He could be Philly’s next great boxer.
It’s Saturday night, June 25. Fight night at the South Philly Arena. The main event: A 10-round bout between rising 28-year-old Philadelphia welterweight boxer Mike “Machine Gun” Jones and 35-year-old Raul Munoz, a journeyman fighter who’s not expected to be much of a challenge. Jones’ camp is calling this a “stay busy” fight while they try to negotiate a September bout with a yet-to-be-determined “bigger name” opponent. The arena is sold out. More than 1,100 rabid Philly boxing fans are here to see Jones fight in his hometown for the first time in two years.
In the stifling hot dressing room, the same room in which Jones prepared for his first professional fight six years ago, the mood is tense. Kaseem Wilson, another local boxer handled by Jones’ local promoter, J. Russell Peltz, and Team Jones—manager Doc Nowicki, manager/cut-man Jimmy Williams, trainer Vaughn Jackson and conditioning coach/wrap-man Danny Davis—just lost one of the undercard bouts. The decision could have gone either way, and Wilson is stewing on a chair in the corner.
As Jones gets his stretches in, a third boxer from the Peltz/Team Jones stable, Anthony Flores, prepares for his fight. He marches out to the ring with Team Jones. A few minutes later, a muffled roar penetrates the dressing-room wall. Jones rushes out to see what’s happening in the fight. One of the big screens in the arena is replaying, in excruciating slow-motion, Flores enduring one of the most brutal knockouts you’ll ever witness; the first-round punch sending him into the corner out cold, legs twitching. Doctors are administering oxygen to him inside the ring. A few minutes later, Team Jones carries Flores back into the dressing room. He’s awake and sitting on a chair, but he has no idea who or where he is. He’s taken to an ambulance and rushed to the hospital.
Jones shakes his head, paces a bit, then gets back to his stretching. “Just part of the game,” the grim-faced Jackson mutters.
As Davis tapes up Jones’ hands—a long, quiet, almost sacred pre-fight preparation—the Flores drama quickly melts away. Jones is stoic, meditative, in his zone as his team laces up his gloves and he and Jackson spar for a few minutes, his punches cracking like cannon fire into Jackson’s mitts.
Finally, well past 11 p.m., it’s time to fight. The Fox Sports Net cameras are ready to go. Philly boxing legend Bernard Hopkins—Jones’ friend and mentor—is ringside. So are Jones’ mother, older sister and girlfriend.
The crowd is pumped. A “Mike Jones! Who? MIKE JONES!” chant starts up.
“He’s gonna KILL this guy!” shouts one Jones fan in the first row.
The paunchy Munoz enters the ring to boos. The place erupts in cheers when the supremely chiseled, six-foot Jones enters the ring.
Introductions. More cheers. And then the bell.
Round 1. Jones and Munoz circle the ring, taking tentative swipes at one another. Jones is patient, feeling out his opponent, moving quickly around the ring, jabbing and delivering shots to the body. The out-of-condition Munoz seems more desperate, and is already breathing heavy. Ding. End of round one.
Ding. Round 2. Munoz, knowing there’s no way he’ll last 10 rounds, starts charging Jones, swinging wildly, hoping to catch him with a haymaker. Fluid and sharp, Jones steps aside like a matador, counterpunching Munoz’s body. Munoz drops his hands to defend his flanks. Jones plants a colossal overhand right on Munoz’s jaw. Munoz crumples to the mat. A huge roar from the crowd. Munoz tries to get up, wobbles, and that’s it.
At 2:29 of the second round, a TKO. Fight over. Jones remains undefeated. Twenty five wins, 19 by knockout.
In the post-fight, in-ring interview, Jones looks at the TV cameras and tells everyone watching that he wants “Pac-Man”—Manny Pacquiao, widely considered the best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet right now—next. Back in the dressing room, Jones doesn’t look like he was just in a fight—Munoz barely touched him. As Jones changes into his street clothes, a couple reporters pepper him with questions about Pacquiao.
“I don’t know what’s on Manny Pacquiao’s agenda, but I’m willing to fight the best,” says Jones.
And Team Jones thinks he’s ready to take him on. They say that Jones’ size, talent, ring smarts and his unique combination of power and finesse would give Pacquiao fits. Some agree—the World Boxing Organization (WBO) has Jones ranked as the world’s No. 1 contender to Pacquiao’s welterweight throne. Others say his undefeated record is padded with tomato cans, that he hasn’t taken on any “real” fighters, and that he’d be hopelessly outmatched against Pac-Man.
Regardless, many signs point to Jones being on a collision course with Pacquiao for a world welterweight title fight, possibly as soon as next year. And if he were to defeat Pacquiao, Jones would almost assuredly gain a spot in the pantheon of all-time great Philly boxers. Philadelphia has a rich boxing tradition, but it’s been a while since a young phenom with real potential to reach the top of the boxing world came up in this city. Is Jones that guy? Right now, the answer is unknown. At the moment, outside of boxing circles, so is Mike Jones.
Part of that is his own doing. Jones isn’t one for self-promotion—his camp tells him he should go on Twitter or Facebook more, but he’s not interested. He hates to bring attention to himself outside the ring. He doesn’t talk himself up. He brings up the skills he needs to improve upon—his jab, he says—rather than gloat over his talents (his speed, his balance, his powerful right hand, for example). He has no desire to create a public persona. He never travels with an entourage, not even on fight nights. He doesn’t drink, so he’s not out at the bars, and he’s not interested in the nightlife scene. He finds it slightly uncomfortable when people recognize him on the street. “I’ve always been this way,” says Jones. “Bein’ a loner growing up, it’s just my personality. I’m comfortable that way. I just like to be by myself.”