As Paul ‘Silky’ Jones, discusses his life, there are times when the former WBO light-middleweight champion cannot help but shake his head and smile as he reflects on its many highs and lows.
A British boxer who had to cross the Atlantic to kickstart his career in the ring, Jones has recently been doing ambassadorial work for the Heart Foundation and, at 49, seems determined to ride a new wave of success back home with his media and campaign work.
The Sheffield-born fighter has a serene and sincere air about him. A pleasant character with a warm demeanour, he speaks engagingly about the brutal challenges he faced and the scars left by his sport, both physical and emotional.
“Boxing gave me so much over the years,” he told me when asked about his career highlights. “I have many memories, but the Damien Denny fight for me was one of my greatest nights in boxing.”
That bout at Belfast’s Royal Ulster Hall in April 1995 for the WBO inter-continental super-welterweight title was one that Jones was expected to lose to the hometown fighter.
“I was not favoured to win or last the distance by the experts, and throughout the fight no-one was supporting me,” he recalled.
“When I was in my dressing room, the door opened and a fighter that I recognised as a journeyman on the boxing circuit walked in, and another then another then another. I then realised I was in the losers’ changing room and that motivated me so much.
“My only support was my trainer’s son and manager’s 12-year-old son, and funnily enough one of those kids was Eddie Hearn, right now the biggest promoter in the British boxing.
“Achieving KO of the year over Denny was one of the highs in my career without a doubt.”
Uprooting across the Atlantic
Jones’s route to boxing fame and fortune began at the age of 15 when he witnessed Canadian fighter Shawn O’Sullivan in action.
“I came up with the idea that I could take myself to Canada and train alongside him and maybe some of the power would rub off on me”
“I watched the best amateur boxing fight ever between O’Sullivan and Armando Martinez,” Jones said.
“I could not understand how O’Sullivan could generate so much power, so I started following him and saw him win a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics.
“I came up with the idea that I could take myself to Canada and train alongside him and maybe some of the power would rub off on me. At 20 years old, I was living the dream.
“I soon became Shawn’s chief sparring partner and had nine fights while living in Toronto for two years. It was honestly the best decision in my career.”
With a career spanning 16 years and featuring 31 wins, 12 defeats and one draw, Jones has plenty to talk about but, of course, the conversation eventually turns to his win over Verno Phillips for the WBO light-middleweight belt in Sheffield in November 1995 – another unexpected, underdog victory.
“I convinced myself I would win against Phillips, and I was right”
“I’d retired from boxing at the age of 26,” Jones reminisces. “But I was still in love with it so I watched every fight I could.
One night, I watched a fighter and I thought he was a great combination puncher, so I taped him and would often watch the tape to learn his traits.
“Sure enough, I made a comeback at 28 then 10 months later I was fighting him – and that man was Verno Phillips. I convinced myself I would win, and I was right.”
Despite the many highs in his career, Jones hit a desperate low after a riot following a 1999 promotion in which he topped the bill in Oldham.
Aged 32 at the time, Jones lost his Commonwealth middleweight title to Londoner Jason Matthews, but his defeat was overshadowed when Dean Fisher, from East London, was crushed to death by a coach while being beaten by a rival gang after the bout.
Soon afterwards, ‘Silky’ announced his retirement and stated: “If this is what comes with boxing, I’m out. I’ll never fight again.”
Even though many years have passed, Jones admits he continues to feel sorrow after what he witnessed that night.
“That night was very sad for me as a person,” said Jones. “I’ve often thought about him [Dean Fisher] and his family and the pain they must feel every time they hear the word boxing.”
Violence among boxing fans has decreased since the 90s, but Jones believes it’s always a threat. “It can flare up anytime. I think the powers-that-be have to ensure that security companies are not understaffed.”
In 2014, it came to light that Jones did not receive his actual belt from the WBO and a campaign #GetSilkyHisBelt, gained widespread praise across social media. The former world champion admits he was stunned by the support.
“Honestly, the amount of support I received shocked me,” he said. “I was proud and I owe thanks especially to my son who started the trend and all the supporters who demanded I got my belt.
“After years of fighting against the governing bodies, I was delighted because that campaign came to a standstill and was heading down the legal route until one-time trainer Ian Alcock and friend John Sheperd stepped in and presented me the belt in a mock meeting.”
Giving something back
Jones insists he’s enjoing retirement and his work with the Heart Foundation and nationwide awareness campaign titled ‘Knocking Out Obesity’, has earned him much respect throughout the UK.
‘Silky’ believes the campaign will help the youth of today greatly. “If kids just for 10-15 minutes of the day do some skipping, it will help increase the heart rate and it’s a good warm up for more varied types of exercises.
“It’s important for everyone to take part in physical activity and it doesn’t have to be costly or demanding.”
After long careers in the ring, some boxers can’t help but hold onto their regrets along the way, but Jones is satisfied with the way his has worked out.
He is more focused on helping the future stars of the sport and admits future prospects wanting to breakthrough need to think carefully about what they want.
“My advice to amateur fighters, who want to breakthrough [as professionals] would be that if you don’t have a big fan base go to the Olympics and get yourself a medal.”