Boxers prepare for next challenge

After two local boxers bowed out of the national championships in toss-up bouts that could have gone either way, they’ll now go separate ways.

Divante Jones, of Hephzibah, will turn pro after failing to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, while Justin DeLoach plans to stick around as an amateur to pursue the 2016 Games in Brazil.

“It was in the plan to right after the Olympics turn professional,” said Jones, 19. “If we’re going to do it, do it as soon as possible. There’s no use in complaining or whining about it, so just go ahead and move forward.”

Said DeLoach, 18: “I’ve got nothing but time and more stuff to learn in the game. I’m not rushing for nothing.”

The two young fighters are separated by only 20 pounds, but they reached very different turning points in their career at this week’s USA Boxing National Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Jones lost a 21-20 decision in the first round of the 132-pound Olympic qualifying class. Despite the loss, he and his father, Albert, spent the rest of the week at the event networking with folks familiar with the next level of boxing.

The elder Jones, who trains and manages his son from their garage gym in Hephzibah, will interview promoters in the coming weeks with an eye toward getting his son’s professional debut set up for this summer.

“The way the judging and (computerized) scoring is at the amateur ranks, we think he’s better suited as a professional,” said Albert Jones, who believed Divante was the aggressor and should have won his bout against eventual quarterfinalist Lavisas Williams. “We’ve been told by others, including Sugar Shane Mosley’s father (Jack) and Roy Jones Sr., that he’d be better as a professional. So that’s our next step.”

Ray Whitfield, a decorated professional who took over the Augusta Boxing Club last year, agrees that Jones is ready to doff the head gear and start making checks.

“The way that the point system is, if you’re not that type of fighter it’s real hard to win,” Whitfield said of Jones, who finished fourth in the same event last year. “He has more of a pro style, so he’ll be pretty good as a pro if somebody moves him right.”

The 5-foot-9 Jones wasn’t dwelling on his Olympic setback and has his eyes toward the future that he’s been pursuing since he was 7.

“I don’t take it as failure but as feedback for what I can do next time,” he said. “I’m very excited because I know I have a very big fan base and once they find out (I’m turning pro), I know they’ll be as excited as I am.”

Whitfield was in Colorado with DeLoach, who was a serious contender in the 152-pound class. Despite his inexperience in the open division at the national level. DeLoach won his first two bouts handily but was eliminated in the quarterfinals Thursday by a narrow 22-21 decision to veteran fighter David Grayton,

“We thought we had it,” Whitfield said. “It was very disappointing but he left it all in the ring and fought his heart out. Being a younger guy in the tournament, he’s got years to come. This was a learning step for him. We’ll come back next year and hopefully win this.”

DeLoach, a senior at Butler, was uplifted by his performance.

“It was a valuable experience,” he said. “I was with a lot of top-ranked boxers. Being this young, I thought it was a great accomplishment getting to the (quarterfinals). To fight one of the top dudes and being that close, I know I’ve got a 100-percent chance of winning it next year.”

DeLoach plans to follow Whitfield’s lead and remain an amateur in hopes of an Olympic shot when he’s 22. How hungry is he for that chance?

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say 100,” DeLoach said. “If I can do it, I will be there. This week proves a lot. I know that I can bang with the best. I got a lot of respect from the men boxers. Everybody was like, ‘You’re going to beat us in the future,’ and that made me feel real good.”

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