Former Olympic fighter sees gold in young Newark boxer's future

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on August 16, 2016

Reginald "Reggie" Jones, 65, of Summit poses for a portrait in his home with memorabilia from his Olympic fighting career on Sunday, August 14, 2016. Jones fought for the USA in the 1972 Summer Olympics, where he was eliminated amid controversy in the 2nd round of the men's light middleweight division by Valeri Tregubov of the Soviet Union.

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Reggie Jones sat quietly in the living room, his eyes fixed on the laptop live-streaming Ol

ympic boxing from Rio de Janeiro.

He was watching Shakur Stevenson, as the talented 19-year-old Newark fighter carved out an impressive debut victory on Sunday.

"He's comfortable and confident,'' Jones said. "He doesn't seem like he's worried about this guy.''

Stevenson picked his shots, displaying poise in front of a hostile crowd. He dissected his Brazilian opponent much like another talented Newark boxer did when he got the best of a Russian fighter during the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

The difference is that Stevenson won his fight.

Reggie Jones didn't.

He lost a controversial decision 44 years ago that almost caused a riot in the Olympic boxing arena.

"When I sit here and look at somebody else's fight, I say I could have done more,'' Jones said.

But Jones, a then-21-year-old Marine lance corporal, did everything right against Valeri Tregubov in their light-middleweight bout.

He was in shape. He was aggressive. He cut off the ring, demonstrating how he did it before we watched the Stevenson fight at his home in Summit.

On Friday afternoon, we had been in my office. Throwing lefts and rights, Jones was stalking an imaginary Tregubov, smothering him in the corner of the conference room as if he was Smokin' Joe Frazier, the late heavyweight champion.

"Bang, bang,'' Jones said.

He didn't sit down between rounds then, nor did he now. He was hyped up, ready to go for broke and keep the pressure on. Jones was prancing around the conference table, his fists clenched as if he had on gloves.

He's was working up a sweat in his blue suit. But no need to worry – at 65, Jones remains fit. He runs five miles a day, sometimes twice after he hits the road at 4:30 a.m.

Jones wiped his forehead with a handkerchief, clearing away the perspiration collecting under the Olympic hat that he wore during opening ceremonies in 1972.

He still has the robe – with the letters "U.S.A." embroidered across the back – that he wore in the ring, his tank-top jersey and the number 356 that was attached to it.

Ding-ding.

Jones was swinging again.

" I was banging him like this,'' he said. "I was banging him back and forth.''

Newspaper accounts reported that Jones opened a cut above Tregubov's right eye, an injury that caused the bout to be delayed in the last round so the ring physician could inspect the wound.

After the fight, Jones and Tregubov stood with the referee.

"We waited and we waited and we waited,'' Jones said.

And then the crowd went nuts when the official didn't raise Jones' hand. They began to throw stuff in the ring – a banana, a can, sheets of paper.

"I dropped my head,'' Jones said. "I think a cried for second.''

A Dutch judge, in favor of the 3-2 decision, said he scored the bout even but voted for Tregubov on advantage points of style. 

One newspaper headline later read "Biggest Steal Since the Brink's Job." 

Sixteen judges would receive warnings from the International Amateur Boxing Association that they would be dropped if their erratic officiating continued through the tournament.

Days after the fight, Jones received letters and phone calls, mostly from German fans, expressing utter disgust and sympathy. Some observers said he was robbed, but concerns about the bout would be lost amid the horror of a Palestinian terrorist group taking 11 Israeli Olympic team members hostage and eventually killing them.

Months later, however, the Olympic Boxing Committee gave Jones a good sportsmanship award for the dignity he showed when he didn't complain about his loss, hugging Tregubov in defeat.

"It wasn't his fault,'' he said.

The damage was done, though. Jones' chance for a medal was gone and the decision overshadowed his incredible rise into international competition.

Unlike Stevenson, who's been fighting since age 5, Jones didn't get into the game until he joined the All Marine-Marine Boxing Team.

Let's think about that for a minute. He graduated from Weequahic High School in 1969 and, three years later, he was in the Olympics.

"I came a long way in such a short time," Jones said.

Jones won the Marine and all-Armed Services championships twice. He was the two-time North Carolina AAU and Golden Gloves champion before snagging a bronze medal at the 1971 Pan-American Games.

Until his rapid success, Jones had only taken a few boxing lessons at the South Ward Boys Club. And before he joined the Marine boxing team, Jones had merely mimicked his idol, Muhammad Ali, in his spare time. While stationed in Guantanamo Bay, he'd dance around the barracks, throwing punches in boxing gloves and boxing shoes he had purchased from the PX store.

After the Olympics, Jones spent eight years as a professional, taking on notable fighters Bobby Czyz and Mustafa Hamsho. His career, with a 16-9-1 record, ended in 1982, but he picked up a new one when he became a caseworker for the Essex County Division of Welfare, followed by 31 years with the state's Division of Youth and Family Services.

About the time he retired in February, Jones said he heard about Stevenson, how he had a great chance of doing well at the Olympics.

If Stevenson wins Tuesday against Erdenebat Tsendbaatar, of Mongolia, he is medal bound, a feat that hasn't happened for other fighters from Newark.

Jones is thrilled that Stevenson has better than a fighter's chance to be on the podium, hearing "The Star-Spangled Banner" being played. Had he been able to meet Stevenson, Jones said he would have told the young man that before he left Newark for training camp.

"I wanted to give him encouragement and tell him a little bit of what I went through," Jones said.

It won't be long.

When Stevenson returns, hopefully Jones will get to see the prize that he believes should have been placed around his neck all those years ago.

And maybe he'll be able to raise Stevenson's hand in victory as the referee should have raised his.

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