tag he has carried for most of his career. “It makes the victory so much sweeter. I’d prefer to be the underdog in every fight.”
Yet out of those circumstances, the athletic 25-year-old boxer has built a career for himself by going against the grand design of promoters and pulling off unlikely victories.
Jones (32-8-2, 22 knockouts) earned his ranking by first annexing the USBA title — which entitles the holder to a top 15 ranking — against Michael Clark in May, then stopping the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-promoted Said Ouali in seven rounds in September on the undercard of Mayweather’s knockout of Victor Ortiz in Las Vegas.
Now, should Jones defeat resurging 2000 Olympic silver medalist Ricardo Williams Jr. (19-2, 10 KO) on Thursday, Dec. 15, at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, he would likely face the fourth rated Hector David Saldivia of Argentina in an elimination bout to become the mandatory challenger for the vacant IBF welterweight title, which will be claimed by the winner of the Mike Jones-Randall Bailey fight in March.
Despite the “opponent” designation and picking up losses he shouldn’t have, Jones said he never gave up hope of getting his shot.
“It was always in my head and I always knew this is what I wanted, but to be rated number three and headed towards a world title shot seems a little surreal,” said Jones.
The state of Oklahoma is hardly a boxing hotbed. Known more for it’s obsession with college football, Oklahoma hasn’t produced a world champion since Sean O’Grady captured a portion of the lightweight crown in 1981.
The lack of boxing infrastructure and public interest in his native state had long been a major detriment to Jones, who despite being just 25, is already a seven year veteran in the sport, having turned pro at the age of 17. Fighters who turn pro as teenagers often find themselves as boys among men, facing adversaries who are more mature and experienced than themselves. Jones wasn’t concerned with the risks, but perhaps he should have been.
“I guess the fact that I could make some money and doing what I love (convinced me to turn pro young),” said Jones. “But to be honest, I wish I would have waited.”
Jones had a brief amateur career of 30 fights, losing to amateur powerhouse Danny Jacobs in the 2004 Ringside World Championships in his final unpaid bout. Without amateur laurels to attract major promoters, Jones took whatever fights he could to earn a buck.
Jones remained unbeaten through his first eight bouts despite a draw and a no contest being mixed in with victories, but lost a rematch with Favio Medina, whom he had previously drawn with, in Medina’s backyard of Idaho in his ninth bout. The pattern of dropping fights in his opponent’s hometown continued onwards to the stoppage loss to Luciano Perez in 2006, then a final round TKO to Alfonso Gomez later that year.
Beginning with the Gomez fight, Jones lost four out of five bouts, which would usually be a death nail to a fighter’s competitive career.
But a chance meeting in 2008 with a matchmaker who saw something good in Jones would begin his unlikely career turnaround.
Bobby Dobbs, who at the time was the matchmaker for promoter Tony Holden, happened to be in the gym when Holden’s prized contender Allan Green of Tulsa, Okla., was set to spar with Jones. Green was a top-rated super middleweight contender at the time. Dobbs says that the much smaller Jones toyed with Green, opening Dobbs’ eyes to untapped potential.
“He was potshotting him around and making him look stupid,” said Dobbs, who has over ten years of matchmaking experience. “It was really impressive. I saw that this guy had a lot of ability and I took some interest in him.”
Dobbs says he paid off Jones’ previous manager for the rights to handle his career. As Jones was not popular enough to offset the costs of fights to sell tickets, getting his career back on track required some investment. Jones remained busy for the rest of 2008, running up five straight wins until losing a decision to fringe contender Jesus Soto Karass in Maywood, Calif., in February of 2009.
Jones remained undeterred, running up another unbeaten streak before stepping into another “opponent” situation. This time, they were ready.
“When I got the call for the (Tyrone) Brunson fight I didn’t even ask how much, I just said yes,” recalled Dobbs of the call he received from then-Gary Shaw Promotions matchmaker John Beninati to face Brunson, who as undefeated with 20 knockouts in 21 wins. Dobbs had seen Brunson two months earlier against Marcos Primera in the Philadelphia puncher’s only decision victory and felt he was a winnable fight for Jones.
Jones wound up pummeling Brunson into submission in the third round of a ShoBox main event, and Brunson hasn’t fought since then.
For the upcoming Williams fight, Jones has spent two months in the mountains of Big Bear, Calif., with trainer Abel Sanchez, who guided both Norris brothers Terry and Orlin to world titles in the 1990s.
If Jones has overachieved in his career, Williams has underachieved, having turned pro after the Sydney Olympics as the star of the American squad. The 30-year-old Cincinnati, Ohio naive suffered two surprising defeats in his 10th and 12th fights before serving 31 months of a three-year prison sentence on drug trafficking charges. Williams has won nine straight since being released from prison and is now Jones’ mandatory for the USBA title, which Jones must defend or lose his ranking with the IBF.
“Everyone has their own problems, let’s just hope he learned from his,” said Jones of Williams’ shortcomings. “He may have been a big disappointment as many hopefuls are, but I’m not looking past him. I believe he’s coming to win and believe me when I say I’m on a mission and I’m ready.”
“I don’t think anyone likes to fight slick southpaws,” said Dobbs of the task ahead.
Despite Jones’ growing reputation as a spoiler, he says the number of calls from matchmakers and promoters hasn’t slowed down. The only difference now are the sort of calls he receives.
“The calls are for bigger offers now,” said Jones. “I can tell you we won’t be getting any calls to fight an up-and-comer.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at email@example.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.