Baltimore native James "Binky" Jones won the Ring of Combat XIV lightweight title Friday with a first-round victory over Ian Loveland in Atlantic City, N.J. Jones, a Ground Control Baltimore fighter, claimed the championship by forcing Team Quest's Loveland (7-6) to verbally tap out from an armbar at 3:17 in the first round, and improved his record 3-1 in mixed martial arts (MMA) competition.
Jones -- a Renzo Gracie Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt and a submission wrestling instructor at Ground Control's academy on Boston Street -- earned his spot in the title fight by defeating Charles Wilson in the first round of the tournament in November and then beating Jay Estrada in the second round in March. Jones won both matches by unanimous decision.
According to Jones, the title match began with a flurry, with Loveland "throwing some heavy punches." The Team Quest fighter then got Jones in a "pretty tight" guillotine choke, leading Jones to think he was in trouble.
Jones says he dug deep during this early scare and reminded himself of the long hours of training. He remained patient while in the guillotine choke and slowly worked his positioning so that he was able to pop his head out and put Loveland in a full guard. From that position, Jones says he absorbed some Loveland strikes as Jones attempted numerous armbars and triangle chokes of his own.
Jones finally locked onto the armbar that forced Loveland to verbally tap out. "I was able to crank it as hard as I could ... I heard his arm cracking," Jones said.
Jones credits his corner -- John Rallo, Henry Smith and Cordell Hunter -- for believing in his abilities and helping prepare him for the Ring of Combat tournament. He feels his training over the past year played a large role in his victory.
"I used my experience to win ... a year ago I would have lost because I would have panicked in the guillotine," Jones said.
He is also grateful for the support he received from co-workers, Ground Control teammates and fans that traveled from Baltimore to watch the fight. Some of Jones' fans wore red "Binky Jones -- The Time is Now" shirts to show their support.
Jones was gracious in victory, praising the resume of Loveland, who fights for the Portland Wolfpack of the International Fight League (IFL) and won his two previous fights in the tournament by first-round submissions.
"[Loveland] was no slouch," Jones said.
A special victory Jones was able to share the victory with his family -- wife Sherry, daughter Kayla and son Savon -- who were in attendance for the fight. After winning the championship, Jones handed his title belt to Savon.
"It was an honor giving my son the belt ... that meant more than anything in the world, seeing my son's facial expression when I gave him the belt," Jones said.
Jones also benefited financially from the Ring of Combat victory. He received $16,000 for his efforts, including $12,500 for the championship and a portion of the ticket and T-shirt sales.
Jones has big plans for his winnings. He has decided to use his Ring of Combat earnings to help his family move in May from their current Baltimore City address to a place where his kids can "get the best education."
The breakthrough win will also help Jones get elevated from his current purple belt to a brown belt, just another reason the victory is so sweet for the former Morgan State and Mount St. Joseph wrestler. But the days of fighting for free or small paydays are still fresh in his mind.
"I'm still thinking about what I need to do to get to the next level," Jones said.
No time to restThe long odds against professional success and the knowledge of his long MMA journey keeps Jones motivated. He is taking a week off from training this week, but he will then get right back to work. Jones says he is in the best fighting shape of his life and he doesn't want to lose the momentum from the Ring of Combat win.
He's also motivated to get back to training to aid his Ground Control teammates in their preparations for upcoming fights -- Jones' middleweight teammate Tenyah Dixon will fight at Battle Cage Xtreme May 12 in Lincroft, N.J. Jones also says that Ring of Combat promoter Lou Neglia told him that the next Ring of Combat lightweight tournament will take place this fall and feature some of the best lightweights from around the country. So there's no time to rest -- Jones has a title to defend. He also wants to be ready if a major promotion calls and he's given the opportunity to fight on a national or international stage.
Past brushes with the UFC Jones has already come close to breaking through with the sport's major promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), once before. He was selected as an alternate for season two of Spike TV's UFC reality show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) in 2005, but was not invited to be a part of the show's fifth season, which currently airs on Spike TV and features 16 lightweight fighters. Despite missing the chance to gain entry to the UFC through TUF 5, Jones always believed he could prove himself by winning the Ring of Combat tournament.
Now that he's accomplished his goal, Jones doesn't feel too badly about being left off of TUF 5.
"I more than belong [on TUF 5]. I know I can beat any of [those] guys," Jones said.
After watching the first few episodes of the show this season, Jones is convinced that he doesn't belong in the TUF house for a very different reason. Jones believes he is more mature than the show's fighters and thinks he has very different priorities in his life.
Jones sums up the current TUF lineup like this: "a bunch of young guys running around in their Speedos, arguing with each other ... I'm not into that kind of stuff ... I'm about taking care of my children and [honoring] my responsibilities as a man."
Jones adds, "I come to bang. I'm not there for a circus show."
Gaining exposureEven if TUF is not in the picture for Jones, he may get television exposure in the near future. According to Jones, a Ring of Combat television crew visited him for a full day as he prepared for the tournament. The crew followed him to his work at the Youth in Transition alternative school in Woodlawn, interviewed his family and covered his training as part of their show chronicling the tournament.
That program will air on pay-per-view June 29 at 10 p.m., according to Jones. And while pay-per-view exposure may not garner the same attention as Spike TV, Jones doesn't appear to have any problems convincing at least one fan that he is on verge of something big.
After Jones handed Savon the title belt Friday night, his son replied, "Thank you, dad. This is the real deal."