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Roy Jones Jr. makes stop to work with young fighters at local gym

Roy Jones Jr. makes stop to work with young fighters at local gym
Boxer Roy Jones Jr. at Upton Boxing Center in Baltimore. (Jonas Shaffer / Baltimore Sun)

Before he became a professional boxer, the next-best thing Malik "Iceman" Hawkins could do was play as one. So as a kid in Baltimore, EA Sports' "Fight Night" video-game franchise became his portal, and Roy Jones Jr. his digital avatar.

But Hawkins is a pro now, six fights under his belt, all wins, five by knockout. His next fight night arrives April 16, a six-round welterweight bout against Errol Sidney of New Orleans, televised live on CBS Sports Network, held in Las Vegas, promoted by Roy Jones Jr. Boxing Promotions.

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The same Roy Jones he jabbed and blocked as all those years ago on a TV screen. The same Roy Jones once regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. The same Roy Jones who on Tuesday was in Hawkins' corner, inside the Upton Boxing Center, for a short sparring session.

"It's a blessing to have Roy Jones in my corner," Hawkins said afterward, smiling at his fortune. "It's a big blessing."

It was a surprise, too. On Sunday, Hawkins' manager with Snapper's Boxing Management, Baltimore native Akendre Taylor, called Jones, whom he also works with, asking for a favor.

Jones, in Las Vegas filming an upcoming TV show called "Four Kings," was soon on a flight bound for Baltimore to promote the "Knockout Night at the D." He arrived at the Upton Boxing Center about 6 p.m. Tuesday. He was slim, in fighting shape, having just last month knocked out a former amateur boxer and MMA fighter in a fight broadcast on an obscure pay-per-view streaming service.

No less than 30 seconds into the center, Jones was approached for a selfie. He smiled, obliging the first of what seemed like 50 requests over two hours.

"I love boxing gyms like this," Jones said later before a crowd of about 100. "It has a kids program. It has coaches in here that have dedicated their lives to these kids. … It means more than anything." He added: "I'm so glad to be here."

He meant a lot to a lot of people. Aaron Anderson, an amateur with whom Hawkins sparred for Jones, said when he found out Monday that Jones would be ringside, he felt a "beautiful feeling."

"You know, I'm thinking: 'Man, coming from Baltimore, not really seeing too many inspiring people, to hear that he was coming here was inspiring,'" he said.

Hawkins had the crazy notion of maybe trading blows with the former world middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight champion. ("Who wouldn't want jump at the chance to spar with an all-time great like Roy Jones?" he reasoned.) That didn't happen. Again, he settled for the next-best thing: hearing Jones' advice as he tangled with Anderson. Jab more, Jones urged him. He's a southpaw. Throw your right hand.

Calvin Ford, one of Hawkins' trainers, has had brushes with fame. He was the inspiration for the character Dennis "Cutty" Wise on "The Wire," a onetime criminal who opens a boxing gym for local youth.

But Roy Jones Jr.? The guy who, in 2002, so audaciously put his hands behind his back, dared Glen Kelly to knock him cold, only to hammer him to the canvas with a right hook out of nowhere? The very legend? When Ford saw him in the gym, he said he was near tears.

"I get emotional when I see things that you never thought would happen," he said two hours after Jones' entrance, his voice still straining under the emotion of the moment. "It was great."

The shadow of his celebrity stretched throughout the night. After the sparring was over and his workout was complete, Hawkins retired rather anonymously to a corner of the room while Jones stood for more photos and questions and requests.

Only later did the two reunite for a joint media session, the wizened boxer and the 20-year-old who one day wants to surpass him.

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"When I was coming up, I was from Pensacola, Fla.," Jones had recalled earlier. "No boxer ever been a world champion from Pensacola, Fla. But when I did, I could go and tell those kids in Pensacola, Fla., it's possible to one day be a world champion in boxing. 'How do you know?' Because I did."

Behind him, Hawkins jumped rope in the ring and prepared to fight.

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