Doug Jones: The Man Who Nearly Beat Cassius Clay

By Mike Casey on November 20, 2015
Doug Jones: The Man Who Nearly Beat Cassius Clay
Doug Jones never stopped firing back and won a great many fans for his defiant showing.

The determined and business-like Jones was very much his own man. He was never in awe of Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali or anyone else…

Had it been playing on his mind for more than three years? As he emerged from a six-round exhibition match with Doug Jones on a Thursday night in Louisville in November 1966, Muhammad Ali couldn’t say enough. Nothing new there, but Muhammad was very keen to press home the point that he had breezed past Jones with ease.

“As you saw, I was just playing with him,” Ali said. “For a man of 210 pounds, I made him look slow.” Furthermore, he added, he wasn’t even trying his best as he danced around Jones and kept him at bay with a commanding jab. Muhammad was holding his best back for his imminent defense against Cleveland Williams in Houston.

This mastery of Jones meant a lot to Muhammad, for things hadn’t been so easy against doughty Doug three years before in Madison Square Garden. Ali, still the young and learning Cassius Clay, won on that occasion too, but a lot of ringsiders believed he didn’t. This clearly rankled with him. Some time later he would say, “After the Doug Jones fight people who thought Jones should have had the decision got so mad they didn’t know what to do. They were booing and screaming and trying to get at me as I walked out of the ring. So I just yelled right back at them to shut up or I’d beat their ears off.”

In fairness, the winner of that famous 1963 fight was in the eye of the beholder. Did Clay do enough? Could Jones have done more? The hugely divided opinion told the story. The Associated Press scored the fight 5-4-1 for Jones. United Press International saw it 6-3-1 for Clay.

Both men, of course, thought they won. Jones figured he got home by a 6-3-1 margin at the very least. Cassius thought he won seven rounds. A quiet but direct man, Doug wasn’t impressed by the man who would be king: “He talks a lot outside but doesn’t show much in the ring. He better fight me again before he even thinks of Liston.”

That little comment summed up the feeling of most. Clay was a bright young thing, a skillful boxer and a good entertainer. But he wasn’t in Liston’s class. Sonny might just seriously damage him.

Whatever one thought of the decision in New York, Clay and Jones put on a sparkling display that frequently had the crowd cheering. The Garden was still very much the home of big time boxing in 1963 and the atmosphere crackled whenever two well matched men came together.

During his magnificent pomp, Clay’s speed, skill and reflexes allowed him to rip up the textbook of boxing and get away with moves that stunned and horrified the traditionalists. He shunned a traditional high guard, he leaned back to avoid punches, he danced and bounced and threw his own punches from all sorts of funky angles. In the parlance of the day, he wasn’t a “proper fighter.” Liston was a proper fighter. Clay was a flake whose unique formula surely couldn’t work over the long haul. In the hugely unlikely event of Liston not nailing him to the floor, somebody else would.

But nobody ever did and two fights were pivotal in setting up the legend that would become Muhammad Ali: the fight with Jones and Clay’s next bout with Henry Cooper in London, where the Louisville Lip would back into the ropes and be smashed to the floor by a gorgeous left hook. Clay survived both crises with an iron will, a terrific belief in his ability and that special dollop of good fortune that embraces every champion in the making.

Once he had survived that rocky patch in his career, Clay mesmerized Liston and then convinced a string of challengers that they couldn’t beat him. Only Joe Frazier, much later down the line, refused to believe that the undefeated one was invincible.

Against Doug Jones, Clay’s habit of leaning back got him into big trouble in the second round. Tough, stolid and unimpressed by other men’s reputations, Doug slammed a big right into Clay’s jaw that shook him down to his feet. It wasn’t the only uncomfortable moment for Cassius. Jones also rocked him in the fourth and seventh rounds as Clay struggled to cope with Doug’s no-nonsense pressure. Doug was exposing Cassius as a work still very much in progress. Already accustomed to dominating his opponents, the young ace wasn’t happy with being harried and pushed back. Clay’s fast jab wasn’t as effective as it had been in past fights, but he eventually got it working and began to rifle Jones with speedy combinations.

After eight rounds, Clay seemed to realize that his undefeated record was in jeopardy and he put on a big spurt in the last two frames of the 10-rounder. Putting his punches together in fast clusters, he did what he would so often in his career by catching the eye of the judges. But the gritty Jones never stopped firing back and won a great many fans for his defiant showing.

Gloves

When I touched gloves with my friend and fellow writer Mike Silver recently, he told me, “Doug Jones was one of my favorites. I first met him in 1960. His manager, Alex Koskowitz, was a childhood friend of my father’s. Doug’s outstanding trainer (Rollie Hackmer) developed Doug from the Air Force and continued with him for his entire career. If not for Harold Johnson, Jones would have beaten any other light heavy and won the title.”

Back in 1983, 20 years after the Clay fight, Mike Silver interviewed Jones for The Ring magazine and asked Doug how he felt about it all. “I can’t forget it,” Jones replied, “I can’t forget it, because down through the years people were always reminding me of that fight. Thousands of people have said to me that they thought I won the fight.”

The determined and business-like Jones, very much his own man, added that he was never in awe of Cassius Clay, Muhammad Ali or anyone else. This remark chimed with another comment that he made before the Clay fight. Explaining how he got into boxing, Doug said, “Nobody inspired me. I didn’t have an idol and never thought about being a fighter until I realized how tough it would be to make a living some other way.”

In the Silver interview, Jones explained his philosophy, specifically towards Clay: “I treated all my opponents the same. I set out to do what I had to do. To me, he was just another fighter. In fact I was bigger than him. Then I didn’t even consider him as good as the others I fought. Clay’s people thought they were getting a soft touch But when I was coming up I didn’t fight guys from the graveyard. In other words, I didn’t fight stiffs. I fought guys that I really had to produce. Because if you didn’t you got your brains knocked out.

“Clay ran like a thief. I carried the fight to him. Suppose I went the other way, what kind of fight would it have been? Clay didn’t hit me with any solid punches. There wasn’t any real power in his punches.”

Charting Doug’s rise to prominence, Mike Silver wrote: “Douglas David Jones came out of the Air Force in 1958 with a slew of amateur titles. And a hunger to make it in the pros. He launched his professional career under the guidance of manager Alex Koskowitz and trainer Rollie Hackmer. Early hard-won victories over former Golden Gloves champion Juan Pomare and Philadelphia’s dangerous Von Clay (twice) earned him the respect of New York’s knowledgeable fight fans.”

Differential

Like many fighters of his era, when the weight differential between the heavyweight and light heavyweight classes wasn’t nearly so pronounced, Doug campaigned in both divisions before settling as a heavyweight. Willie Pastrano did likewise before going the other way and finding his destiny as the 175-pound king. And of course Archie Moore and Harold Johnson were a constant inconvenience to the dreadnoughts.

After his two quality victories over Von Clay, Jones scored a big win by knocking out former middleweight champion Bobo Olson in six rounds at the Chicago Stadium in 1960. Doug admitted to being impressed by Olson’s know-how and trickery, hewn from mining a richly talented field over the course of 16 years.

“I soon found out how cute Olson was,” said Jones. “He’d throw a left and jump inside, where I couldn’t get at him with a crowbar. That’s the way it went for five rounds and some people thought he was ahead. I didn’t. All the time, though, I had the impression that once I got a big opening, I would be able to take him out. In the sixth round he left some room between us. I stepped in, knocked him off balance with a left hook and came over fast with a right hand. It caught him on the chin. He went floating back and crumpled near a corner. It was all over.”

In a 30-10-9 career that spanned just nine years, Doug Jones had some memorable encounters. Five hard fights in just 10 months —  three of which he lost —  got the media and the fans talking excitedly about the dangerous New Yorker. It seemed that Doug was incapable of being in a non-eventful fight. Slated to challenge light heavyweight champion Harold Johnson at the tail end of 1961, Jones got number two ranked heavyweight Eddie Machen instead when Johnson pulled out.

Manager Alex Koskowitz asked Doug if he wanted to wait until Johnson was ready again. But it was December and Jones was only too grateful for the chance to earn some Christmas money. However, the switch from the formidable Johnson to the clever and crafty Machen left Doug between two stools.

“I was really on the spot,” he recalled. “For seven weeks I’d been fighting to hold my weight down. Now, all of a sudden, I needed to become a heavyweight. In the eight days to the fight I stepped up from 174 to 184. It was good eating but it couldn’t have done me any good.”

Jones lost unanimously to Machen but disputed the verdict. “He backpedaled, sticking out a left hand. I chased. I know I scored the cleaner blows. Say you wanted to give Machen the benefit of the doubt, you might have called it a draw. Instead they gave him the decision, my first loss in 20 as a pro.”

Five months later in May 1962, Jones moved back down in weight again and got his title shot at Harold Johnson at the Philadelphia Arena. This time there were no complaints from sporting Doug, who gave Johnson his full due. Johnson was in the prime of his long career, a master boxer who was confidently picking off all his challengers. Recalled Jones: “He beat me in 15 rounds by unanimous decision and I have absolutely no complaints about that decision.

“That night he was the smartest fighter I’d met in my short career. He wasn’t surprising me in anything he did. He just was getting off faster than I was. When it was over, I knew what experience really means.”

Four months later, following a points defeat to high ranking Zora Folley, Doug learned another lesson when he traveled to Dortmund to fight European light heavyweight champion Erich Schoppner before 15,000 fans at the Westfalen Halle. The lesson learned was that the German system of scoring fights wasn’t quite the same as elsewhere. The Ring’s long-serving European correspondent Jack Tree wrote: “It was a great pity that a wonderful performance by Erich Schoppner and a splendid exhibition of ringcraft by Doug Jones should all have been ruined because the American had only two of the three clear points required by the German rules to win. He had to be content with a draw over the 10 rounds.”

With dry humor, Jones said, “I punched Schoppner all over the place. I would say I won eight rounds, with maybe two even. But a bad decision doesn’t shock you in a foreign country. When they called it a draw, I was actually grateful.”

In his next bout at Madison Square Garden, Doug won a see-saw thriller against future light heavyweight champion Bob Foster, who was having only his tenth professional fight and exhibited great courage against his heavier opponent before being stopped in the eighth round. Coming in as a substitute for Zora Folley, the beanpole-like Foster wasn’t fancied to last very long against Jones. Doug had beaten Bob back in their service days and set about beating him again in determined fashion. He repeatedly caught Foster with hard rights to the jaw in the opening round until Bob crumpled to take a nine count. It seemed only a matter of time before Jones would apply the coup de grace.

Foster, however, fought back like a wounded lion. He gained confidence in the second round when his jabs seemed to unsettle Doug’s rhythm. In the third, Foster suddenly cut loose with the power that would later make him one of the greatest of all the light heavyweight champions. Punching fast, often in combinations, Foster had Jones in trouble with snapping blows that included a big left hook to the stomach. But Doug’s greater experience enabled him to weather the storm and break the youngster’s will. Having reportedly had only three days to train for the fight, Bob ran out of gas and took a big beating in the seventh round when the bell rescued him. Jones finished the fight in the eighth when a big right sent Foster staggering across the ring to force referee Teddy Martin’s intervention.

Christmas

While Christmas 1961 had been preceded by the loss to Machen, the festive season of 1962 brought joy for Jones as he teed up his match with Cassius Clay by knocking out Zora Folley in the seventh round of their return match at Madison Square Garden.

Zora appeared to be on his way to a repeat victory when he floored Doug in the first round, but then Folley seemed to lose his way as his concentration wavered. A beautiful, classic counterpuncher, Zora was his usual serene self when the fight was at long range, but became visibly uncomfortable when Jones began to close in and fight up close.

Doug had learned a simple lesson from that first round knockdown. It didn’t do to hang your head up in the air without moving it. Describing the incident and what followed, Jones said: “Folley is waiting for me to go in. He’s in the rocking chair, ready to pivot in with a right to the chin. He lands a couple and they don’t hurt. I’m a little cocky and I keep pressing. He lets the slingshot go. This time he catches me right, really right. And before I know it, I’m sitting down saying to myself, ‘What are you doing here?’

“In the third, I close ground on Folley and he might as well forget the rocking chair. He isn’t going to get any more chance to sit in. I give him a licking in that round. In the fourth, in the fifth and the sixth. With no punching room, he’s nothing. I’m not afraid of his power anymore, because I know it’s gone out of him. In the sixth I hit him a right and I feel he’s ready to go. In the seventh I put over a left and a right and he sags down. He isn’t going to beat the count —  and he doesn’t.”

After Clay

Despite the controversial defeat to Cassius Clay, Doug Jones was on a roll as his 1963 campaign swung into the summer months, reeling off wins over Billy Daniels, Tom McNeeley and LeRoy Green. But it’s funny how the magic touch can so quickly slip away. It’s often hard for a fighter to understand how it happens or why. One loss can suddenly trigger an avalanche.

A split decision defeat in a return match with Billy Daniels in August 1964 was an irritation, but certainly no disaster. But Doug’s eleventh round loss to the rock-like George Chuvalo two months later was far more significant and damaging. Chuvalo, who was happy to hit any part of a man’s body above the ankles, gave Jones a brutal body beating and frequently hit south of the border. Wise old trainer Charley Goldman had been brought in to teach Chuvalo to hold his arms closer to his sides so that the weight of his body went with the punch. The lessons worked.

Jones’ momentum had been halted and his career was put on hold for nearly a year due to a resulting hernia. He was never the same force thereafter, although he made a game go of it. He came back in 1965 to knock out Prentice Snipes in two rounds and followed up that triumph with wins over Cody Jones, Chip Johnson and old stager Archie McBride, who had been pounding the boards since 1946.

Doug was back in the heavyweight scramble and in June 1966 he challenged Ernie Terrell for Ernie’s WBA version of the championship at the Sam Houston Coliseum in Texas. Tall, durable and a decent boxer who knew how to tie men up, big Ernie was on a good run after winning the title in a grappling snooze-fest with Eddie Machen and then turning back the challenge of Chuvalo at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Terrell was too good for Jones too. Doug was clearly beaten on a unanimous decision and his new-found momentum was lost. Another points loss to Thad Spencer led to a sixth round knockout defeat at the fists of the fast rising Joe Frazier. In the last two fights of his career, Doug TKO’d Boone Kirkman in the seventh round at Seattle but was stopped in six rounds in the return match at the same venue.

Reason

For whatever reason, some fighters —  and they are often very good and even excellent fighters like Doug Jones —  lose their mojo at some point and slowly drift out of the picture. For all their talent, they don’t possess the focus and constant motivation that true greatness requires. Muhammad Ali had that vital quality.

Ali had millions of disciples yet alienated many other people for many different reasons. However, judged simply as a fighter, he probably ranks as the most driven athlete I have ever seen. Just look at his courage and fortitude on those occasions when the battle seemed to be lost. Pretty, yes. Funky and flaky, yes. But also bloody-minded and bloody hard.

These were the inner qualities that Sonny Liston and many others couldn’t see on the way to the Convention Center at Miami Beach in 1964, where Cassius Clay would shake up the world. The brash youngster’s close call against Doug Jones and the hammering left hook from Henry Cooper told Liston that the Miami assignment would be a stroll in the park.

People still talk about it all. They always will.

Mike Casey is a Boxing.com writer and Founder & Editor of ALL TIME BOXING at https://sites.google.com/site/alltimeboxingrankings. He is a freelance journalist and boxing historian and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO).

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Cassius Clay vs Doug Jones - March 13, 1963 - Round 1 - 4



Cassius Clay vs Doug Jones - March 13, 1963 - Round 5 - 8



Cassius Clay vs Doug Jones - March 13, 1963 - Round 9 - 10 & Decision



Bob Foster v.s Doug Jones Boxing



Doug Jones v.s Von Clay 2



Jones KOs Foley This Day in Boxing January 26, 1963



Harold Johnson Beats Doug Jones This Day in Boxing May 12, 1962



Doug Jones | Tom McNeeley 1/1



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  1. oldschool 12:29pm, 11/21/2015

    Regarding Jones draw with Schoppner. The German rules that require three clear points to win a decision were also rules used in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. That’s why so many fighters from those countries have so many draws on their records.

  2. Mike Casey 01:54am, 11/21/2015

    Tux, I’m with you entirely on that third Norton fight. That was a bad one!

  3. tuxtucis 03:20pm, 11/20/2015

    I watched Clay-Jones; I re-watched Clay-Jones, and I can’t understand how someone can have the match for Jones. Of all the matches suspected to be gift decisions for Alì/Clay, the only real robbery was the rubber match with Norton.

  4. peter 10:52am, 11/20/2015

    Another excellent Mike Casey article. Writer Claude Brown, in his excellent 1965 autobiography, “Manchild in the Promised Land”, mentions Doug Jones, but he gives Jones a different name—I think Jones’s fictional name was “Turk”. Brown and Jones hung out together in Harlem, and Jones/Turk was the enforcer of their gang….Jones—Machen—Folley all were excellent NYC main event fighters who came up short when it came to a championship.

  5. Don from Prov 10:28am, 11/20/2015

    I’ve said this before, and taken guff for it, but I always felt that Ali had a lot more trouble with smaller, mobile, and quicker fighters—and he had that trouble at most every point in his career.  With Norton, style played a part in disrupting Ali (and Holmes) but he was a smaller, reasonably quicker fighter than Foreman or Liston.  Again, being a left hook machine against someone whose was troubled by left hooks helped Frazier, but the endurance and mobility of a smaller man didn’t harm his cause a whole lot, IMO.
    Cooper was not big.
    Nor were Young or Spinks.
    Along with Jones, those fighters cover the “growth,” the best of the comeback years, and the aging portion of Ali’s career. Left out is the period before he was stripped of his title and looked more Ali than any other time.

  6. Mike Silver 10:23am, 11/20/2015

    Terrific article Mike. Brought back many memories when boxing was still king in New York. I lost touch with news about Jones after Rollie Hackmer passed away some years ago. I had heard through the grapevine that he wasn’t doing so well healthwise. When I interviewed him 30 years ago his hand was shaking slightly—early signs of the Parkinson’s syndrome due to the many punches taken in a brutal pro career. Doug had every bit the desire and guts of Ali (in fact he was one of the gutsiest fighters I ever saw) but no star over his head. He was never more than a blown up light heavy and had been in too many tough fights in too short a time (Pomare, Von Clay, Machen, Folley, Johnson, Clay/Ali). Imagine fighting the masterful Johnson with only 23 fights! Doug could take it but paid the price.

  7. KB 09:50am, 11/20/2015

    As I recall, he lost to “The Barber”, Billy Daniels who also gave Tony Alongi one of his two losses. The Barber could cut some hair.

  8. jan Swart 09:17am, 11/20/2015

    Nice article.

  9. oldschool 08:34am, 11/20/2015

    Doug was a solid professional . My understanding is that he has fallen on tough times in recent years.  Several of his Air Force teammates tried to convince him to invest his earnings in Real Estate when he was making decent money, but he waited too long to invest and ended his career with nothing to show for it. Sad, because he was/is a class guy.

  10. Eric 08:28am, 11/20/2015

    Ali was lucky on a couple of other disputed decisions. I feel he lost all 3 fights to Norton and the snoozefest against Jimmy Young as well. Amazingly even the first Spinks fight was ruled a narrow split decision victory for Leon, despite Spinks beating Ali all over the ring that night. Ali never came out on the wrong end of a disputed decision. Remarkably somehow Ali even convinced people that he was shafted in his first fight with Frazier.

  11. Mike Casey 06:59am, 11/20/2015

    Thanks, Clarence and Bob. Yes, Doug is still around and I’m pretty sure Mike Silver will know more when he checks in.

  12. Bob 06:56am, 11/20/2015

    Wonderful story, Mr. Casey. About 25 years ago (or more) I went to a one time “adult education” class at the Learning Annex with the great author Gay Talese. He spoke about how in New York a good writer could find a story on every street. One example he gave was a former heavyweight contender who had fought Cassius Clay was homeless and encamped on Talese’s street. He didn’t mention him by name, but I approached him afterwards and he said Doug Jones. This is before the Internet, so I thought I had a scoop. I asked around and spoke to some old timers who told me the “homeless” guy was an imposter and Jones lived uptown. Talese knew his boxing and had written some great fight stuff, including a wonderful portrait of Floyd Patterson. It would be hard to fool him, so I’ve never been able to clarify and this article reignited my curiosity. Perhaps Mike Silver or some other wise sage could weigh in on the post-fight career of Mr. Jones?

  13. Clarence George 05:29am, 11/20/2015

    Terrific piece, Mike.  Firing on all cylinders, per uje.

    Jones, while not exactly forgotten, hasn’t gotten much attention of late, which makes your article all the more welcome.  He’s still with us, isn’t he?

    Funny thing, I sometimes confuse him with Buster Mathis.  Not really sure why.

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