Long before the bone cancer that finally got him on Tuesday afternoon, Mike Jones was dying inside of another affliction. Jones managed or co-managed more than 10 fighters, at least a half-dozen of whom reached contention or fought for world titles. One of them, Billy Costello, won a championship. Two more, heavyweight Alex Stewart and welterweight Glenwood Brown, are poised near the top of their divisions. This year could be a big one for them, and for Jones, posthumously.
But it was killing Jones that in spite of the work he did with fighters such as Costello, Stewart, Brown and even Howard Davis Jr., he was best remembered for being half the "Wacko Twins," with Dennis Rappaport, who steered Gerry Cooney through a course of hand-picked opponents and into a $10-million shot at then-heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. It was Cooney's first test, and he failed it, but with some dignity. Still, from June 11, 1982, on, every Jones fighter suffered from the Wacko Twins Stigma: The assumption that if Jones was involved, the fighter must be a phony out for a quick score.
"Someday you guys will admit it," Jones would say. "Someday you'll write that Mike Jones is a good manager."
It was never enough for him that his record bore that out. Jones' fighters, post-Rappaport, invariably progressed well, made a good living and usually earned their cracks at the title. Jones steered Davis to the first big network television contract for a boxer, beating out his 1976 Olympic teammate, Sugar Ray Leonard. Jones got Davis a contract with CBS that paid him $100,000 a fight, unheard of in that era. And he got Davis two title shots, against Jim Watt and Edwin Rosario, before the flighty Davis succumbed to the sales pitch of attorney Jack Solerwitz, now in prison. Still, at the end of his career, Davis returned to Jones. He knew who was right and who was wrong.
That was in contrast to Cooney, who balked at Jones' efforts to match him against tougher opponents after the Holmes loss, while Rappaport, the real wacko, appeased Cooney by spoon-feeding him pabulum such as Phil Brown and George Chaplin. Cooney and Jones split bitterly in 1986. "Mike had more confidence in Gerry than anyone," said Victor Valle, Cooney's longtime trainer and now the trainer of Brown.
Unfortunately for Jones, Cooney never returned that confidence. He was in the process of suing Jones for perceived misdeeds during their seven-year association. Cooney did not return messages left at his home Wednesday. "For some reason, Gerry always had it in the back of his mind that Mike was screwing him," Valle said. "There was a mistrust there, but Mike did a lot of good things for Gerry."
Jones was proudest of the job he did with Costello, a hard-punching but limited junior welterweight who knocked out Bruce Curry for the WBC title in January, 1984, and remained unbeaten until Lonnie Smith shocked him -- and Jones -- at Nassau Coliseum in August, 1985. After Costello retired the following year, Jones set him up in a Wall Street job, and the two remained close friends. Costello is now an inspector for the New York State Athletic Commission. Jones' sometimes over-cautious handling of Costello's career was documented by author Tom Hauser in his book "The Black Lights."
"Whatever he did that annoyed people (meaning fight promoters), he did for the good of his fighters," said Hauser, one of the few people Jones told about his illness. Jones had undergone a double bypass in March, 1989, but it was multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer diagnosed last winter, that killed him at 55, to the shock of the people who worked with him every day.
"I had no idea he was so sick, and I just talked to him on Sunday," trainer Teddy Atlas said. "I knew he was not well, but he never told me what was wrong."
Atlas became suspicious when he called Jones to talk about that afternoon's Bobby Czyz-Andrew Maynard fight and found out Jones had slept through it. "That was very unlike Mike, to miss any fight," Atlas said.
Lately, Jones' hopes lay with Stewart, Brown and an unbeaten Brooklyn cruiser-weight named Jade Scott. When he matched Stewart with Evander Holyfield in November, everyone laughed despite Stewart's 24-0, 24 KO record. And when Stewart gave Holyfield the best fight any heavyweight has so far, it was understandable that Jones would gloat, ever so gently. "Go ahead, write what a lousy manager Mike Jones is now," he would say.
But it was outside the ring where Jonesy, as the fight crowd knew him, really showed his character. When once-promising middleweight Wilford Scypion started to deteriorate as a result of drug abuse, Jones advised him not to fight again. When Scypion persisted, Jones just walked away. "If he's going to get himself killed, I'm not going to be a part of it," Jones said.
He gave the same advice to Vinnie Costello, Billy's brother and another prospect who self-destructed. "I know one thing," Hauser said. "If Mike was managing someone like Tommy Hearns, I guarantee Hearns would not be fighting anymore."
Stewart and Brown, however, will be in action Tuesday night at Kutsher's because Jonesy would have wanted it that way. Both are ranked in the top five of their divisions and either or both could win world titles someday soon.
Jonesy's last weekend, in fact, was spent dickering with Don King over Stewart-Tyson. Jones came away empty-handed, but sources say Stewart (25-1, 25 KOs) is still the front-runner to be Tyson's next opponent.
Jones leaves that difficult negotiation in the hands of his partner, Jim Fennell. And Brown (29-1, 22 KOs) could wind up fighting Mark Breland or Simon Brown for one of the welterweight crowns.
If all that doesn't say it, maybe this will. You were a good manager, Jonesy. More important, you were a good man.