It’s been almost a decade since Wayne Lawrence Jr, more popularly known as ‘Pretty Boy Bam Bam’, broke the internet. The tiny, aspiring boxer threw lightening fast punches, captivating viewers across the globe who suddenly became fascinated, certain they’d stumbled upon a child prodigy. Just out of shot, however, one of Pretty Boy’s close friends, eight-year old Otha Jones III (3-0, 1KOs) had fallen in love with boxing – and grown envious of Lawrence Jr’s attention.
Toledo, Ohio wasn’t known as a breeding ground for success. The city suffered greatly during The Great Depression, with a slump in the manufacturing industry in the United States leaving locals scrambling for lesser paid employment or searching for new surroundings. The population now sits at just under 280,000, with children like ‘Bam Bam’ and Otha throwing themselves head-first into sporting endeavours, desperate to excel and avoid a life of fine margins, working average jobs in the Glass City.
I caught up with Jones III after he’d reached out for media coverage on a Monday evening. A stunning amateur boxer with an incredible resume, the undefeated Matchroom USA fighter was determined to make an impression. I caught him relatively early and he’d confirmed that plenty of outlets had approached him – somewhat reaffirming his status as a blue chip prospect. Trained by his father, you guessed it, Otha Jones II and his brother, Roshown, the Toledo native was acutely aware of the importance of a fighter’s profile.
”I just wanna get myself out there, you know?”, he confessed. “Me being under the radar, I’m not really well known yet and I just wanna get known. I got a couple of interviews lined up, yeah. It’s been great [recently]. New York was great. In London, I had the most fun though and for some reason, I got more fans in London than I do in the US, so it was good to put on a show. They loved it and I’m happy to go back – anytime. I would say that I’m a boxer that uses angles. I’m gonna outclass a person so much that they [fans] have to see it.”
Otha, now nineteen-years old, fights again in just over two weeks, warming up those in attendance for Oleksandr Usyk’s heavyweight debut, opposite Tyrone Spong. It was another contest in another city for the boy born just after the millennium. Travelling wasn’t new to him. Despite having a father who was fighting and coaching professionally, he revealed that boxing had come naturally to him, without a gentle, bias nudge from Otha II. There had been no pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps, but instead, the hunger to understand viral footage was what had led him to their local gym.
“We were like eight years old and he [Bam Bam] got a million views on YouTube [by posting a video of himself boxing]. I was thinking, ‘I want a million views, too, man!’. So, I told my dad and ever since then, I’ve been in the gym. My dad’s always been involved in boxing and he boxed a little bit when he was younger. Before I even started boxing, he was a coach and a professional. I just followed it with him and I happened to like the sport. What a coincidence! There was never any pressure, it was all my decision [to start training].
“Toledo is a low budget place. It’s more fit for poor people, you know? Me growing up here and taking off, it’s good. I can show people that when you come from the poor, you have to grind and you have to put work in. You gotta work for it and that’s what I like to show my people in Toledo. It didn’t affect me. I always just wanted to be great at something. Being younger, you played a lot of sports, like I played basketball, wrestling, shuffleboard. But nothing stuck with me like boxing did. It just had a hold of me, in my heart.”
The Wintrust Arena in Chicago will be the fourth venue in as many cities for the well-travelled Jones, adding it to London’s York Hall, the Turning Stone Casino and, most recently, the Dunkin’ Donuts Centre in Providence on the undercard of Demetrius Andrade’s clash with Maciej Sulecki. Living out of a suitcase had come easy, after hundreds of weekends battling his peers up-and-down the United States.
When asked about his amateur career, Jones told me it was ‘decent’. He was a twenty-one time national champion and triumphed in every competition he entered, seeing out his days in the national vest with an astonishing record of 283-13. Now working with Moneyball-style manager, David McWater, he’s hit the ground running, dazzling on both Sky Sports and DAZN since his debut in March of this year. Described as having the ‘it’ factor, he seemed laser-focused and far more mature than his age would initially suggest.
Opening up on his transition from amateur to professional, Jones III explained, “Some of those losses were wins, to me. Amateur boxing, you don’t always get your way, but I fought hard and every weekend I was away. At nine-years old, I was on the road every weekend. Whoever said they were the best, I would challenge them and say that I was the best. I’d go to their city and would fight them in their home town. I was never scared to leave my city and fight anywhere – I mean anywhere.”
“Before I knew it, I’d had one hundred fights. I just loved it, you know? The USA team, we went to Germany, Argentina, Hungary. We went to a few countries and I got comfortable with travelling. I would say Argentina [was the best]. They had nice scenery, their food wasn’t as far from American food. They had nice, respectful people there. The USA team, they already had their team [selected]. They had the team to go to the Olympics and I was gonna have to beat the person at my weight class like four or five times. It was just too much.”
The American national team’s loss was Eddie Hearn and Split-T Management’s gain, as they fought off stiff competition in a race to Otha’s signature. He’d been described as lighting up tournaments, immediately turning heads, with Split-T’s CEO, McWater telling WBN, ‘I will never forget the first time I saw him live. I knew right away that this kid had everything.’ Of course, only time will tell, however, as the lightweight looks certain to compete for titles within the next twelve months.
Boxing had been his life for as long as he could remember, spending his downtime with family or those friends who were like-minded, also “chasing greatness”, he told me. Add to that, some time spent playing Fortnite, of course, like most other ‘normal’ teenagers. Studying the sport was a little different for Jones III, though, as he hadn’t spent hours studying Floyd Mayweather or Mike Tyson. His tutelage was in black and white, he revealed, captivated by clips of fighters often undervalued.
“I mainly watched old school fighters. Aaron Pryor was my favourite of all time. Willie Pep, he had a lotta good angles. But a lot of old school fighters. I’ve just currently started watching the fighters of today. Mainly when I was an amateur I watched a lotta fights in black and white, that didn’t phase me.”
As I tried to find updates on ‘Pretty Boy Bam Bam’, the people who’d watched his videos ten years ago had submitted questions on boxing forums across the internet. Where was he? What had become of that talented kid? In a city like Toledo, Ohio, they don’t often make it. Otha Jones III was surrounded by his family and supported by some of boxing’s most powerful businessmen. His talent was endless and his mind was sharp. Unlike his old friend, he didn’t want a million views on a grainy video clip anymore – he craved success and longevity.
“Training is going good. I’m getting good sparring, some good runs in and I’m preparing for the fight – I’m ready. I’m looking to make progress quick and after two or three more fights I’m going up to eight rounds. Pretty soon, I’ll be at ten [rounds] looking for a small title. I would say getting world titles in multiple weight divisions is the most important thing to me. This feels great. There’s a lotta boxers who have coaches that’s their dad. I don’t know how they feel, but it’s great for me getting to share these moments with my father and my brother.”
Interview written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209