“Poison” Junior Jones (50-6, 28 knockouts) was an immensely talented boxer-puncher from Brooklyn, N.Y., who won world titles at bantamweight and junior featherweight while carving out a reputation as one of the most exciting fighters of the nineties.
He turned professional in 1989, following a stellar amateur run which saw him win 150 of 159 bouts, and his paid tenure was no less impressive. Jones punched his way to 32 straight victories, 22 inside schedule, to establish himself as one of the most gifted technicians in the New York area.
In October 1993 he got off the floor to annex the WBA bantamweight crown from unbeaten Colombian Jorge Eliecer Julio, but just when the young star had reached the top of the mountain the peaks and troughs began.
Jones was sensationally stopped by the undistinguished John Michael Johnson in Las Vegas and, although the setback was considered a blip, a second knockout defeat to journeyman Daryl Pinckney had many experts believing that he lacked the required durability to remain at world level.
The rapid punching New Yorker knew differently and regrouped to pull off his biggest wins and capture another world title. In March 1996 Jones prevailed in a war with Hall of Famer Orlando Canizales and, seven months later, became the first man to defeat legendary Mexican warrior Marco Antonio Barrera, for the WBO junior featherweight strap.
A repeat victory over Barrera in a direct rematch gave Jones the respect and admiration of fans and media alike.
The last few years of Jones’ career were peculiar. He broke into the pound-for-pound ratings following his brilliant wins over Barrera, but an immediate stoppage loss to the hard-hitting Kennedy McKinney sent his career into a tailspin and mooted collisions with Prince Naseem Hamed and Kevin Kelley failed to transpire.
He never regained another world title and retired in 2002, at the age of thirty-one.
“Kennedy McKinney didn’t want the rematch,” said Jones. “We tried to negotiate that fight but he didn’t want to face me and lost to someone else. I don’t think Hamed ever wanted to take me on, either. We would have been open to talks, but unfortunately that one didn’t materialize.
“Hamed was very awkward and an extremely hard puncher. He was a southpaw, but I don’t think that would have been a problem for me. Kevin (Kelley) and I would have been a great fight. He was another left-hander with a lot of heart, but that isn’t always a good thing, because you can be too brave for your own good.
“I would have been confident against both guys, but more cautious facing Hamed because of his punch power and awkward style.”
Jones had some of his finest moments whilst under the tutelage of Joey Fariello, the acclaimed New York coach, who worked out of Gleason’s Gym. Fariello passed away in December 1995, following a stroke, and Jones then spent several successful years with Tommy Brooks.
“Joey was a great trainer and a gentleman,” said Jones. “He pushed you to the limit and always got the best out of his fighters. That was the case whether you were a novice or a champion and I was lucky to have him.
“I still go to the fights. I’ve been involved in personal training and I will always follow the sport – I love it.”
RingTV.com spoke to the former two-weight world champion about the opponents he faced during a rollercoaster professional career:
Best overall: “Orlando Canizales, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame a few years ago. He had 16 world title defenses and was so cagey and tricky in the ring. I won our fight at Madison Square Garden and it was one of the best performances of my career.”
Best boxer: “Marco Antonio Barrera. He had terrific boxing ability and real punching power, which he displayed in both of our fights. Those wins (DQ5, UD12) really made me.”
Best puncher: “Marco Antonio Barrera again. He hit hard to head and body, although I was never down in either fight. I dropped him heavily in our first fight.”
Best defense: “Tom 'Boom Boom' Johnson. He was so smart and could lock me up at times and, even though I won a unanimous decision, it was a very difficult night for me. Canizales had some nice defensive moves also.”
Fastest hands: “Orlando Canizales. He was able to match me in that area; our hand speed was probably equal.”
Fastest feet: “No opponent in professional fights or sparring stands out in this area.”
Best chin: “Orlando Canizales. He took so many clean shots over 12 rounds, but was there right to the end.”
Best jab: “Kennedy McKinney. He had a pretty good jab at the time, but I ran out of power by going all out for the finish. I punched myself out in that fight.”
Strongest: “Marco Antonio Barrera by far. He was very strong on the inside and pushed me hard in the rematch.”
Smartest: “Erik Morales. In terms of finding the right hand Morales was very smart. He was able to set that shot up extremely well.”
Photos: Al Bello-Getty Images; Andy Lyons-Getty Images; THE RING
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing