The lager rain came down hard in Birmingham, England last Saturday night. The shower from flying cups was harmless, but the bottles full of brew fired by angry Welsh miners weren't. As the missiles bounced off the blue canvas, already spattered with the blood of a badly beaten Colin Jones, WBA welterweight champion Donald Curry ran for his life.
Birmingham is in the Midlands of England, but it was to there that thousands of Southern Welsh migrated 100 miles or so after the general strike of 1926. And thousands more followed in search of wages during the Great Depression. The soil is English, but much of the loyalty is unwaveringly Red Dragon.
Thousands more fans poured in from Wales on Saturday, by train and by bus, carrying with them a nationalistic hope for Jones, a 25-year-old from Gorseinon in Glamorgan, and as much beer as they could stow. They'll sing Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers) until you are deaf, Curry was told. "I'm not fighting the Welsh people," Curry, who is from Fort Worth, replied, laughing. "Thousands may sing, but the rules say only one of them can hit me."
The one who got to try, of course, was Jones, an ex-gravedigger who was being paid $115,000 for his third title shot. In 1983 Jones twice fought Detroit's Milton McCrory for the WBC welterweight championship, which had been vacated when Sugar Ray Leonard retired. The first bout ended in a draw; McCrory won the second on a split decision.
"I won them both, the second one for sure," Jones said a few days before facing Curry. "This time I don't think I'll leave it up to the judges."
Amateur and pro, Jones has been fighting for 17 years. He may have been handsome once, but now his nose begins at the top with a large hump and gradually wends its way downward in the direction of his left shoulder. There is scar tissue, still pink and tender, over his right eye, a campaign ribbon from his previous fight, a 10th-round TKO of Great Britain's Billy Parks last June 13. The wound never properly healed and not too long ago was opened, cleaned and restitched by a plastic surgeon, although the Jones people deny it.
Curry's problem wasn't scar tissue but cold weather. To make the welterweight limit, he had to drop some 12 pounds to get down to 147, and he needed to train where it was warm. For this, his fifth title defense, Curry first set up camp in Palm Springs. When a cold wave hit, he fled to Miami Beach.
By the time he arrived in Birmingham, 11 days before the fight, Europe was under siege by winds out of Siberia. "I hate cold weather," said the champion, who, bundled up, huddled in his room except when he ran (indoors) or trained. His first workouts were in the Amateur Boxing Club Gym, where 23 high rectangular windows kept out more light than wind. He at last gave up even the trips to the drafty old gym. He chose to work the last five days in a meeting room at the Holiday Inn—with no ring in sight.
Curry kept a scale in his room, and four days before the fight his weight had leveled off at a comfortable 149. He loses two pounds just in a night's sleep. But on Thursday, after his workout, his weight had unexpectedly soared to 151.
Friday became a day of fasting. He drank one cup of hot tea after a light workout. And then that night, while watching television and playing gin rummy with Doug Jackson, a friend from childhood, he chewed Wrigley's gum and sucked on a few Life Savers to help him spit.