Friday, September 25, 2020

Soul City Rising

Every now and then in boxing a new gym emerges from an area outside of the sport's traditional centers of power. Far removed from bright lights or celebrity fighters, the owners and trainers of these gyms succeed through finding and cultivating talent (often young kids), paying their dues on the amateur scene and believing that boxing can be a means to salvation – that the sport can rescue those from the streets and provide purpose, discipline and a safe haven.  

Soul City Boxing and Wrestling Gym in Toledo, Ohio is one such place. It's a family owned and operated affair, with the principals being Otha Jones Jr. and his son, Roshawn Jones. They are lead and co-trainer, respectively. The gym opened in 2008 and after years of incremental progress, the Joneses are now poised to become much bigger names in the sport. Four fighters with world-class potential call Soul City their home, and fittingly, they are all part of the extended Jones family. 

Otha Jones III (left) with brother Roshawn Jones
Photo Courtesy of Roshawn Jones

Perhaps the most advanced professional fighter in their gym is Charles Conwell, the hard-hitting junior middleweight and U.S. Olympian who is 12-0 with nine knockouts. Conwell will headline a ShoBox card on Oct. 7 against Wendy Toussaint. Conwell, a cousin of the Joneses, is not the only member of the extended family to appear on the card. His half-brother, Isaiah Steen (14-0, 11 KOs), faces Kalvin Henderson in a middleweight bout that night. 

In talking to Roshawn Jones, he provided his scouting report on both fighters. "Conwell is boxing's best kept secret," he said. "People don't know about him that much. But when they find out, they say this dude is a hard hitter, very strategic and has great defense...He's compact. He's going to work his way on the inside." Jones is looking forward to the Toussaint fight because he knows that Conwell is going to have to beat fighters with a stick-and-move style. 

As for Steen, Jones calls him his gym's Tommy Hearns to Conwell's Marvin Hagler. Steen is long and rangy, and also growing into his power. Jones believes that Henderson's come-forward style and power punching will present a real test for Steen.  

According to Jones, what has separated his top fighters from others in the sport has been their desire to show up to the gym every day, no matter what. They are always ready to work, looking to get better. And both Conwell and Steen, according to Jones, have always been coachable, a trait vital for young fighters looking to advance.

The family connection in Soul City doesn't stop with Conwell and Steen. Otha Jones III, Roshawn's brother and Otha Jr.'s son, is a fast-rising prospect who is signed with Matchroom Boxing USA. Jones III won numerous national tournaments as an amateur and is already 5-0 as a pro. If Conwell and Steen are known more for their power, albeit in different ways, Jones III has an abundance of speed, with ultra-fast hands and feet. Although Jones III has not dazzled in every one of his pro outings to this point, the family has insisted that he gets matched tough. And at least three of his opponents have been much better than what most 19- and 20-year-old prospects face in their initial pro fights. 

Roshawn's sister, Oshae Jones, is one of the top female amateurs in the United States and at the age of 22 has already represented the U.S. around the world in tournaments in India, Bulgaria, Russia, Peru and Spain among other countries. She was set to go to the 2020 Olympics before the pandemic hit.   

"Our motto is 'We are a Family,'" said Roshawn Jones. "Even if you're not a biological family member or relative, you coming in here to the gym, having a positive mindset, that makes you family. We're all coming together, no matter your race, no matter your nationality, no matter your religion, no matter your sexual preference. We are all family. We stick together."

And it's more than just trophies and titles for Jones family. When the Toledo public school system cut a number of high school sports, Soul City provided free youth classes. During the Coronavirus pandemic, Soul City was the first gym in Toledo to re-open its doors. For them, it was imperative to be there for the community, to continue to provide an outlet. 

Despite their overall positivity, the Jones family has had to overcome their share of adversity. As recently as 2017, money was tight and the boxing gym was struggling to make ends meet. Roshawn Jones decided to step up for the family. Despite a serious neck injury from his high school wrestling days, Roshawn fought professionally three times, with his purses plowed back into Soul City to keep the gym afloat. (And he did win all three of his fights by knockout.) 

"The only reason I turned professional is that the gym needed money to stay open," said Roshawn. "I had to use the money to invest in our amateur fighters for their tournaments. It was a sacrifice, but if a situation comes up where I got to look out for our family or our company, then I got to do what I got to do."

The gym is on solid footing now. With their professional fighters aligned with David McWater's Split-T Management and signed with promoters such as Eddie Hearn and Lou DiBella, the Jones family believes that their boxers are in a position to ascend rapidly. Their dreams are close to being realized, but there's little time for self-satisfaction in Soul City.

"We're here to break records," said Jones. "We had that conversation 14 years ago and we still have that conversation now. We're breaking records with the amateur fighters that we have, with my sister going to the Olympics, with Charles Conwell going to the Olympics and Otha Jones III going to the Youth Olympics. People never did that stuff from around here. And we keep going."

For Roshawn, Soul City and boxing is 24-7. Although he's only 31, he's been working corners for years. He scouts opponents, watches fight clips, trains the next generation of amateurs in the gym and works every day to harness the principles of Soul City – family, positivity and cohesion – to create a lasting legacy, and help scores of kids along the way. 

Although their accomplishments have been impressive to this point, the Jones family knows that much work remains. Their goals didn't stop with amateur success. They want to get to the top, and by doing it the right way, following the principles they espouse with Soul City. And the big time is now within reach. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment