By Robert Coster
Stephen Jones is the newly elected President of the Jamaican Boxing Board of Control. His election comes as the island nation is getting set to celebrate it’s first international boxing card in over 15 years. Unbeaten featherweight contender Nicholas Walters will be defending his WBA Fedelatin title against Argel Salinas of Mexico. This card comes in the wake of a very successful three month contender-type TV boxing reality show in Jamaica. So, one wonders whether pro-boxing is actually returning to Jamaica? Fightnews put the question to Stephen Jones who speaks about the state of the game on the island.
Mr Jones, you are the newly elected President of the Jamaican Boxing Board. How long have you been involved in boxing, what is your experience with the game?
First and foremost, I’m a fan and have been one all my life. In terms of official involvement, I joined the board three years ago in the capacity as the 1st Vice President under the mentorship of my Immediate Past President, Mr. William Tavares-Finson who showed me the ins-and-outs of the boxing game and it was during this time which I was able to really get my fingers entrenched in the sport on the local level.
Before talking about the big card on June 16th, let’s talk about what has been the state of boxing in Jamaica. In the 70’s and 80’s, Jamaica was prominent in the Caribbeans as a boxing hotspot: we remember the heavyweight title bouts being celebrated in the island and promoted by Lucien Chen, the WBC flyweight title bout promoted by Jacques Deschamps in 1990 (Clarke vs. Chitalada). Boxing had become a fixture at the plush Pegassus Hotel, drawing hordes of fans. Then, the big slump: pro-boxing practically disappeared from the island. What was the cause of that?
You made reference to two of the biggest promoters in Jamaican Boxing history. The big slump came when they left the game. The interest in the sport remained but the amateurs had no real direction in which to turn once they became pros. Since Prize Fighters were no longer able to collect a prize, they had to then turn to alternate routes in which to make a living. Now that the sport is once again on a high, we are being approached by individuals who want to get involved in the sport from all levels. The important thing is to ensure that a high standard is set by the board which must be met by all members of the boxing fraternity alike, whether it be athletes, coaches, managers or promoters, if a template is set then we stand a better chance of ensuring that boxing in Jamaica never disappears again.
On June 16th, international pro-boxing is returning to Jamaica. Ranked featherweight contender Nicholas Walters will be defending his WBA Fedelatin title against Argel Salinas of Mexico. Do you see this as marking a rebirth of the sport in the country? What must be done to insure that this is not a one time thing?
Nicholas Walters coming to Jamaica is an event of monumental proportions because he is one step away from getting a chance to fight for the world title. The fact that he is defending his Fedelatin title on Jamaican soil will allow a new generation of fans to witness Jamaican boxing at its highest level. However, I consider this more of a continued growth on the road to high quality Jamaican boxing rather than a rebirth seeing as recent activity across the island has proven that boxing is alive and well and this is a significant milestone to which we have achieved due to a tremendous amount of hard work and consolidated effort on the part of the boxing fraternity over a number of years.
To ensure than this isn’t a one-time thing we must continue to encourage the sport of boxing in Jamaica and the way I see this being done is to raise the standard of our amateur boxers which will in turn lead to a higher standard of professional boxers of which a pool will be formed where we will have many more Nicholas Walters to choose from in the future.
Before the upcoming card, there was–for over 3 months–a boxing reality show copied on the US contender series. The series featured young Jamaican middleweight prospects and the popular response was phenomenal. So,is it a fact that Jamaicans do like boxing? Now, apart from creating a fan base, boxing to survive as a sport needs to be lucrative. You need TV and you need sponsors. How is that going?
Boxing has been a favorite past time for Jamaicans from day one! The recent Contender series not only re-emphasized this fact but it also highlighted that a huge part of our fan base is made up of women and that is a very comforting factor to embrace as we are reaching out to all demographics. As it relates to sponsors we are fortunate to have the complete endorsement of Television Jamaica which is our number one station as well as the support of all the other media houses. Boxing is therefore being covered on all levels, whether by being on air on in print, all that we’re doing is getting out there. The rest of Corporate Jamaica has been a bit slower to come around but I do know that they are paying very close attention so it will be for our administration to impart our vision upon them so that more can come on board. That being said I have to say a special thanks to Worthy Park Estates as they have stepped up in a major way to not only put their full support behind Nicholas Walters by using their Rumbar Rum brand as Title sponsors for his fight, but also for Jamaican boxing in general.
And, you need a pool of boxers. No boxers, no boxing. Apart from Nicholas Walters, what other young men can draw the crowds to the arena? Are there talented amateurs waiting in the wings to turn pro?
We have been heartened by the significant increase of boxers entering the gyms island wide and We do have several amateurs in the wings waiting to turn pro but would first like to take a shot at qualifying for International events such as the PanAM games and the Olympics. I am a huge advocate of creating a feeding tree from which to pull talent and I believe that the best place to start would be getting the sport back in schools where boxing is part of the curriculum. Once this becomes a reality then the idea of no boxers, no boxing would be a non-issue. In the meantime we have several professional athletes that could crowd any arena in Jamaica, two of which will be on the undercard to Nicholas’ Title fight. One being our current Middleweight Champion, Rikardo “the Surgeon” Smith and the other, Sakima Mullings who has been a fan favourite from his amateur days.
You’ve been working closely with Jacques Deschamps, Walter’s manager. Jacques is an experienced promoter, the last one to promote a world title fight on the island. How is this association going? Who is, in fact, promoting the big card on June 16th?
Jacques has been a tremendous resource as not only does he have a wealth of information but he also fully understands the Jamaican culture, so that coupled with his experience in boxing has allowed him to be a great ally to myself and to the Jamaica Boxing board of Control. The June 16th card is being promoted by Richard Kiibler of Levy Advertising and Promotions who is actually based in Florida.
To finalize, Stephen, are you optimistic about the future? Is big time boxing returning to Jamaica?
I personally don’t think I could have taken over the helm at a better time as I love the direction in which we are headed. The very least I can do is continue to maintain the momentum that has been handed to me by the past administration while very carefully constructing the steps on which to go forth in order to build on that momentum and ensure that not only does big time boxing return to Jamaica, but it remains for generations to come.