Given the size of his dreams, the pairing of the undefeated Houston-based heavyweight Justin “Jawbreaker” Jones (18-0-1, 11 KOs) and Texas boxing legend Maurice “Termite” Watkins is ideal. When you’re an unknown fighter looking to ‘come from out of nowhere’ and become world champion, who better to have as your trainer than a man known for working fistic miracles?
“Termite has me doing things I have never done before,” said Jones. “He’s a work-ethic guy. He makes me throw a lot of punches and wants me busy all the time. He wants me to throw 250 punches, per round, on the bag. That’s unheard of for a heavyweight. He makes me push myself you know? I really think I’m going to break a CompuBox record someday.”
A well-respected trainer and former fighter, Watkins retired in 1990 with a record of 61-5-2, 41 KOs. He challenged for the WBC Super Lightweight Championship in 1980, losing a close 15-round decision. But he is probably known best for a pair of stunning achievements.
Heavily decorated as an amateur boxer (128 wins – 10 losses), in 1974, Watkins won the National Golden Gloves in the featherweight division at age 16, the first fighter to ever do so at that age. Also at age 16, he was made a member of the USA National Team, and bunked and travelled the world with future champions Sugar Ray Leonard and Howard Davis Jr.
But perhaps his biggest claim to fame, and the one that has Hollywood producers calling for rights to his story, is the tale of how he ended up leading the entire country of Iraq to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
“I got a phone call one night and they needed pest control people in Iraq and I was born and raised in that business. I applied to go and was finally accepted. One day, the general who knew I was a fighter pulled me in his office and asked me what the odds were of getting Iraq to the Olympics for boxing? I said one in a million. He said ‘great all we need is one. I expect you to get it done.’ And that’s what I did.”
Watkins then opened a boxing gym in Al-Hilla Iraq and formed the first Iraqi boxing team of the New Iraq, worked with the new Iraq, Ministry of Sports in Bagdad, Iraq, as a representative of the US government and held a box-off to who would make the new Iraqi Olympic Boxing Team.
For two months, I tried calling the Olympic Committee and the IOC to tell them I was putting a team together in Iraq. They wouldn’t answer my calls. I was persistent. Finally, they told me if you can win one of the qualifiers or get runner up, you can go. We went to the first qualifier in the Philippines and won and they didn’t give us the decision. Then same thing in China. Pakistan. Same thing. It looked hopeless.
Then one day I got a call that Iraq was being offered a special pass to compete in several events and I ended up taking the country to the Olympics and was their leader. It was an amazing story.”
These days, Watkins is happily running his Fighter Nation Gym he founded in Houston, on the grounds of the Fellowship of the Nations church, where he tries offer young fighters moral and spiritual mentoring on top of the sweet science.
“I come from the old school where fundamentals are key,” continued Watkins. “When Justin and I started working together, I started him from the beginning again. My expectations are tough. No drinking. No drugs. I don’t even want to be around fighters that have a filthy mouth. I train my fighters hard and try to maintain a positive energy in the gym. Fights many times are won or lost in the mind. I don’t scream and yell. I’m positive.”
Watkins says that while Jones has all the power and drive to be a top contender, he’s been helping him work on some of the finer points of the sport.
“I was a real slick fighter and now I’m slowly teaching him that slickness. We work a lot on being slick in there. I also spend time with him on giving him the attitude that he can do anything he puts his mind on.”
“I’ve improved a lot,” said Jones. “Termite has me working on things like foot movement and mixing up punch intensity to set up my shots. You can only learn things like that from someone who fought before. He knows a lot of things that regular trainers don’t know. The experience he has is going to make me a lot better. I threw 70 jabs in one round the other day; different kinds of jabs. Up-jabs and body jabs and combinations with the jab. I can hit a guy anywhere I want to now, in the shoulder, stomach, head, everywhere.
Louisiana boxing guru Kerry Daigle, who brought fighter and trainer together through mutual friendships, says the duo are going to make a big impression on the heavyweight division soon.
“Speed in sports is what creates champions to rise that 1 to 2 percent above contenders,” said Daigle. “Football, basketball, track, and hockey are sports where the word ‘speed’ is used to compliment extraordinary athletes. You don’t hear that compliment much anymore in heavyweight boxing since the days of Ali. Triple J, as we all know Justin Jones, is a heavyweight with the speed of a fast middleweight that is able to throw six- to eight-punch combinations in a matter of seconds. The public hasn’t seen the undefeated sensation in a nationally televised fight yet, but will fall in love with him as he brings extraordinary gifts to the squared circle. His new trainer, the former contender who was known for his speed and intellect in the ring, Termite Watkins, is developing him into a complete fighter. Watkins, who understands the power of throwing ‘punches in bunches’ has come out of retirement to train TRIPLE J because of what he saw in Justin’s training at a local gym. We are searching for a top-10 fighter to step up and challenge Justin. Look for him to shine on national TV before the end of the year as Warriors Boxing President, Leon Margules, takes over the reins of promoting Triple J.”