“It takes a lot of guts to go after goals even when most folks tell you they’re impossible to accomplish.” Washington, D.C. native Henry Jones said he learned that a long time ago when he first set out to be a boxing ring announcer back during the late 1980s. At the time, Jones said there were only three gentlemen that dominated the ring announcing business: Ed Derian, Jimmy Lennon Jr. and Michael Buffer, none who were African American.
But after more than 20 years in the game, the DC Boxing Hall of Fame inductee is undeniably one of the best announcers in the history of the sport. Jones, 55, told the AFRO it still feels surreal whenever he reflects back on his long journey of a career.
“I still remember when I first started in 1988 after I had tried and failed at a lot of things that didn’t work out,” he said.
“I tried work as an actor, play-by-play commentator and even as a comedian and had eggs thrown at me one night, man.”
Jones said he didn’t even consider ring announcing at the time because he had never seen a Black man famous for it.
“But a friend of mines told me, ‘that’s why you need to go for it and become the first African American to break through that barrier,’” said Jones, who admitted that most of his early years in the business came without any pay.
“I started out doing it for free, because I knew it was valuable to get the experience and the exposure, and I knew the money would come in the end. A lot of young guys just want the money right now, but you have to develop a passion for what you do and once you do it how you love it, it eventually pays off.”
Jones says he sees pretty good paydays now as he frequently tours around the country. He’ll be traveling to Buffalo, N.Y. to announce a fight on April 22, and will be returning the following night for a local match hosted at the DC Star Nightclub, both events paying thousands of dollars.
“But that’s still a far cry from the $25,000 that Michael Buffer gets each fight he calls,” said Jones, who claims Buffer, perhaps the most legendary ring announcer ever, served as his mentor early in his career.
Jones said learning from Buffer, known for the popular phrase “Let’s get ready to rumble!” helped him develop his own unique style. By 1995, Jones had stamped his own official announcing phrase, “Are you ready to do this? Well, let’s step to this!”
But unlike Buffer, Jones faced discrimination in the business because of his skin color. Jones said he didn’t get the shot he deserved to announce a major fight until ’98 when Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, the first Black World Flyweight Champion, demanded in his contract that Jones serve as his announcer for a fight aired on ESPN.
“I have a ton of respect for Mark, the best flyweight champion ever. He put his career on the line for me and I will forever be grateful for such a gesture,” Jones said.
But the discrimination didn’t stop there for Jones. He claims even HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg discriminated against him back in 2008.
“There were thousands and thousands of people emailing Ross, asking that he would hire me as a ring announcer for HBO aired fights,” he continued. “But Ross told me he wasn’t interested and asked if I could get the people to stop sending emails because they were jamming up his inbox. I was shocked in awe when he said that because these folks loved my style and just wanted to see me succeed.”
Ironically, Jones had announced on HBO’s “KO Nation” in 2001, a program series that targeted Black boxing fans. The series initially hired famous DJ Ed Lover as the ring announcer, but “Ed wasn’t that good,” Jones claims. “He would mispronounce names and screw up terms. They were missing a real professional ring announcer.”
Jones said it’s amazing how things turned out, however, because he eventually replaced Ed Lover on the show, thanks to his son, Rasaan.
“Rasaan is diagnosed with autism, but he’s incredibly intelligent and he noticed while watching a “KO Nation” fight that Ed was doing the job I usually do. So he said, ‘Let’s pray that the right man gets the job, daddy.’ I said, ‘OK’ and sure enough, they replaced Ed with me just days later.”
Jones said that was one of the most inspiring moments of his life and keeps him pushing forward in his career as an announcer.
“I’ll be doing this until the wheels fall off,” he said. “It’s not like a job to me. This is a passion for me, something I’ve studied and mastered so much that I couldn’t imagine life without it.”