In his last bout Jones controversially defeated Russian hard man Denis Lebedev (25-2, 19) to supposedly unify the WBA regular and WBA "in recess" titles. Things however didn't quite end up like that as the win was later ignored by the WBA following irregularities with Jones's drug test. This saw Lebedev reinstated as the WBA regular champion and now, 11 months later, we get a rematch as the men go to war again.
The first fight, last May, was genuinely amazing. Both men had to give and take in a back-and-forth way that saw Lebedev effectively punching himself out whilst landing massive bombs on Lebedev who appeared to be a division bigger than the Russian. Eventually a combination of exhaustion and Jones's punches took their toll and a badly swollen, bloodied and battered looking Lebedev was stopped.
The bout saw Lebedev praised for his insane amount of heart, it saw Jones, prior to the drug tests, praised for his skills despite being 40 years old, it saw both men praised for the action and excitement whilst the referee, doctor and Lebedev's corner were all criticised for putting the Russian's health at risk. The overall feeling was that Lebedev would never be the same, Jones was capable of unifying the division and we'd had an absolute classic.
Unfortunately all the praise of Jones was questioned when his drug test came back as dirty with many suggesting his energy and immense size advantage had been down to drugs. Whether Jones's performance was, or wasn't, due to performance enhancing substances is likely to be debated many times in the future one thing that won't be debated is just how much we're looking forward to the rematch.
Of course 11 months is a long time. For Jones it was 11 months of ageing, 11 months of getting naturally older and 11 months of collecting rust. Sometimes a break from the ring can do a fighter the world of good but Jones has now fought just 11 rounds in well over 2 years and just 17 rounds in 3 years and just 28 rounds in 5 and a half years.
Whilst the lay off for Jones was about ageing we'd presume that the 11 month lay off for Lebedev was more about recovery. His face was a genuine swollen mess at the end of the last bout and he really needed time to recover before even thinking about returning to boxing. His right eye was a swollen, disgusting, discoloured mess, whilst the left side of his face was cut both above and below the eye. The break from the ring wasn't so much desired as needed.
In their first fight Lebedev threw everything at Jones, including the kitchen sink, but never managed to dent the Panamanian who proved his toughness was first class. Genuinely the chin on Jones had to be made out of titanium. He took huge shots and never took a step backwards. Unfortunately for Lebedev he wasn't the only one with heavy artillery and Jones landed straights and uppercuts almost at will as he deformed Lebedev's face. Although Lebedev will never be described as a "pretty boy" he ended looking a bit like a gargoyle.
Unfortunately for Lebedev his return to the ring leaves us with a lot of questions. Firstly will he be the tough, powerful, gutsy fighter he once was or will the "loss" to Jones last year have taken too much out of him? Will his face swell up like it did last year? Will it swell up even easier than it did last year? What has the 11 months really done for Lebedev's health? And most importantly does he believe he can beat Jones?
For Jones there is also questions. Was he cheating? If so is he going to be able to replicate his performance from last year with out the substance he is reported to have taken? Is father time going to be too much for Jones at last? Did Lebedev manage to take anything out of Jones last time out?
From where we're sat there is no way Lebedev will be the fighter he was a year or two ago. It's a real shame but there is no way a fighter can take that much punishment and be the same man afterwards, he was effectively put through a human grinder. With that in mind we expect to see Lebedev against have his face swelling, cutting and seriously damaged. The shots of Jones might not be concussive but they are heavy and damaging and this will be, unfortunately, the key to this bout with the reach and length of Jones helping him land shots at will on the brave Russian.
We'd love to see Lebedev win, he's one of the most exciting fighters out there, but unfortunately we don't it happening, especially not after what happened last year. Lebedev is still going to be caught by the heavy straights, the venomous uppercuts, the clean hooks and the hard jabs that completely destroyed his face last year and will again this year.