On June 16, Josh Jones learned the wood stove is hot.

The lesson came in the form of Sam Crossed’s right hand. Twenty-three seconds into the first round of the fight in Laurel, Maryland, Crossed, who goes by the ironically playful nickname, the Vanilla Gorilla, caught Jones with an overhand right to the head. Jones went down, and that was it. The referee stopped the fight as Jones got to his feet. Jones’ second professional boxing match, his second boxing match of any kind, was over in the span of a commercial break.

“It was over in the blink of an eye,” said James “Boxcar Willy” Carville, Jones’ trainer and manager. “I’ve seen those types of shots. I felt those types of punches.”

It’s a rare thing Jones is trying to do, start a professional boxing career without any amateur background whatsoever. Before embarking on his boxing career this spring, Jones spent a year and a half competing in mixed martial arts, where he had seven fights. An Erskine Academy graduate and former standout basketball player who enjoyed a successful college playing career and played a few years of professional basketball, Jones relies on his athleticism and attitude as the foundation of his new sport.

Jones, who celebrated his 31st birthday Friday, is 6-foot-5, 196-pounds, and knows his body can be a weapon. When he played basketball, Jones’ hands had to be soft, to catch and hold a basketball, to let the ball spin from his fingers when he released a shot. Now, those hands get curled into fists, knuckles tightly taped and slipped into a pair of boxing gloves. Legs that once provided the power for a dunk now start the power behind Jones’ punches.

Jones is eager to learn his new sport. Last Saturday’s quick beating by Crossed was an object lesson.

“It was a good thing. We got to see where we stand,” Jones said. “I went from fighting a mediocre fighter to someone who’s been in the game a while.”

Jones’ first professional boxing match, on April 28 at Skowhegan Area High School, went much better. That night, Jones beat Christiano Pedro via TKO just two minutes, 40 seconds into the first round. Jones landed a series of punches to Pedro’s head to knock him down midway thorough the round. When Pedro went down again, the ref stopped the fight.

Jones and Carville know that win is attributed to Jones’ athletic ability a lot more than any boxing savvy. Jones was added to the card just two weeks before the fight. He and Carville trained in a garage, undergoing a Spartan training regimen that focused on boxing basics to prepare for the fight. Throughout the cram session of training, Carville stressed to Jones belief. Don’t do this if you don’t believe you can be successful.

“Really the bare minimum, the essentials to get ready,” Carville said.

Athletic confidence has never been a stumbling block for Jones. As a standout basketball player, he helped lead Erskine to the 2004 Class B state championship. After his 1,000-point career as a four-year starter at Erskine, Jones played for Maine Central Institutes’s strong prep program for a season. His college career began at Olney Central College in Illinois. Jones transferred to the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas, before finishing his college career at Husson University in Bangor. As a senior in 2011, Jones averaged 19.2 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, winning North Atlantic Conference Player of the Year and leading the Eagles to the NCAA Division III tournament.

That fall, Jones was chosen in the sixth round of the NBA Developmental League (now known as the NBA G League) by the Rio Grande Vipers. A day later, he was traded to the Maine Red Claws.

Jones was cut by the Red Claws late in camp, and signed with the Albany Legends of the Independent Basketball Association. His professional basketball journey also took Jones to Germany, where he played for SC Rist Wedel in Hamburg, and the St. John Mill Rats of the National Basketball League of Canada. Tim Bonsant, Jones’ high school basketball coach, isn’t surprised his former player made the transition to combat sports. Bonsant attended Jones’ MMA fight in Bangor last August, a loss to Charlton Charles.

“He’s super athletic. The stuff that made him a good basketball player makes him a good fighter,” Bonsant said. “He always had really fast hands on the ball, and I’m sure that helps in boxing.”

Jones took up MMA when he began training at First Class Fitness and MMA in Brunswick. That’s where Carville met Jones, and immediately thought Jones had boxing potential. I see it in you, Carville said to Jones, over and over. Jones was content to continue working at MMA.

A dominant effort from Jones in an MMA fight at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee only cemented Carville’s resolve to get Jones into the ring and out of the octagon. That night, Jones knocked out Anthony Spires in four seconds.

“They touched hands, and straight out,” Carville said.


Carville’s pitch was simple. He told Jones about the many boxers he knew who crosstrained by playing basketball. Surely, a big strong guy like Jones could make the reverse move. Plus, Carville was intrigued by Jones’ interest in MMA. Most athletes who take up the sport have a background in one of the fighting disciplines that make up MMA. Jones wasn’t a wrestler or into martial arts. Jones saw MMA as a way to continue using his athletic gifts when his basketball career was over. To Jones, getting in the ring is as mental a challenge as it is physical.

“It’s on yourself. You have no one to blame but yourself,” Jones said.

In April, when Carville told Jones he could get him on the card for the fights planned in Skowhegan, Jones finally said yes.

“I trusted him because he was after me for a year,” Jones said.

In hindsight,Carville wonders if he and Jones rushed into a follow-up fight after the success against Pedro. Jones trained for the Crossed fight with a broken right hand. Jones has talent and is full of potential. At the same time, boxing is a hard sport to learn on the job. It showed against Crossed.

“I don’t think (Jones) was over matched. It was a huge right hand, an overhand right, and that was it,” Carville said.

With more experience, Jones will know to anticipate that overhand right. He’ll know how to defend against it. It was a painful lesson, but it was learned. In that respect, Carville is glad the fight was over in once punch and Jones didn’t get pummeled. One punch, a brush of the fingers on the stove.

In Maryland, Jones was a B side opponent, a fighter brought in by the promoters to give the hometown favorite a fight he should win. A Maryland native, Crossed improved to 7-0 as a pro with the victory over Jones.

“The whole arena was there for that guy,” Carville said. “That’s what they wanted.”

A career can be made as a B side boxer, Carville said. One fighter in the locker room with Jones Saturday night had a career record of 3-24, and was upset that his knockout loss put him in the Maryland Boxing Commission’s concussion protocol and would keep him out of the ring for a few months. Jones has bigger plans than becoming a professional punching bag for hire, but to do that he needs practice. Few fighters in Jones’ cruiserweight class are his height or have his wingspan. Crossed, for example, stands 6-foot-1. Jones needs to learn how to use his size.

“I’ve got to do a lot of mirror fights. I’ve got to live, eat, and sleep it. That’s your life now,” Jones said.


A focus of Jones’ raining now is defense. Jones likens it to learning the proper defensive stance in basketball. Carville said Jones also needs to develop a right jab, which with his size and reach could be a devastating punch.

“If he takes the time and the dedication to learn the jab, that one punch can take him to extraordinary heights,” Carville said. “Josh has great reach, but he needs to remember, if your glove is taping the guy, he knows he can clock you.”

Jones has sparred with Justin Rolfe, a Fairfield heavyweight who also made his pro boxing debut at the Skowhegan show April 28. The difference in the fighters is experience. Rolfe enjoyed a long, successful amateur career, winning a New England Golden Gloves title before turning pro this year. Like everyone else who catches a glimpse of Jones, Rolfe sees unlimited potential.

“I think he has a lot of natural ability in this sport,” Rolfe said. “He just needs to utilize his range and jab more and use the ring to his advantage. Once he develops those tools he will become a very dangerous fighter. He has the power to stop fights early.”

Carville and Jones have tentatively agreed to return to Maryland for a fight in late September. In the meantime, Jones will continue training, and he’s interested in coaching newcomers to combat sports.

“It would be wrong for me not to help people who want try it but might be scared to do it,” Jones said.

With one solid win, and one resounding but not devastating loss, Jones’ boxing career is taking off. How much he works in the coming months will determine how far it flies.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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