Last weekend marked a magical and pivotal point in the career of Welsh boxer Liam Jones.
22-year-old Liam, who hails from Cwmparc in the Rhondda Valley, comes from a seriously sporting family, many of whom have played and still play for some of the UK’s top rugby teams and have represented Wales on the international field. But Liam, “the black sheep of the family”, opted for boxing.
“I grew up playing rugby and boxing, but boxing was my passion. I tried to get into local boxing clubs as a kid, but I had to wait until I was eleven until I was finally allowed in. I was still playing rugby but I joined Rhondda ABC and went on win two Welsh Championships and nine out of a total 15 fights.
“It was watching the Rocky films aged eight which got me hooked on boxing and then I was inspired by boxers like Lloyd Mayweather but more recently Joe Calzaghe, a true Welsh legend, and now Anthony Joshua, who has done so much for British boxing; he’s taken it to a totally different level.
“So, I have some high standards to meet and I am so grateful to now be based here in Calvia and working with an excellent genius of a coach, Paul Hamilton.
“He’s a former World Muay Thai Champion and professional boxer who has trained many European and World champions with huge pedigrees over the years, He has come out of retirement to take me on, which is a dream come true to be honest. He has so much depth as a trainer and for him to have such belief in me was crucial to me making my decision to train here on the island.
“My parents have owned a place in Magalluf for years, so I’ve always been coming to the island. I had the choice of going pro and training in Manchester or basing myself here, and once Paul came on board I chose Mallorca. I’ve had such a warm welcome from the Spanish and Mallorcans, I can’t thank them enough, and the Balearic Boxing Federation, which organised the fight night at the Melani Costa sports centre last weekend.
“It was a great night. Apart from the fact that I made my professional debut and won with a second round knockout, when you see the opportunity, you’ve got to go for it and take him down - that’s what boxing is all about once you are in the ring.
“There were some 1,500 people in the crowd and 200 of my fans, a good 50 of whom had flown over from Wales to support me. They were all singing Sweet Caroline after my bout.
“I’ve also had great support from sponsors - Watches of Wales, Motor Connect, Cardiff Steel, Sam Dry Lining, Boxraw and Unique Sports Agency. Without them and Paul, none of this would have been possible.
“I am so happy to have chosen Mallorca to become my base. I have been fighting welterweight but the plan is to drop down from 66 kilos to around 63-and-a-half and fight super lightweight. When I rocked up here, I was 83 kilos. Dropping the weight while maintaining strength and fitness is not easy, it takes the body time to adapt and then of course, when the fight comes around, you have to put some of the weight back on. But Mallorca is the perfect place for any athlete to train, be they amateur or professional.
“I know these past few days have felt like being back in Wales with the rain, but it’s a blip. For the rest of the year it’s perfect for outdoor training and because there is a so much running involved in boxing training, it’s just the best place to be. You get up in the morning, the sun is shining and you simply head out and clock up the kilometres before heading into the gym.
“I train three times a day for around an hour-and-a half each time. Yes, there’s a a lot of sparring in the ring, but cardio is vital, as is weight training. You’ve got to put in 100 per cent and make sure your fitness levels are 110 per cent. Over the years I’ve watched so many good fighters get beaten when they should have won and that, at the end of the day, is because when it came to the fight, their fitness levels weren’t as high as they should have been. So, boxing requires lots of dedication and discipline and I love it - that’s why it’s now my job.
“The plan for the immediate future is to remain based in Mallorca with Paul for the next two years, get some more fights under my belt in Mallorca and on the mainland and then back in the UK.
“Obviously my ultimate aim is to become world champion, otherwise what’s the point of all the sacrifice and hardship? This is now my life and I want the very best to come out of it for me, my family, my trainer and my sponsors, not to mention Wales and Mallorca.
“My nickname was The Bull but I’ve changed that to El Toro. That’s what is on my shorts and they are in colours of Wales and Spain, gold, red and green. I want to fly the flag for Wales and Mallorca and I would also like the chance to help promote Mallorca as a sporting destination. It’s an inspirational place to train, not to mention live, and it’s great to see so many new gyms opening up. I guess with the great weather and all the beaches, most people want to look their best during the summer, but there seems to be a huge appetite for sport and keeping fit for whatever reason.
“I see it myself at the Shambhala Gym in Santa Ponsa, where I train. There’s so much activity all the time."
El Toro has already attracted a great deal of interest in Spain and back in the UK, but Mallorca’s his home for the time being and his fan base is only going to grow.
The secret to boxing? “You’ve got to be prepared to give up your normal life and give the sport 100 per cent and I hope that pays off and I can expand my fan base here on the island amongst all the British and the locals.
“My next fight is on December 18, but the venue has yet to be confirmed (so watch this space). I hope lots of people come along, enjoy the boxing, have a few beers and enjoy a good night out.”
In the meantime, Liam is toying with the idea of picking up his tennis racket again or maybe trying his hand at golf. “I need something to take my mind off boxing at times. I need to find something that will help me switch off. But because this island has got so many great sporting facilities and opportunities, it’s hard to decide which sport to take up. I used to play quite a lot of tennis, so I may give that a shot again, who knows.
“At the end of the day, I’m extremely fortunate to be in the hands of Paul and embarking on my dream as a professional boxer, and I intend to take that to the very limit. I’ve got to maintain peak fitness, keep nimble. Boxing is not all about being able to throw punches, it’s extremely complex and there’s plenty of work to be done for me to become world champion one day, and it’s all starting here in Mallorca.”