After a tough 2015, Leeds light middleweight boxer Damon Jones is targeting another shot at the British title. James Oddy reports.
The best boxing gyms are often the most non-descript locations. Set back from the busy road and nestled in between imposing tower blocks, the Camp Detox gym in Wortley is one such place.
It has produced a string of quality amateur tournament winning boxers who are now making their way into the professional ranks and making waves on a national scale.
The most successful of them so far is Damon Jones, the rangy 22-year-old southpaw. Jones had an illustrious amateur career which saw him pick up junior ABAs, a youth Commonwealth Games gold medal and win a national senior ABA at the startlingly young age of 17. He is now in the midst of an intense and comprehensive training regime to return to the ring on March 18 at Elland Road Banqueting Suite. It’ll be the first time the Leeds born, bred and based boxer will be in action following a heart-breaking loss to British middleweight champion Nick Blackwell in 2015.
Despite the result, Jones turned heads with some fluid and controlled boxing before succumbing to a technical knockout defeat in the sixth round against the more experienced Blackwell.
The opportunity to take on Blackwell came about after Jones had scored an impressive victory over then undefeated Grant Cunningham earlier in 2015. It looked likely that Jones would be fighting for the English middleweight title at some stage. However, the opportunity to fight for the even more prestigious British title, shown live on Channel 5, came about, and unsurprisingly it was one Jones and his team accepted.
“It (2015) was a bad year really,” said Jones. “The Blackwell fight just didn’t go to plan. I had seven weeks’ notice but no excuses. I got beaten fair and square. Everything was a rush really. I do reckon I could have beaten him, but he beat me on the night and fair play. I learned so much from the fight, in fact I think a loss gave me more than a win. Looking at the mistakes I made, I think I’ve become a better fighter.
“I am now a lot more settled. I’m back at my natural weight of light middleweight. That’s what I normally box at. But when the British title fight came about, you’re not going to turn it down. But I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind. I was still grieving for my dad (who tragically passed away from cancer) in a sense.”
Jones and his team have a clear plan of action moving forward, and there is a real sense of focus and determination emanating from the camp.
Jones added: “I’m looking to get someone in the top 15 or top 20 at light middleweight (for the 18th March) so I can get back into the top ten and get another British title shot.
“I’m 23 in March. I think that’s the perfect age to be going for a British title and then moving on. I thought I showed that I belong at that level.
“I did great for six rounds but I don’t think I was fit enough. So now I’ve got plenty of time. I’m in the gym. I think I’ve matured a lot as well…I want to get back in the mix. I belong there.”
This belief and confidence has seen a subtle change in Jones’ style.
He said: “This year I want to do a bit of everything (in the ring).
“Last year I was more of a counter puncher. But this year I want to come forward, keep that guard high. I used to box off the back foot.”
Jones’ skills were honed in part by growing up with identical twin brother Ben, who is also a high-level boxer in the armed forces after the pair had illustrious amateur careers.
Jones added: “He’s (Ben) in the Royal Marines. But he’s carrying a broken hand at the moment, so he’s helping to coach the Marines and Navy squads. He’s doing really well.
“Growing up it was ace. We used to push all the furniture back and make it into a boxing ring.
“But I think the reason I did so well in the amateurs was because me and our kid used to just bounce off each other. So it was always a competition. If we were running, he’d overtake me and then I’d overtake him. We were always pushing ourselves to the limits.”
Those skills were first encouraged at the now defunct Bateson’s ABC.
They were then refined at the Camp Detox, where Jones has been guided since the age of 14 by gym owner and trainer, ex-Leeds professional Danny Thornton, who himself shared the ring with some of the biggest domestic names during a storied career. “It’s Danny himself who makes the gym special,” added Jones. “I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else. The thing about Danny is he knows all his fighters personally. He knows how to train them.
“He knows what works for them. Some trainers treat all the boxers the same but he mixes it up. The gym’s also home to other good young pros like (1-0 light middleweight) Jack Sellars.”
It’s hard not to talk about boxing in the city without mentioning Josh Warrington, the arena-filling featherweight phenomenon and Jones believes boxing is really on the up in Leeds.
He added: “Josh has brought the spotlight to Leeds boxing. He’s got the football crowd interested, which is great, because Leeds has such good support.
“I think they need to get behind the other Leeds boxers though.
“You’ve got some cracking Leeds fighters even in the amateurs; you’ve got (Qais) Ashfaq and (Jack) Bateson on the route to the Olympics in Rio.”
Fit, focused and back at his comfortable weight, Jones has a message for the boxing fans of Leeds.
He said: “This year people will see a new Damon Jones. Come and watch me on March 18th and people will see it for themselves.”
Tickets are available from Jones directly on 07821020319 or via West Yorkshire boxing promotions at http://www.wybp.co.uk/