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Friday, April 27, 2012

Hephzibah's Divante Jones to make his pro boxing debut June 16 in Columbia

Sports Columnist
ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/FILE
Divante Jones will turn pro Saturday. His first pro bout is scheduled for June 16 in Columbia.

Divante Jones has been building a boxing career out of his garage for 12 years, so he’s not straying far from home in the next chapter.

The 20-year-old Hephzibah fighter will sign a professional contract with Palmetto Boxing Pro­motions on Saturday at Dia­mond Lakes Park. His pro debut will take place on June 16 at the Township Auditorium in Columbia.

The message he hopes to send with his first pro fight is decidedly larger in scale.

“Future world champion,” Jones said. “That’s all I’m saying when I have my pro debut. I’ve been doing this for 12 years and come my debut I’m going to show them I’ve been doing this for 12 years. It’s going to be nothing to me.”

Jerry Caulder, who will manage Jones for at least the next three years, believes becoming a champion is an attainable goal for a fighter as strong and talented as Jones.

“From what we’ve seen in past, Divante’s a very good boxer and definitely going to go places in his career,” said Caulder, whose wife, Robina, co-owns Palmetto Boxing with Delores Stokes. “I feel with Divante we’ll definitely get a title fight with him.”

That’s at the other end of a road that has brought Jones through a sterling amateur career that culminated in a No. 4 national ranking and an 86-21 record. But the numbers don’t tell the full story of Jones’ 48 percent knockout ratio that foretells better things when he sheds the amateur safeguards.

“Divante throws a lot of power punches that make the crowd go, ‘Oooo,’ ” said his father, Albert Jones, who will continue to serve as Divante’s trainer. “In professional boxing you get a lot of points for the power shots where as an amateur you get more for those nickle-and-dime shots and try to throw flurries to get points.

“The only thing different is the headgear will come off and he’ll fight with smaller gloves. That’s to his advantage because he is a puncher. Promoters love punchers because they’re exciting and people pay money to see them.”

The 5-foot-9, 135-pound lightweight will start working his way into pro form with four-round bouts. Caulder expects to get him five to six fights in the next year before he graduates to six-rounders.

That’s no sweat for Jones.

“As an amateur we train well beyond three minutes, so going four rounds and then six rounds is not going to be a thing,” he said.

“Just have to train up to another level and at the same time be smart. I feel very confident about it because this is something that we’ve always prepared for. People always tell me I was already prepared to turn pro so I’m very comfortable about it.”

Being smart and prepared is what the Jones tried to do in selecting management.

Instead of leaping to the big-name outfits such as Top Rank in California, he chose a regional promoter that offers a more “family-oriented” approach to building up fighters.

“When we spoke to promoters we had a good feeling about them because it’s not all about money,” Jones said. “It’s a family thing.”

That’s the same feeling his father had.

“This is the opportunity that we need and someone I want my son affiliated with,” said Albert Jones, whose own boxing career was cut short by managerial issues.

The elder Jones had an impressive amateur career and fought twice as a professional, winning his debut on a Ray Mercer undercard in Augusta before getting beaten in Chicago against a substitute opponent with experience he wasn’t ready to handle.

“Divante was 2 years old and I decided to do something else so I went into the military,” he said. “I’m enjoying it now through my son.”

Caulder said Palmetto’s approach is to set things up “where the boxer ends up with 75 percent of his earnings” instead of the other way around. “We’re trying something different with the boxing thing and hopefully in 10 years we can look back and say we changed it.”

That might mean plenty of regional fight opportunities for Jones, possibly even Augusta.

Palmetto is trying to showcase its fighters in bi-monthly cards at the Township Auditorium in Columbia, which is an easy drive for Jones’ established fan base.

“We want to try to bring professional boxing back local, where we bring them to us,” Caulder said.

The Caulders will join Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver along with Jones’ friends and family at a signing ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday. Jones considers the event a “celebration” for everyone who helped him get to this point.

“The main goal in any sport is to become professionals and take it to the next level,” said his father.

“This is Divante’s chance to show the people who have supported him throughout his career that we’re going to the next level to become a world champion.”

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