DAMO JONES is the city’s first senior Amateur Boxing Association (ABA) champion since Levi Pattison in 1998 and, at just 18 years of age, he is a champion of which plenty more will be heard.
Little do most know that only two years ago the Leeds star jacked the sport in – with coach Danny Thornton his saviour.
Jones has been the talk of the city’s sporting scene all week after defeating 25-year-old former champion Steve Turner in Essex last Friday to become senior ABA welterweight champion – a belt held by Welsh ace Joe Calzaghe no less back in 1991.
Ironically, Wales is also part of Jones’ blood, with his family originating from near Wrexham, but it was in city of birth Leeds that he opted to stay two years back when dad Gareth and twin brother Ben opted for a move to their homeland.
It was when Jones’ problems began as the teenager lived alone and soon came off the rails, despite his blatant boxing promise.
But while sport soon fell by the wayside, six months later he was back in the gym. The gym at West Leeds Amateur Boxing Club that is – where the city’s champion also lives. It is run by Leeds coach Thornton who, in Jones’ book, is the reason for where he is today.
Sat proudly with his impressive trophy at his Wortley base, Jones reveals the harder times.
“I had a bit of a bad patch when I started living by myself and I stopped coming to the gym for about six or seven months,” he said. “I’d moved out from home and after always having my dad backing me 100 per cent, I was suddenly by myself sort of thing.
“I stayed in Armley and I was just more interested in partying and girls really, so I stopped coming boxing and kept myself to myself. It was a very bad time.
“I left school at 16 and went to Swallow Hill sixth form but because it was a bad time I wasn’t dedicated to anything. I couldn’t see anything out. I was going off the rails. Then I was by myself one time thinking ‘what am I doing to myself’ and I had a chat with Danny and he said the best thing for me was to just move into the gym and get back and follow my dream. He threw me a lifeline but the ground rules were that I had to dedicate myself.
“Now I’m not allowed to bring girls back and I’m not allowed visitors up there – if I want visitors I can come down and sit in the pub with them. I’ve got to keep it strictly professional and strictly on the boxing side as to be a champion, you’ve got to eat, sleep and train boxing.
“There’s no alcohol – you have the odd pint when you celebrate but I don’t drink – and Danny’s been a saviour for me really. He puts so much time and money into me. It’s like last weekend. Going down to Colchester would have cost him like £500 but he doesn’t ask for a penny back, he’s just glad to see me doing well.”
And how well he did last weekend when crowned a national champion, the Leeds ace admitting it has still not fully sunk in.
He added: “I still can’t believe it and it’s such a good feeling – 18-years-old and I’ve got an ABA title even though the head of the ABA told Danny that it wasn’t a very good idea me doing it as I still had another year left at junior level. I’ve just proved him wrong and proved everybody wrong and they are not kids I am beating, they are adults these.”
It has been some story – and a story that the boxing world and his wife have wanted a piece of, much to Jones’ delight.
The youngster’s Facebook page has been inundated with messages of congratulations with the Yorkshire ace coping with his new-found fame just fine!
“This week’s been mad with the papers, radio and the phone’s been ringing a lot,” he said.
“A few promoters have been in touch and we have been talking to the England ABA about going into the Youth Europeans and the Youth Commonwealths. It’s all good stuff, all positive, and it’s just opened so many doors for me.”
The first boxing door was opened as an eight-year-old when dad Gareth got so sick of his two twins fighting at home that he opted to send them to Batesons Gym to fight each other instead.
It proved a wise decision – twin Ben also having boxed for England and now living back in Leeds ahead of his forthcoming link-up with the Royal Marines.
Recalling how it all began, Jones explained: “Myself and my twin brother were always fighting and my dad thought the best thing to do was to take us boxing to let a bit of steam off.
“At first I was just messing around really but then after a couple of years I saw that I actually had a talent and I started taking it a bit more seriously with the help of my dad.
“Since the age of 11, I have been to every national final and always been ranked one or two in the country which is brilliant.
“I was at Batesons until I was 14 but then the gym shut down and a few went to Burmantofts, but it was too far and when one door shuts another door opens.
“I met Danny here at West Leeds and I haven’t looked back – it’s probably been the best thing that’s happened to me.”
That statement is also true of last Friday evening when Jones was crowned champion after defeating the vastly-experienced Turner in his own back yard.
However, joy very nearly turned to despair after the fight when the former Wortley High School student almost failed to perform the necessary duties as part of a random drugs test.
“I got random drug-tested but I couldn’t go to the toilet!” revealed Jones. “It was because my adrenaline was going so much – that and the fact that this big guy had to go with you to watch you pee. I couldn’t go so I had about five bottles of water and about two hours later it was done.
“It was uncomfortable but if you don’t do it you get stripped of the title. The worst thing was when I got in I couldn’t sleep as I had to keep going to the toilet!”
Now, though, it is only sleepless nights about the future that Jones is having, a future that is undeniably bright with only one ultimate dream,
“In five or 10 years I want to be a world champion,” he said.
“At the moment I’m just taking each day as it comes, seeing what the ABA are offering and seeing what fights are coming up. There’s no rush, I’m still young.
“But long-term I want to turn pro and be world champion.”
And the chances of that goal being fulfilled? Every chance, with a huge sense of confidence from Jones’ answer alone.
“I know I’m going to do it because it’s my desire and my dream,” he said. “When I’m focused on something, there’s no stopping me, no ifs or buts. I’m going to do it.”