In a rowdy nightclub outside of Manchester, kitted out in disposable sparkle and portable disco lights, the raucous crowd are becoming agitated. They’re waiting for the next unlicensed boxing bout, baying for blood and anticipating reckless violence over measured, learned skill.
Beers are spilled across tables, with elbows dipping themselves in accidentally, ruining dressy shirts saved solely for the occasion.
This isn’t the place to showcase years of hard graft and punishing sacrifice. It is merely an outlet for one last walk for Prince Arron.
It’s a far cry from the British title. Or the oversized Prizefighter trophy he won, slightly reminiscent of football’s Champions League.
Boxing isn’t a team sport though; even fighters with loyal, reliable trainers are isolated during testing times, digging deep when suffering in padded trenches. It’s what makes it special in a way, isn’t it?
Prince Arron – real name Arron Jones (23-5-1, 5 KOs) – slipped out of boxing’s side exit, devoid of a press release or a satisfactory explanation.
There was no announcement; there was no official reason. But as the heavy bag continues to squeak, rattled by the former British champion’s thudding hooks even now, he speaks to Boxing Social about wondering, “What if?” – even now.
“Not a lot of people know,” confided Arron, travelling back from work, “But I’ve had four operations on my shoulder. So basically, it was an ongoing injury and my last fight was for the European title and I went into the fight entirely injured. I shouldn’t have went into the fight, but, as you do, I couldn’t afford not to get paid.
“If I was fit, I would have beaten that kid [Maksym Bursak] all day long, but again, after the fight I tried to get my shoulder sorted out. So, I went for an operation and it failed – it didn’t work – so I went for another operation and that was a bit of an open procedure. After that, it just totally ruined me. I lost flexibility in my shoulder, so I didn’t have any external rotation at all.”
Those injuries that plagued Prince Arron could – and possibly should – have left him bitter about the sport. But it was quite the opposite. So often boxing’s dark clouds dominate our headlines, yet Arron was happy in retirement, and seemed comfortable.
He is working as a car salesman for Volkswagen and, apparently, he’s a very good one. New cars, given as bonuses for top sales executives, popped up on his social media, and he now spends time socialising with his friends, without adhering to crazy diets or sporting visible blemishes earned during sparring sessions.
Life as a civilian is certainly less painful.
It has been seven years since the Bursak defeat, but Arron’s spell amongst Britain’s top domestic fighters stretched back almost 15 years. He treasured every session at the gym and smiled when reflecting upon those 29 professional contests, despite being thrown to the wolves early on. The sport centred him during a particularly unruly teenage spell, and his achievements later in life (and boxing) surprised many.
“We got in trouble. I didn’t actually steal cars, but I was with people who did steal a car and I was in stolen cars, and I got arrested a few times,” he said. “When you go into a boxing gym, you learn things, don’t you? You learn discipline and you learn what’s right from wrong. Then it suddenly just clicked, ‘If I’m going to do anything in my life now, I need to dedicate myself to this sport’.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t actually go into a boxing gym, actually. It teaches you about life and about respect. You meet a lot of people. They speak to you; they tell you what’s right from wrong. I just felt it was the only thing I had and that I was good at it. You think, ‘Right, well, maybe I’m good at this’.
“Wayne Barker was my first coach. I started sparring kids early, so I’d only been boxing three months then and I started sparring kids like Craig Watson and people from the Northside gym, established boxers. And I was holding my own with them. He sat me down and said, ‘Listen, you’ve been boxing three months, you’ve got something about you’. I just continued to go and he didn’t charge me for the gym – thankfully, because I couldn’t afford to train at the time.”
The transition from plucky, local amateur to dazzling professional prospect wasn’t as smooth as Jones would have hoped. Looking at his BoxRec, examining those early, paid contests, it was clear to see the Droylsden-man lacked guidance outside of the gym. After collecting four wins opposite journeymen, Prince Arron stepped in to face Anthony Small at South London’s Elephant & Castle Leisure Centre.
Small, at that time, was 12-0 with 7 stoppages and six years Jones’ senior. In the second round, that experience told. The troubled Londoner punished the confident youngster and the fight was stopped after an unanswered, staggering barrage.
The truth is that Arron should never have been in there that night. He didn’t know boxing as a business and he wasn’t ready. Yet just two fights later, he’d suffer defeat again, this time at the hands of Danny Reynolds in Wakefield. That pairing made far more sense with Reynolds matching Arron’s four wins and sharing a draw with Darren Gethin.
Questions were raised as, six fights and less than eight months into a career that values apparent invincibility, that illusion had been shattered twice.
“Wayne had everything set out – he was great for me. He was putting shows on in the Midland Hotel, so I used to headline them, but there was obviously going to come a time where you need to take a chance. Obviously, as you probably know, boxers don’t always get to choose who they’re fighting. It just is what it is, isn’t it?
“It wasn’t my decision to fight Anthony Small. With me being a fighter, I’m not going to turn around and say, ‘No’. It was just one of them, it was not my decision, but it was definitely too soon. Yeah, and that was it. It’s not your decision sometimes and, again with the John Duddy fight, you’ll probably come on to that soon, but that wasn’t my decision either.
“Losing didn’t really affect me though,” Arron admitted. “Maybe if it was later on and if I was older, it might have affected me a lot more, but at that stage when I was still only 19, it didn’t. Obviously, it puts a dent in you, nobody likes to lose, but not enough to say, ‘Right, I’m turning my back on boxing’. I just wanted to get into a decent gym, get more experience behind me and just go again.”
That failed jaunt to Dublin in October 2007, facing John Duddy (LTKO2) who was 21-0, signalled the end of Arron’s spell as merely an opponent. He focused properly on progression, linking up with Matthew Hatton briefly, before settling with Manchester’s Bob Shannon.
Jones would then enjoy a 13-fight unbeaten spell that lasted over four years and eventually resulted in the Lord Lonsdale Belt. But it was Sky Sports’ Prizefighter – the knockout-style tournament hosted in February 2010 – that introduced him to a national, boxing audience and showcased his true ability.
“The thing is, nobody knew how good I was. Only the people in the gym and the people who knew me as a hard trainer, knew how good I was,” said Arron. “When you look at my record, it doesn’t state how good I am, so I knew I was going to win that [tournament]. I knew it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have went in there.
“Bradley Pryce was the favourite; everybody kept going on about Bradley’s power, this and that, but I had so much confidence from the Hillyard fight [in the round before]. I just thought, ‘He’s not going to beat me’. Because I was on that high from 20 minutes before and I thought, ‘I’ll just take a few of his shots on my arms and gloves and feel his power’. I just boxed his ears off, basically. I don’t think he landed a shot on me in the first round.
“The toughest fighter I faced in the competition was Brett Flournoy,” revealed the eventual champion. “He was a very, very good fighter. He was into all sorts, I think. I know he was an ABA champion; he was unbeaten when he was coming into the Prizefighter. There was a massive article, about where these gangsters have buried him, believe it or not.”
Just over a year after thrusting the enormous Prizefighter trophy into the rafters of York Hall, Prince Arron would fight Sam Webb for his British light-middleweight title in Gillingham. It was Bob Shannon’s call to wait. Seasoning his man, biding their time. When the pair did square off at Medway Park, it resulted in one British boxing’s most explosive domestic scraps and Arron would describe the victory (WTKO12) as his, “Rocky moment”.
Cuts, knockdowns and shaky legs throughout the fight allowed the challenger his finest moment. He was – against all odds – the British champion. Life didn’t change much and he enjoyed the post-fight celebrations before returning to his little room at his mum’s house. Little did he know then, he’d only fight another four times professionally.
“Mentally, it puts a lot of pressure on you. Because you’re coming off the Prizefighter win, you’re winning a British title. People expect massive things from you and that was a problem of mine,” admitted Jones, considering alternative reasons his career came shuddering to a halt.
“I probably had a bit of a mental issue, where I used to put so much pressure on myself. You’re hearing people saying, ‘Oh, you’ll do this’. Commentators giving it, ‘Oh, you’ll go all the way,’ and then you’re having ifs and buts. I never had that before, because I was always the underdog. I always performed better when I was the underdog. It sounds a bit mad, but I think that’s the only way it did change me, and just the way that I looked at things changed.”
The four, failed operations on his shoulder realistically ended the career of Prince Arron.
Losing to Brian Rose in the first defence of his British title hurt – Rose couldn’t get near him during their previous sparring sessions. Tyan Booth and Kieron Gray weren’t on his level. His last roll of the dice, challenging Bursak, was to keep the lights on more than anything else though you could never completely rule the Prince out. His tenure as a prizefighter fizzled out, without the fireworks it perhaps deserved. But he’s okay with it.
“I wake up every morning and I think, ‘Oh, maybe I should just come back’. But I don’t want to be one of them fighters who comes back and gets hurt. It’s just, I’d rather just leave it alone. Believe it or not, I had an unlicensed fight last year,” he admitted.
“If you looked at the start of my career and looked at the record I had, you would say winning the Prizefighter and the British title was a great achievement. You’d think, ‘Oh, he’s probably over-achieved’. If you look at me as a fighter… What I had, the size of me, the potential I had and the ability I had, I think I under-achieved.
“People forget about you pretty quick, don’t they?” Arron reflected. “I think I was around a long time, but not long enough for people to remember me. Everybody says, ‘Oh, you could have done more’. I’d just like people to think I was a great fighter – that’s all that matters to me.”
Prince Arron now goes simply by Arron Jones. It’s hard to refer to yourself as a member of the Royal Family when you’re selling cars for a living. But he’s happy. Spending time with his daughter ultimately meant more than holidays with his friends or expensive nights out.
He seemed to be teetering on the edge of an unlikely comeback, seven years after fighting Bursak one-handed in Monte Carlo. You have to say, in boxing, stranger things have happened.
Main image: Prince Arron lifts the Prizefighter trophy aloft. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA Archive/Press Association.