Roy Jones Jr. went to the Upton Boxing Club in West Baltimore to promote his new fighter, Malik ‘Ice Man’ Hawkins. (Photo by Mark F. Gray)

Minus the entourage befitting a nine-time world boxing champion Roy Jones, Jr. visited the iconic Upton Boxing Club in West Baltimore to take an up close and personal look at his prized super welterweight prospect Malik “Ice Man” Hawkins.  However, what the current HBO Boxing analyst found was a place that he was separated from by six degrees.

“I am around my folks,” said Jones in an interview with the {AFRO}.  “I love my people. I love people that have to fight their way back to the top.  I like being around people that have to fight back through tragedy and adversity and rise back to the top again.”

Visiting one of Baltimore’s most dangerous neighborhoods Jones traveled by himself. There was no overbearing security team and not one Baltimore City Police officer patrolled the gym despite being in shadows of last year’s riots.  Instead of pushing people aside and backing off Jones made time for everyone.  From selfies to interviews to dropping salient words of wisdom to anyone who asked Jones went beyond the bravado to give everyone hope in a challenging community.

“I was robbed of my gold medal at 19 years old and I had to rise back to the top of boxing to prove they couldn’t stop me and now Baltimore is in that same situation,” said Jones.   “With the racial conflicts that have happened here, Baltimore has to kind of unite and show the world that just because we have issues don’t mean we can’t resolve them, better ourselves, become stronger, and keep moving past where we were before happened.”

Jones’ social consciousness was on display as though he was the athlete putting on the public workout.  Instead of sparring, shadow boxing, or working the speed bag, he knocked the audience out by bonding with everyone on a personal level. Upton Boxing represents all that Jones overcame growing up in Pensacola, FL, to become a multiple champion and he sees it as a life changing arena which made it easier for him to feel a connection with the crowd in that community.

“It can change the direction of people’s lives because a lot of people around here can’t afford to send their kids to AAU Basketball, football, or baseball camps and this gives them an option to do something positive,” said Jones.  “When I walk into a building like this it reminds me of how things started for me”.

“So you never know what kind of future great people are going to rise from this building right here.”

Hawkins will be one of Upton’s next championship success stories within two years according to Jones.  The former champion says that Hawkins – a super welterweight prospect – has unlimited potential as he and Baltimore-based Snapper Boxing Management work to carefully orchestrate his career. He will open this weekend’s nationally televised fight card in Las Vegas on CBS Sports Network.

While Hawkins was as much the center of attention as Jones during the visit their relationship is being forged by mutual admiration.  Hawkins is under the tutelage of his childhood idol while Jones relishes the notion of impacting the life of a rising contender.

“I used to play all the time with Roy on “Fight Night” and work that left hook,” said Hawkins.  “He was always my guy every time I played.  That was the only idol I had growing up. It’s a blessing to have him in my camp.”

Despite his success in the ring Jones now hopes he can impact lives outside it as a mentor for the next generation.

“That’s bigger than any championship I’ve ever won,” said Jones.