On a cold December day in Lake Charles, Louisiana, before the sport of boxing would get shut down for months due to the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of amateur boxers looked to get one step closer to achieving their dreams of reaching the Olympics.
Out of all the Olympic hopefuls, one caught the attention of former gold medalist Sugar Ray Seales, who was in attendance to watch the next generation of boxers compete to stay in the running for a coveted spot on the U.S. Olympic team. That boxer was Toledo, Ohio’s Oshae Jones.
After Jones scored a win over Briana Che to win the U.S. Olympic Trials, Seales came over to Jones. After showing off the gold medal that he won in the 1972 Olympics, Seales gave Jones some words of encouragement and said he believes she has what it takes to win Olympic gold.
“She’s going to get hers,” Seales said back then.
It’s not often an amateur gets such a ringing endorsement and it’s one that Jones most certainly didn’t expect.
“It was shocking to me because I’m like, 'Little ole me?' But he was telling me good things, saying that he saw what he saw and I’m like, ‘You saw that in me? I did that?’ It was just exciting seeing his medal and everything. We took pictures, it was great. It was an eye-opening experience,” Jones told Fightful.
Jones’ win over Che was highlighted by a dance she did in the ring afterwards, something that she’s all too familiar with. Dancing while focusing on boxing is something that she has plenty of experience with.
The 22-year-old comes from a boxing family. Her older brother Roshawn and her father Otha Jones are her coaches and her brother Otha Jones III made his pro debut in 2019, winning all five of his fights competing for Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing. She eats, sleeps and lives boxing, even if it means incorporating other elements into their training.
“With my family being my team, it could be like one day, me and my brother would just sit there feeling lazy and one of us could go, 'Let's just run.' So we run and do different things that make our workouts fun. We dance a lot, have rhythm classes, skate, swim. We do things activities that make our workouts not boring. Make it fun, exciting,” Oshae said.
Life on the outside may be different, with citizens donning masks and practicing social distancing and business adjusting to the changes, but inside the Soul City Gym, things remain largely the same. It certainly hasn’t affected Jones a whole thanks to her family also being a big part of her team.
“I don’t think it affected me as much because not many people have their own gym and I live with my teammates who are my family so we never got divided. The main people, my brother Otha Jones III, my father, my older brother have been here so it’s not like anything’s changed," Oshae said.
The planets seemed to have aligned for Oshae to go to the Olympics back then. Oshae was supposed to head to Argentina for the Olympic qualifiers, but that got called off due to COVID-19. It was a huge shock to her and she admitted that it wasn’t until she returned home to Toledo where it finally hit her that COVID-19 is a serious matter.
“At first, I was thinking it wasn't really taking it seriously. I was surprised because of how this virus could be all over the world. It was just a big shock to me and then it finally hit me when I came home and we weren’t allowed to leave. I thought to myself, ‘This is serious.’ I’m still shocked even today, It’s been kind of iffy, kind of good and bad. Good because I can stay home and be with my family. Bad because I feel like it put me back in the boxing game losing the Olympics,” Oshae said.
Going back to winning the Olympic trials and meeting up with Seales, Oshae felt a surge of excitement spring up as she feels more justified in her confidence, especially when past Olympic champions believe in her as well. While the pandemic has been a test of not just patience, but mental fortitude for many boxers, Jones feels more motivated than ever before.
“It did motivate me because I had just won Pan Am and I’ve won every fight and then for him to say that to me, I thought, ‘I have this in the bag. I got this.’ Then, the Olympic qualifiers got postponed, I was like, ‘Oh my god. I got to keep this up.’ When it first got postponed, I was so scared because, I don’t want to say I was at my peak, but I was on my way there. I felt like the COVID-19 interrupted that a little bit. It was just bad for me. But when he told me that, it opened in my eyes," Oshae said.
With the next Olympics being moved to 2021, some boxers have pondered the possibility of maybe forgoing next year’s games and instead going pro. One such example is Javier Martinez, who won the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials and signed a promotional pact with Top Rank Boxing and is making his pro debut on June 30.
For Oshae, missing out on the Olympics for a path towards the paid ranks was never an option. Even with women’s boxing getting the spotlight more and more often, it would be detrimental to her pro career if she were to skip the Olympics. Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor’s Olympic success were major factors for the big start in their respective pro careers and both quickly became world champions within a few fights. Now both Shields and Taylor are undisputed champions at middleweight and lightweight, respectively.
“Turning pro was never a decision because I’m a female in the boxing world. We are not treated as equals like the men. Men don’t need the Olympics, they can start a pro career without it. I feel like women have to work 10 times harder so I knew I had to wait it out. I knew my time was coming. I knew I had to go out and wait my turn. It wasn’t even a choice for me," Oshae said.
Oshae knows that waiting for the Olympics could be tough, especially when she is so close to being on the team. But in the end, she believes that everything happens for a reason and her having to wait for the Olympics is just another part of a grand plan towards boxing success.
“I don’t really know, but I always try to look into the positive side of things. Maybe this was a way to show me that I’m not ready yet and maybe God wanted me to take a little more time to learn or get experience so I was trying to take it like that," Oshae said.
You can check out the full interview at the top of the page. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel where I do interviews with boxers at this link.