Boxing star to produce SA champs

Roy Jones Jr (PHOTO: Leon Sadiki)
Roy Jones Jr (PHOTO: Leon Sadiki)

Cape Town - Though South Africa already has 11 world boxing champions, the country is on the verge of producing even more of them.

This is thanks to the historic partnership between a former multiple title-winning world champion, and a South African trainer, manager and promoter.

The pair has formed the Roy Jones Jr & Jodi Solomon Boxing Gym in Craighall, Johannesburg, which held a public launch on Saturday.

"South Africa has many talented boxers and we aim to turn some into world champions," proclaimed Jones this week.

Having climbed the boxing ladder and won world titles in an unprecedented four divisions - from light-middleweight to heavyweight - no one could be more suitable for the Herculean task than Jones.

"All they need is fire and desire," he explained.

"Having the passion, heart and skill is not enough. To go places, you must have the fire and desire."

Jones made an example of Isaac Chilemba, who belongs to the new gym.

"Isaac has a heart and will. What he does not have is the fire and desire. We need to instil that in him to turn him into a great world champion," Jones said about the Malawi-born gladiator who goes by the moniker Golden Boy.

The 31-year-old lost dismally in a World Boxing Association light-heavyweight fight against champion Russian Dmitry Bivol at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, earlier this month. The judges scored the lopsided fight 120-108, 120-108 and 116-112.

In Chilemba's favour, though, Jones said that "he can take a punch and does have a heart".

Jones said his dream was to produce boxers who would do even better than he did, which will be a tough task given the heights he scaled.

"My message is: 'If Roy Jones Jr can do it, you can also do it. As someone who has done it, he can also teach you how to do it.' I want to try and produce world champions who will achieve even more than I did in my career."

He says that, when he produces champions, he will have them fight overseas for credible world diadems, but once they become champions: "I would like to have them defend their titles here in South Africa."

"Wouldn't that be great? They go overseas to claim the titles and then defend them here in front of their supporters."

The gym is open for more fighters. Jones will travel to South Africa to conduct clinics and take the gym's charges through their paces.

The partnership will see him promote fights with local boxers in the US.

His visit to this country had a nostalgic element as he met up with former world champion Thulani "Sugarboy" Malinga, the man Jones defeated in a nontitle six-round fight in 1994.

The two gladiators showed respect for one another, with Jones saying the South African was one of the best fighters he had faced, while Malinga said Jones was his most formidable foe, and was even better than Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank.

The 63-year-old Malinga, a former World Boxing Council world champion, runs his own gym and nurtures young talent in Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg.

Jones was complimentary of his partner, Solomon, saying their partnership was due to a shared vision.

He said it was a "lovely" coincidence that their partnership was launched in August, which is Women's Month in South Africa.

"I did not know that," he said. "It is such a lovely coincidence. When we met in the US, it appeared that we shared the same vision and that's how the partnership was born. Just like me, she has succeeded where many people said she wouldn't."

Solomon was cock-a-hoop over the union.

"It's a great venture and we intend to make a huge success of it," she said.

Asked whether she would like to rope other women into her stable, as well as form partnerships with other women in boxing, Solomon said: "I would like to get women fighters, but there are so few women in boxing in South Africa."

She said she previously had one woman fighter who quit after one fight - which she lost.

Jones had an illustrious career that had its ups and downs. His major disappointment came at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, where he suffered a controversial 3-2 loss to South Korean fighter Park Si-hun.

He had pummelled his opponent for three rounds, landing 86 punches to his compatriot's 32.

"I didn't lose that fight; I was robbed," he declared this week, not mincing his words. "When I asked him after the fight if he thought he had won, he told me that he didn't think so."

However, the highly religious Jones said losing that fight was his biggest source of inspiration.

"I thought of quitting, but finally thought it was God's way of using the loss as a great motivator. God has always been on my side and he knows me much better than I know myself."

Asked for his views on Floyd Mayweather Jr being regarded as one of the greatest fighters in the sport so far, he said: "He is a great sportsman and businessman, but it will be difficult to say whether he is one of the greatest boxers ever because he was never tested during his career. To be tested, you need to be able to come from behind and win. He was always in front."

He said what made it harder to say whether Mayweather was the best was that he didn't fight the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley in their prime, but "waited until they were past their best and then fought them".

PHOTOS: Leon Sadiki

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