Ben Jones calls it a day
In an in-depth interview with Garry White, former English super-featherweight champion Ben 'Duracell' Jones announces his retirement and reflects on his career, including how he nearly became Vasyl Lomachenko's first pro opponent...
It is never easy to know when to call it a day.
Doubly, so when you have single-mindedly focused on something for close to 30 years, with 12 of them spent as a dedicated professional.
For Ben Jones, the decision to retire was actually made more than a year ago, following his disputed Commonwealth points loss to Jason Cunningham. A fight that Jones still vociferously feels that he won, and will always be the one that got away.
There was also the mooted and potentially life-changing $120,000 payday that he was once offered to take on Vasyl Lomachenko in what would have been the Ukrainian’s professional debut under the bright lights of Las Vegas. Contracts were drawn up but regrettably never signed.
It's a match-up about which Jones is realistic concerning his chances had it gone ahead.
“If I had gone out there and fallen over in the first round, would I have been a rubbish boxer? No. Look at him now! The payday and the whole Vegas thing would have been great. The deal was never signed although I had agreed to all the terms.”
Despite privately deciding to retire following the Cunningham reverse, it was an unexpected shot at redemption that brought Jones back earlier this year to take on Reece Bellotti – following his subsequent conquering of Cunningham - for another shot at the same prize.
Given little time to prepare, the omens were not good and 'Bomber' stopped him in the sixth.
It is perhaps, not the way that Jones would have chosen to exit, but boxing rarely lets anyone take their leave on their own terms. However, it did at least help provide some sense of closure.
Speaking to Boxing Monthly, the Crawley man is philosophical. “I have no excuses. He’s a good fighter. But, I hadn’t trained all year and I only got the fight at 5-and-a-half weeks’ notice. I wasn’t going to turn it down. I trained hard and did all I could. That’s just the way it is sometimes.”
In a career that saw Jones amass a record of 22 wins, seven losses and a draw; BoxRec still has him on the fringes of the UK top 10 at his favoured featherweight.
Despite having just turned 36 and being two stone over his fighting weight, Jones is still convinced that he is “the fittest man in the gym”. He is keen to point out that his retirement is not the age old story of a ragged body giving up on him but something altogether different.
He explains it thus: “I don’t think my body is telling me it’s time to give up and that’s really the sad thing about it. I’m not giving up because I don’t believe I am fit enough or strong enough. I still believe I am. The reason it is time is because I don’t have a big promoter behind me to put me in the right position.
“I just can’t start again at 36 and at my age they don’t want me. The 5-and-a-half weeks for the Bellotti fight was probably the longest notice that Matchroom would ever give anyone.
"But it isn’t long enough at my age to stop and get ready. I don’t want to go through that effort and pain again, even though I love it. I need time for a decent camp and to do things properly. But, I can’t do that without anyone behind me. If I stayed on now they’d be giving me a couple of weeks’ notice at best; when someone has pulled out and that.”
Perhaps it is not the fighter that gives up on boxing but the other way around. Especially, for those who lack connections and seek to be more than just opponents, competing at short notice in unfavourable away day circumstances: the fight game's version of the zero hours contract.
But, despite all this Jones has had a career that many would envy. His accolades include an English title as well as inter-continental and European straps sanctioned by the WBO. He also collected an IBO inter-continental belt at lightweight.
His ten-rounds points victory over Slovak Martin Parlagi in late 2015 for the WBO intercontinental featherweight crown landed him a number four ranking with the governing body. That he wasn’t able to kick on from there will always be a form of quiet frustration.
But, still it was a victory that was all the more remarkable considering that Jones had suffered a potentially career ending back injury just a year earlier. A situation that was only rectified following a visit to Europe’s pre-eminent spinal surgeon Martin Knight. It is something that Jones has kept his own counsel on in the past due to potential concerns over his boxing licence.
“I had three slipped discs and had to have major corrective surgery to get myself back. For a little while it was touch and go on whether it was going to work. I was very fortunate that I had Martin Knight doing it. What he did was amazing and I was back training again within eight weeks.”
Jones, is articulate and speaks with real warmth. He is honest about his disappointments and flavours them with a friendly chuckle that can easily turn into raucous laughter. He is devoid of animosity and understands how easy it is to analyse decisions from the uninterrupted vantage point of hindsight.
He is not without regrets though and considers his early switch from Barry Hearn’s Matchroom to the Maloney stable as a critical fork in the road where his career is concerned. Something he sums up as “a very bad decision. The timing was very unlucky”.
Offered a better deal with Maloney, the relationship quickly fizzled out but it did at least provide Jones with one of his career highlights, an English featherweight title victory over fellow Maloney fighter Akaash Bhatia in 2011.
“This was when I felt my best. I was 29, or 30 and Bhatia at that time was Maloney’s golden boy. The fight came about because I had just lost to Lee Selby. I was put in with their superstar and they were touting him as being world class and that.
“It was a really big fight for me and I wiped the floor with him, really. It should have been a stoppage but it went down as a technical decision due to a cut. That was a little bit of a shame because it was more than that. Such is life, still it was a win!”
For Jones it all began back at Crawley ABC – home club of the legendary Alan Minter - in the early 90s. For a kid with boundless and unrestrained energy, linked directly to his diagnosis with ADHD, boxing was the perfect outlet.
It was his despairing Mum that coined the nickname 'Duracell' that he later adopted throughout his ring career. An early influence was his Grandad who was a forces champion and fought over 300 times as an amateur. He also references the likes of 'Sugar' Ray Leonard, Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Roy Jones Jr as predictable 90s schoolboy heroes.
Jones went on to be a 'top four' domestic amateur in the same intake as the likes of Anthony Crolla, Frankie Gavin and Amir Khan, before turning pro in 2006 with Matchroom.
Regardless of the many good days and live television appearances there is still very much the feeling that his record does not adequately reflect his talents. Jones points to numerous evenings where he feels he didn’t get the rub of the green from referees or judges. A particular low point being his journey to Spain to take on unbeaten local favourite Juli Giner. Following a dominant performance his opponent received the nod on all three judges’ cards. A verdict allegedly so bad that Jones recounts that even the home town fans “booed it”.
Jones is candid about how nights like this feel to a fighter that is trying to lever his way up the rankings and push for further opportunities. The frustrations are clear but not something that he opts to dwell on.
“I had some terrible decisions in my time. I’m not just talking about where I thought I had won, but nights where it was a completely wrong decision. There was one earlier in my career, on SKY Sports where it was given as a draw. Glenn McCrory was on commentary and saying ‘you know, I give Ben five rounds out of the six, easy’ and the next thing you know it is called a draw.
“The other commentator goes ‘that is another disgusting decision in boxing. Referees should be stopped from judging fights. They are doing too much’. That was a terrible point in my career and obviously it was right at the beginning, which doesn’t help.”
Beyond the realms of incompetent scoring, 'Duracell' is honest and eloquent when discussing the issues faced by young boxers. He speaks with great respect concerning the work that Eddie Hearn has done with his fighters, but is more critical assessing the small hall game.
“There are very few promoters that actually promote. The smaller ones seem to forget that they are called a promoter and think that they are just an event organiser. All they do is supply the venue and the boxers and expect the fighters to sell the tickets. They need to properly promote the shows and help the lads sell the tickets.”
Jones is such a knowledgeable and amiable individual that it would be a tragedy if his input was permanently lost to the sport. A concern that Jones immediately dispels by enthusiastically outlining his determination to stay involved in an environment that has been an inextricable part of his life for so long.
He is coy as to where that involvement will be and the exact direction that his unquenchable energy reserves will be aimed at. Instead he prefers to take some initial time out for reflection and to keep himself busy with some commentary work in the US.
Jones is keen not to rule out training, management or even promotion and mentions that he would love to work with the right young prospects. His focus would be on leading them down the right path, whilst averting them from some of the pitfalls that have at times stymied his own career. He sums it all up perfectly.
“I want to stay in boxing in a huge way. Boxing has been my life and it would be a shame not to give what I’ve learnt back to some youngster. That’s how I look at it. So long as they have the right temperament and a bit of class I would concentrate full tilt on them.”
Ben 'Duracell' Jones might be retiring from the centre of the ring but he certainly isn’t planning on going anywhere.