The 13 August, 2013, marks the 30-year anniversary of Colin Jones‘ brave-but-doomed challenge for the WBC welterweight crown.
The belt had been vacated by the great Sugar Ray Leonard, and the man seen as his natural successor was another American – fast-rising 21-year-old Kronk Gym star Milton McCrory.
But the ‘Ice Man’ nearly melted under the heat of Jones’ first assault in Reno in March, 1983, continuing the proud history of Welsh boxers in America.
A hotly disputed draw meant a rematch was inevitable, but Gorseinon’s finest would again have to travel to Nevada.
This time the venue was the car park of the (now defunct) Dunes Hotel, where Jones, 24, would have to tackle the heat of the blazing desert sun as well as his highly skilled opponent.
“You can’t train for that heat,” an incredulous Jones would later say. “In a car park at midday!”
Jones’ father Raymond, who was working as a commentator for BBC Wales, arrived at ringside from his son’s changing room and badly burnt his mouth on the lip microphone that had been out in the blazing sun!
The family’s afternoon soon got even worse. McCrory started quickly and, with 15 seconds left of the first round, landed a lightning left hook on the point of Jones’ chin that dropped the Welshman for the first time in his professional career.
“It was totally alien to be down there,” Jones would later reflect. “The buzz of the crowd, the bright lights, the heat. I got up after about five or six seconds, my head cleared and I got back to the corner.”
That fight finished the both of us
“I said to Eddie ‘I’m blind’ and he replied ‘Can’t see, can you?'” said Jones. “I said ‘no’ and Eddie replied ‘Well how the **** did you find your way back to the corner, then?’.
“That broke the ice for me. I thought that if he could be as calm as that, I’d better get out there and give it another bash.”
Despite the rallying comment, Jones continued to struggle against McCrory’s speed and lost the next three rounds.
“The course of the rest of the fight was the same as our first meeting,” said Jones. “It took me three or four rounds to come back to myself.”
From the fifth round on, though, he began to get a lot closer to the Detroit man and to trouble him with his two-fisted attack.
“I hit him with some cracking shots that would really take a toll on a lesser opponent,” said Jones. “But he was a classy performer and a tough nut.”
Whilst acknowledging his opponent’s fighting qualities, the Swansea man has also consistently queried McCrory’s recuperative skills, especially since the Detroit man had struggled to make weight in the build-up.
“In the ninth I hit him from corner to corner, but again he came out for the 10th on his toes and full of beans,” said Jones. “It made you wonder how someone could do that in those temperatures.
“There’s no doubt in my mind what was going on [in McCrory’s corner].”
Jones’ come-forward, aggressive style looked to have won him every round from the fifth to the 11th, before McCrory dug deep to enjoy the more eye-catching final stanza.
My scoring of the fight has it 114-113 to Jones, and one of the judges on the day agreed with me. But the other two – who would have a fine view of Don King’s shock of hair at ringside – went for McCrory, 115-114 and 115-111.
“The 12th round was the deciding factor in both fights,” McCrory would later say.
Thomas was apoplectic after the fight, though, screaming for a rematch and saying: “I thought the decision was disgraceful.
“They tried to cook us in every way this week – the money, the weigh-in – they just wanted to catch us off guard.
“We had a fair deal last time. We haven’t had a fair deal this time.”
Jones could hardly speak on the day, and even with the benefit of time his disappointment is raw, if measured.
“I could have edged the first fight,” said Jones. “I think a draw in the second would have been fair, although Eddie thought I did better in the second one. I don’t think they fancied a third fight – they wanted to keep the belt in the US.
“I think that fight in Vegas in those conditions finished the both of us. We were never the same fighters afterwards, I think we were both jaded.
“I’d won everything since I was an 11-year-old through to my senior career. I’d won British, European, Commonwealth titles… this was such a big letdown in my life.
“To know in your mind that you can beat this fella and you hadn’t done it… all these things add up, and time and luck ran out in the end. Possibly I just didn’t quite have it at the top.”