By Keith Idec
Four days before George Khalid Jones boxed Beethaeven Scottland, Jones told a reporter that he trained so hard, “I hope I don’t kill nobody.”
Six days after Jones stopped Scottland in the 10th round of their televised fight in June 2001, Scottland died. He was just 26 years old, a married father of three young children.
In many ways, Jones’ life has never been the same. That lingering guilt made Jones cringe this week when he learned Deontay Wilder again stated that he “wants a body” on his record, in this case the life of Dominic Breazeale, his opponent Saturday night.
Jones understands to some extent why Wilder, in an emotional state while training, might feel like he literally wants to kill one of his opponents. Jones just wishes the WBC heavyweight champion would choose his words more carefully.
Because Jones understands like few people in this world that killing a fellow boxer unquestionably isn’t something you want weighing on your conscience.
“I’ve been thinking about Bee all week long,” Jones told BoxingScene.com on Thursday, referring to Scottland. “It never leaves your mind. You can ask anybody who lived it – you never get over it. And right now, I wanna cry while we’re on the phone, talking about it. Tears are coming out of my eyes right now because you never want this to happen.
“If I could go back and change this, I sometimes wish it could’ve been me because sometimes your emotions get the best of you. There are times I say, ‘Why couldn’t it have been me?’ At the same time, certain things can make you a better person. If I could say anything to Deontay, I would say he’s an excellent fighter. He don’t have to say them words to prove nothing. His talent speaks for itself.”
Jones, 52, was barely a year removed from his third incarceration in a New Jersey state prison when he fought Scottland in a 10-round bout ESPN2 aired from the flight deck of the USS Intrepid in Manhattan on a Tuesday night nearly 18 years ago.
Determined to turn around a hellish life of drug dealing, drug and gambling addiction and other criminal activity, Jones rededicated himself to his family and to boxing when his 35-month prison stint ended in May 2000. Before he faced Scottland, Jones was 4-0 during a comeback launched nine months earlier at Kennedy High School in Jones’ hometown of Paterson, New Jersey.
Scottland (20-7-2, 9 KOs), of North Brentwood, Maryland, took that fight on short notice once Jones’ original opponent withdrew due to an injury. He absorbed a brutal beating against Jones in a fight for which Scottland was paid $7,000 – the biggest purse for a boxer who worked as an exterminator to make ends meet.
Scottland suffered a subdural hematoma, a rupture of the veins between his brain and skull. He spent six days in a coma before succumbing to the damage done to his brain.
Jones (23-3-1, 13 KOs, 1 NC) went on to box three of the top light heavyweights of his era – Eric Harding, Montell Griffin and Glen Johnson. He lost all three of those bouts, but Jones won the USBA and NABA 175-pound championships and earned enough money while boxing to start a company, Champ’s Trucking, and opened a successful shop in Haledon, New Jersey, Luv Yogurt, that have helped create a comfortable life for him, his wife, Naomi, and their five children.
Breazeale, meanwhile, will earn more than $2 million Saturday night. Wilder will be paid nearly 10 times that amount for this mandatory defense of his title.
Even with much more money and prestige at stake in this higher-profile fight, Jones wishes Wilder would’ve avoided verbalizing that harshest of potential realities recognized by every boxer that walks up those steps.
“I don’t recommend nobody to say them words,” Jones said. “But I would never say, ‘Deontay, don’t say that,’ because maybe that’s how he hypes himself up with the training. We don’t know. But I pray that don’t happen because that’ll be something you have to live with. Like ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini, he don’t wanna be remembered just from [Deuk-Koo Kim’s death] because ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini was a great fighter. But at the same time, people remember him for that. And I’m quite sure that’s on his mind all the time.
“So, I just pray that Deontay can choose his words better, because Deontay is a great fighter and he don’t need to use them words. I used to say that I wanna brutally hurt this guy. After experiencing what I experienced, today I wouldn’t hurt a fly, to be honest with you. Once you go through it, you regret them words. And you just pray to God that the family can forgive you.”
Scottland’s family has forgiven Jones.
He and Scottland’s widow, Denise, became friends and have remained in contact since her husband died. For many years, Jones sent her money at Christmastime.
Jones has a trip planned to Maryland for next month to visit Scottland’s family.
On Saturday night, Jones will watch Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs) battle Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs) in a main event Showtime will televise from Barclays Center in Brooklyn (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). Wilder caused controversy Tuesday when he told a group of reporters how badly he wants to hurt Breazeale, with whom he has had a personal beef since they fought in the lobby of a Birmingham hotel two years ago.
“His life is on the line for this fight, and I do mean his life,” Wilder said. “I’m still trying to get me a body on my record. … This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time – it’s legal. So why not use my right to do so?”
Surviving Paterson’s perilous streets hardened Jones and made him feel similarly to the way Wilder feels about his opponents once upon a time. Scottland’s death forever changed his perspective, the same way Wilder’s viewpoint would be altered if he unfortunately found himself dealing with what Jones endures.
“You definitely don’t want a body on your record – you don’t,” Jones said. “With Deontay being a father, [Breazeale] being a father, you just don’t want that for nobody. You’re in there, it’s a professional sport and you can let your hands do the talking. Talk trash, but you never want that to happen to nobody. Once you live it, you regret them words. Them words come back sometimes to haunt you because they’re with you for the rest of your life now.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.