BoxingNewsOmari Jones

Hold The Tortellini: Boxer Omari Jones Is Headed To Italy To Lock Down His Place In Paris

by Steve Drumwright

Omari Jones poses for photo at a Team USA shoot on Sept. 20, 2023 in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Photo by Team USA)

Most 21-year-olds headed to Italy for a week would be consumed with making a list of authentic cuisine to try or historic destinations to explore.

But not Omari Jones.

The Orlando, Florida, native is one of eight members of the USA Boxing team who will be looking to earn their ticket to the Olympic Games Paris 2024 during the first World Qualification Tournament that takes place March 4-11 in Busto Arsizio, Italy. Jones, who fights at 71 kg., needs just a top-four finish to earn his Olympic roster spot.

A second World Qualification Tournament begins in late May in Thailand, but Jones doesn’t plan to need it.

“I’m looking forward to fighting and punching my ticket,” Jones said of the Italy trip, which includes a multination training camp this month in Assisi. “I’m there for business. The competition, we know everybody is going to come hard and come with their best. That’s my goal, too, and at the end of the day, come out on top.”

Jones’ track record indicates a top-four finish is attainable. But that path also included a detour that prevented him from already locking up a trip to Paris. Jones won a pair of gold medals in 2023, winning a tournament in Finland in April and the Czech Republic in May. But at the 2023 Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, Jones fell in the quarterfinals.

“It just taught me that I still have a lot in the tank and a lot more improvement to do,” he said. “This time around in Italy, I learned from my mistakes. That was my first Pan American Games. To be there, it was kind of a surreal moment, kind of like I’m here now. I have to go to Italy and correct my mistakes and punch my ticket to Paris.”

Since that setback, all of Jones’ energy has been on this Olympic qualifier. But there was one more hurdle Jones had to clear to secure this opportunity. Jones’ previous results allowed him to bypass the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Boxing in December in Lafayette, Louisiana, and go straight to the January selection camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado. There, Jones squared off against Olympic trials champion Keon Davis, the younger brother of Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Keyshawn Davis.

Jones said those who watched called it one of the “most intense” battles seen at a selection camp.

Omari Jones competes during the men's 71 kg. at the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 on Oct. 25, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

“He came in with the name and a lot of hype to be the person to take my spot,” Jones said. “So, of course, I had to rise to the occasion. I had to make adjustments, and it was a close battle in camp, but I felt that I pulled it out. I’m here to get another shot at making my dream come true.”

Like Davis, Jones also comes from a family of combat-sport athletes. His parents decided to put him and his two older brothers in karate while growing up. Jones was 4 years old when he started; four years later he picked up boxing, and he competed in both until age 14. That’s when he needed to pick one sport to focus on, and boxing won out. Three people primarily coach him now — Jason Galarza, Craig Duncan, and his father, Karl.

“It was just really the hard work and that I can depend on myself,” Jones said. “(Boxing is) team-oriented ... but the work that you put in is the work that you get out. There was more intensity in boxing, and I just loved the competition. Actually, my first time getting on a plane and stuff like that was from boxing. So I enjoy the traveling. My first nationals was in West Virginia at 15.”

The transition from karate to boxing also led to something else: a nickname. While his skills were raw, Jones seemed to have a natural talent for boxing. As he sparred against more experienced fighters, one characteristic stood out.

“They was like, ‘You punching people and hitting them hard. We’re gonna call you the Banger,” said Jones, who has T-shirts with the moniker and also uses Banger in his social media handles.

Being involved in the community is also big to Jones and his family. From the money he earns through boxing, Jones purchases backpacks to give away to kids. Typically, he holds an event at the gym where he trains to distribute backpacks. But in 2023, the National Junior Golden Gloves were held in Orlando, so Jones broadened his platform and handed them out there to kids who had gathered from around the country.

“Being in the community was always something instilled in me at a young age,” Jones said.

The Olympic dream has also been very prominent for Jones, something he prays about with his father on a nightly basis. He burst onto the international scene in 2021 by winning a silver medal in his very first event, the Elite World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. Now, he is just a few more wins away from qualifying for the Paris Olympics.

“It would mean everything to me to get to Paris,” Jones said. “I’ve faced so many obstacles and worked my whole life to get even this far. So to represent my country and fulfill my dream as an Olympian would be a surreal moment.”