March 19, 1983 – Milton McCrory D 12 Colin Jones I, Convention Center, Reno, Nevada
After a detached retina forced Leonard to surrender the undisputed welterweight championship, the WBA and WBC gleefully split up the belts and staged separate fights to fill the vacancies. Donald Curry earned the WBA strap by decisioning Jun-Suk Hwang in February while the WBC opted to match its number-one contender Milton McCrory with number-two occupant Colin Jones.
McCrory was a solid four-to-one choice among the Vegas betting houses based on the 17 straight knockouts that began his career, three consecutive decision victories over Pete Ranzany, Roger Stafford and Victor Abraham and the American’s far greater familiarity with U.S. audiences, most of whom had never seen Jones in the flesh, much less seen him fight. The Welshman, however, brought solid credentials. In his last 18 fights, Jones had gone 17-1 (17) and acquired the British, Commonwealth and European titles. Along the way, he scored two come-from-way-behind, ninth round knockouts over Kirkland Laing, who went on to upset a grotesquely out-of-shape Roberto Duran, and, in his last fight ,he traveled to Denmark and polished off the 39-2 Hans-Henrik Palm to pick up the European belt.
In recent fights, perhaps due to the onset of chronic hand injuries, McCrory had transformed himself from the “Ice Man” who stretched all of his early foes into a facsimile of Thomas Hearns’ “Motor City Cobra” style that maximized his massive height and reach but minimized his chances for knockout wins. That was the style he employed from the outset against Jones and it served him well in the first five rounds. McCrory circled, peppered Jones with combinations that mostly bounced off the Welshman’s high guard and maintained an extremely high work rate while Jones advanced behind infrequent but dangerous looking hooks and crosses. Tellingly, Jones held more than his own in the jabbing contest as his blows bloodied McCrory’s nose and carried far more snap and power.
The fight began to turn late in the sixth as a looping left forced McCrory to take a step back and a driving hook to the stomach caused the American to fold his upper body ever so slightly. Jones further capitalized in the seventh by closing the gap and connecting more frequently and forcefully.
In the eighth, McCrory crossed the line between boxing and running as he shifted to a full-blown retreat that prompted the crowd to boo and referee Octavio Meyran to tell the American to start fighting. The fast pace not only tested their stamina; it also inflicted facial damage to both as blood from his nose poured into McCrory’s mouth while the “Ice Man’s” straight rights pounded Jones’ left eye purple.
Jones’ surge reached its peak in round nine as he sunk heavy hooks into McCrory’s ribs and put together his best sequence in the final 30 seconds: two big rights to the jaw, a rattling left uppercut, two more rights, a hook, a cross and a final hook to the face at the bell. Worse yet for McCrory, a right to the side of Jones’ head caused him to wince and grab his wrist.
A charged-up Jones started the 10th by briefly trapping McCrory on the ropes and slamming a pair of body hooks. McCrory looked disheveled and disorganized as he clung on for dear life and at that point, there were doubts he could make it to the final bell. But just when it appeared Jones was ready to score another come-from-behind KO, McCrory pulled himself together and went back to the basics that helped him win the first five rounds. Those basics allowed him to survive and advance to the next round.
Jones continued to rally in the 11th as his blows carried far more steam than McCrory’s right uppercut/left hook strikes. The final 30 seconds of the round bore witness to a vigorous mid-ring exchange that saw McCrory land more but Jones connecting with more power.
Between rounds 11 and 12, a clearly exhausted McCrory drew in several deep breaths as chief second Emanuel Steward brought out the verbal whip. Although ABC’s microphones couldn’t pick up Steward’s words, they obviously had the intended effect as a determined McCrory dove inside and traded punch-for-punch with the harder-punching Welshman. The thrilling toe-to-toe action prompted the previously booing crowd to give the fighters a standing ovation after the final bell, though they made their sentiments known by booing McCrory as he was raised on his handlers’ shoulders.
Brazilian judge Newton Campos agreed with the throng as he scored Jones a 116-114 winner. Mexico’s Jose Juan Guerra went the other way by favoring McCrory 116-113. But Venezuelan Dimas Hernandez’s card proved decisive by being indecisive – 115 points for McCrory, 115 points for Jones.
It was the ninth draw in welterweight championship history and the first since Jack Britton-Dave Shade in February 1922. It also was the first draw that involved a vacant 147-pound title and since the void still needed to be filled, the next logical move was obvious – a rematch.