Maybe so, but Jones would not be comforted. "I didn't realize the value of a world title before the fight. And now, my God, I keep thinking what a difference it makes in everything."
That was the young fighter in a serious mood, dressed up for a city lunch in Swansea, with Thomas at his side. The only dark cloud over his otherwise bright road this day was the discovery that the secretary of the local lawn bowls club was about to scratch him from the summer tournament on the understandable grounds that he would be otherwise engaged in Nevada. But lawn bowls, like surfcasting, is one of Jones's more unlikely passions. "What'll Dai Phillips say?" he asked, referring to his bowls partner. "I'll only be away for a few weeks. There will be plenty of time!"
Jones was almost pleading, and one could only deduce that, should he beat McCrory and win the championship, there would be no remarkable change in the style of his life, with the possible exception of a bigger house. His roots are very deep in his village. He and his parents and seven siblings live within a mile or two of each other, and he claims he will never move out. Within 36 hours of the first McCrory fight he was back playing snooker in the Workingmen's Club with the boys he grew up with, boys who, in these hard times, find it tough to raise the price of a pint.
This month the last working mine in the district, where Jones worked underground when he left school at 16, will probably close. "Maggie Thatcher's putting the slab on it," Jones says, without the bitterness that has marked the response of many locals to the news. "I hated it there, having to put on those stinking clothes when you're still half asleep at 4:40 in the morning...."
Even the job Jones had digging graves at the local cemetery suited him better. "Salary," he says, "fresh air and £4.50 bonus a grave. And you had to bloody earn it, mind you. Most of the graveyards have little machines now, two scoops and it's done. But they couldn't use 'em where I used to work. It was far too boggy. 'Course, the big bonus was for reopening...."
"That's enough," Thomas intervenes. "You're upsetting the man, can't you see?" What his questioner could see was yet another example of the teasing, testing humor that is the fighter's South Walian heritage, part of the flavor of the country, something one understands when climbing Graig Merthyr—the Hill of the Martyr—where Jones does his early morning running.
Jones's country (and there are almost 11,000 Joneses in the phone book that covers this part of South Wales) is the high-water mark of the Industrial Revolution. Just here the coalfield peters out, so that in strange juxtaposition there are, on the one hand, small white farmhouses and green hills covered in great drifts of wild, purple rhododendron, and, on the other, valleys that bear the scars of recent strip mining. From the crests above you see the stacks of abandoned steel mills, but shut one eye and only lush greenery and grazing sheep are visible. Jones's run starts where the little stone row houses end, and suddenly he is on a country lane. "I've had to jump up the bank a few times when some daft farmer comes tearing round the bend," he says. Then comes the long steep push up to the crest of the Graig where, he says, "the temples in my head start beating."
Jones's route to this plateau in his career has been no easier than the run up Graig Merthyr. As a 147-pound amateur of 17 he was thrust prematurely into the 1976 Montreal Olympics. He got past an Irish boy, Christy McLouglin, but lost a decision to Victor Zilberman of Romania. He feels lucky he went out when he did, and so does Thomas, who was at the Olympics but not then associated with Jones. "At that age he could have been hurt badly," Thomas says.
Later as an amateur, Jones represented Wales, then Great Britain, which he characteristically refers to as "the English people. I wore their singlet with the rose, or whatever it was, on it." (Jones was seriously put out when he was called a Limey in Reno last March. "Excuse me, you got the wrong side of the border," he said.) Jones was 18 when he turned pro. In 1980 he won the British welterweight title, whereupon, as Thomas puts it, "The London boys wanted to be involved,"—the London boys being the Micky Duff-Terry Lawless group, which is to boxing in its birthplace what Don King is to the sport in America.
But Jones stayed loyal to Thomas and early in 1982 he was to fight Henrik Palm, a Dane with a 29-4 record, for the vacant European welterweight championship. But the night before the bout was to be held, Jones came down with appendicitis. It was not until last November that the match was rescheduled, and Jones swiftly made up for lost time, the referee stopping the fight at one minute of the second round.