Jason Jones has both sparred with and coached world-class fighters.
Jones trains Money Powell IV, a Fort Mitchell, Ala., resident and a leading fighter in this weekend’s Sugar Bert Title Belt National Qualifier at the Lumpkin Center.
Jones is also living proof to never judge a book by its cover.
In 1999, Jones was tragically shot in the spinal cord, rendering him a paraplegic. However, he didn’t let that stop him from being involved with the sport he fell in love with in his native Fort Myers, Fla.
“I started off kickboxing in 1996 for a year, but the gym wasn’t anything impressive,” Jones said. “I went to Fort Myers to a gym and happened to be at the right place at the right time. They had some great professional fighters in that gym. I was winning kickboxing with my hands anyway, so I switched over because it was a good spot, and those guys were all pure boxers.
“They had the NABO champion and the top contender for the WBO world title, another boxer in the top 10 in the WBO, and Hector Camacho’s brother. I had two years of sparring with these guys consistently. That’s really where I made most of my progress, training with world class fighters. I developed a pro style and learned a lot about the pro game. I fought amateur and was just about to turn pro when I got shot.”
After the shooting, Jones still went to the same gym where he had sparred, this time from a different angle as a coach.
“My brother asked me to train him, and he won the Florida state title,” Jones said. “The coach allowed me to stay in the gym and help him. I realized I could still do this. To this day, as far as I know, I’m the only paraplegic boxing coach I’ve seen.”
He moved to the Columbus area in 2011 to be closer to his brother, who was stationed at Fort Benning at the time. The opportunity to get into boxing locally knocked on Jones’ door as Game Bred Gym was born in Fort Mitchell.
“Game Bred started around a guy named Jesse Quintana,” Jones said. “He was a guy up here I coached who was in the 75th Ranger Regiment. When he saw me, he had two pro fights but had a nine-year layoff and wanted to get back into boxing. He said he was going to build a gym, and I was going to run it. I didn’t really know exactly what I was going to do.”
After being open for just three weeks, a 15-year-old fighter was looking for a gym closer to his home in Fort Mitchell after training at one in Columbus. It was then that Powell was introduced to Game Bred, and Jones became his coach.
“Money is the real flagship of the gym,” Jones said. “He came to me only winning state titles, but after a few weeks of working with him, he won a regional title. After that, he was ranked No. 1 in the country in 2014, he dominated a lot of fights in 2015, and now Jesse can’t even get in the ring with him.
“(Money’s) the main reason I’m still coaching. There’s a lot of days it’s just me and him, sometimes months at a time. But as of right now, I have a professional fighter who will be fighting on Sept. 7 in Fort Myers and quite a few new students. The business is doing much better, and we’ve created a great reputation in a short amount of time.”
While Jones won’t accompany Powell to his world championship tournament later this year in St. Petersburg, Russia, he says he will have him well-prepared.
“He stands a great chance at winning that. I really can’t see any 152 (pounders) at 18 years old beating him,” Jones said.
Jones also hopes this weekend’s tournament in Columbus will help put Game Bred on the map as a destination for training world-class fighters.
“The more exposure we get, the better,” he said. “I have a lot of guys contact me from other parts of Georgia and Alabama who want to come down and get some special training to up their game. It definitely helps out for the gym.”
Even this weekend, however, Jones knows he’ll get looks and glances from those who see his physical disability in a sport that is about as purely physical as they come.
“You get two kinds of responses,” Jones said. “Some say ‘hey, that’s great,’ and some say ‘you gotta be kidding me.’ They don’t say it, of course, but you see the look in their eyes. But then they hear me coach. They see my fighters. Then, all of a sudden, they want to know my name.
“If it’s a physical ailment, you can get by with your mind. I have to paint a picture with words to get these guys to really understand. You just have to adjust. Just like a blind man gets better hearing and sense of smell, it’s kind of the same thing. Explaining footwork is no easy task; it took a lot of thought. Boxing is a science. There’s a lot of physics and geometry to it. If you can break it down into layman’s terms and analogies, it helps. I ask my fighters ‘does it make sense?’ I make sure they understand exactly how it’s going to work.”
With proteges like Powell, however, Jones hopes his body of work speaks for itself above his physical shortcomings. He also hopes to be an inspiration for those with similar setbacks.
“Henry Ford said ‘whether you think that you can or think that you can’t, you’re right,’ ” he said. “I never stopped believing I can. At the same time, my fighters gave me the confidence to realize I’m definitely a player in this game now.
“I want to inspire anybody who has some kind of shortcoming that as long as you put your mind into it, you’d be amazed at what kind of obstacles you can overcome. I’m living proof of that.”
Sugar Bert Boxing Title Belt National Qualifier
- When: Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. start both days
- Where: Lumpkin Center, on the Columbus State campus
- What: Boxers will be competing to qualify for the Sugar Bert Boxing Title national championships, which will be Nov. 18-21 at Kissimmee, Fla.
- Format: Olympic-style boxing in a double elimination tournament in various weight classes. The winner in each class advances to Kissimmee.
- Tickets: General admission tickets start at $10.