While Carson Jones entered the ring to fight Ricardo Williams Jr. in his hometown of Oklahoma City, Okla., on Thursday night, there was more at stake than a win or loss. Everything Jones had worked for was on the line.
Jones, who rose from the ignominy of “opponent” designation to the number three welterweight contender with the International Boxing Federation (IBF), was making a mandatory defense of the sanctioning body’s regional USBA title, which he had won earlier in the year with a second-round stoppage of Michael Clark. Had Jones not agreed to face the resurgent 2000 Olympic silver medalist, he would risk his ranking, which would blow any hope he had of fighting in an elimination bout to become the mandatory challenger for the IBF belt that Mike Jones and Randall Bailey will fight for next year.
Yes, it’s confusing, but Jones handled business nonetheless, stopping Williams for the first time in the Cincinnati native’s pro career in the fourth round following three knockdowns in an untelevised bout.
“He was very tough at first and gave me a little trouble, but I adapted and handled business as always,” said Jones (33-8-2, 23 knockouts).
For Williams(19-3, 10 KOs), his nine-fight win streak has ended, and most likely his hopes of salvaging his once-promising career has, too.
And for Jones, the KO win capped off a year that saw the 25-year-old veteran complete an improbable career turnaround. Jones at one point was a loser of four out of five bouts from 2006-2008, but under new management began to build his confidence back with stay-busy fights.
Since that period he’s been more or less stable, losing two competitive decisions to Jesus Soto Karass and Rogerio Pereira, while scoring knockouts over the previously undefeated knockout artist Tyrone Brunson on ShoBox, followed bySaid Ouali on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s knockout win over Victor Ortiz in September.
With Andre Berto vacating the IBF title to face Ortiz in a rematch of their battle last year, the number one (Bailey) and number two (Jones) contenders are set to battle to fill the vacancy. IBF Championships Chairman Lindsey Tucker said that the Bailey-Jones bout is rumored to take place in March, which would give the winner of that bout four months to take an optional defense, while the two highest available contenders fought to become the new mandatory challenger.
Tucker says that if the eliminator were to take place today, Jones and Argentina’s Hector Saldivia — the IBF’s current third and fourth rated fighters respectively — would fight an eliminator, with the winner becoming the new mandatory challenger. Anything could happen between now and then though, Tucker cautions. One scenario Tucker gave as an example would be if the fifth and sixth contenders faced each other, the winner could potentially supplant Jones as number three contender.
“I’m just happy to be in the driver’s seat now and really just thankful to God for all of my success,” said Jones. “It feels really good to be that close to getting a title shot. It’s every fighter’s dream.”
Saldivia (40-2, 32 KOs) has won seven straight since being stopped in the first round last year by Said Ouali in his first appearance in the United States. Without a strong following in America, it’s likely that Jones would have to venture to Argentina for an elimination bout.
Yet while Jones prepares to take his first breather from training camp this year to celebrate the holidays, he can’t help but look ahead to look at what may await him in the future.
Jones feels that the bout between the much younger Mike Jones, an undefeated 28-year-old Philadelphian, and Bailey, a 37-year-old former junior welterweight beltholder, is not as open and shut as it appears on paper.
“I think age is a big factor in this one,” said Jones.
“Jones wins by decision, most likely, but if not then I’d say Bailey by knockout. Mike Jones is the younger fighter, but then again I can’t say he’s hungrier. Randall Bailey may be 37 but I think he’s still hungry and maybe even more so than Mike Jones.
“When I look at (Mike Jones), he doesn’t have that fire in his eyes. To me he fights like someone is forcing him to be in there and lacks passion.”
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.