Reevaluating Roy Jones Jr.

24.05.04 - By Matthew Hurley: When Antonio Tarver separated Roy Jones Jr. from his light heavyweight belts and his senses the naysayers, the members of the “Roycott Brigade”, gleefully came out of the woodwork pointing fingers and saying “I told you so.” Even Oscar De La Hoya doesn’t divide boxing and sports fans into so many diametrically opposed camps as does Jones. Roy has never endeared himself to old school fight fans who simply can’t stand his unorthodox style and posturing. His apparent unwillingness to put himself out on the line alienated his less harsher critics. His own arrogance, a necessity in a sport as brutal as boxing, was probably bolstered by some commentators such as Max Kellerman who insisted on comparing him to Sugar Ray Robinson and further alienated him from hard line boxing fans. And finally his level of competition, which plummeted after his career defining fight against James Toney way back in 1994, has left a great deal to be desired. Still, he remained atop most pound for pound lists for the past decade. Now, in the hazy shock of one crushing defeat, his standing among boxing immortals is being questioned.

Somehow it seems justified and yet unfair at the same time. In light of the level of his opposition during his hall of fame career – make no mistake about that – Jones should really never have been mentioned in the same breath as Robinson in the first place. Let’s be even more frank, no one should ever be mentioned alongside Sugar Ray Robinson, particularly while still in the midst of their career. There will never be another Robinson, end of story. The cement has dried and the words written therein say, “The best pound for pound fighter of all time will always be Sugar Ray Robinson.” So let’s end that nonsense here and now. It makes lesser fighters who are great like Roy Jones Jr. seem overblown and overrated when they lose. Right from the get go an impossible standard has been set for fighters like Roy – a standard they can never hope to match, as much as their desire and ego drives them.

Before touching gloves with a fighter who has pursued him doggedly since their amateur days referee Jay Nady asked the two boxers if they had any questions. With a bravado that must have either annoyed or stunned Jones, Antonio Tarver responded, “What excuse will you have this time, Roy?” He was alluding to their first fight, a close, disputed decision win for Jones in which he brushed aside it’s competitiveness due to having to lose so much weight in coming down from the heavyweight ranks. Less than five minutes later, Roy would be flat on his back. The victim of one perfect left hook.

“I beat him to the punch,” said an elated Tarver. “I would have knocked anybody out with that punch. I felt it to the bottom of my toes. The way he hit [the canvass], I knew I caught him sweet.”

Jones would say later that, “It can happen to anybody.” And that he was “Probably bored with Tarver… and just got caught with a good shot.” Excuses? Well, any fighter who has never been knocked out before, much less beaten, must be at a complete loss for an explanation as to what the hell just happened to him. It would have been nice though had Roy simply tipped his cap and attended the post fight press conference instead of slinking away into the night. It was a classless move on his part. One which gives even more fodder for his detractors. After years of gloating, making opponents wait in the ring, not showing up for pre-fight press conferences and generally anointing himself above it all, Roy Jones Jr. could have made converts out of many boxing fans and writers had he humbled himself just a bit. He didn’t do that and it distances himself even further from their embrace.

Perhaps he doesn’t really care. There’s always been an almost inexplicable reluctance about Roy Jones Jr. the fighter. Oftentimes he came across as more businessman than pugilist. A man willing to fight no-hopers rather than some of the elite fighters that he should have fought; fighters like Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank or Darius Michalczewski. He probably would have beat them all, but he never fought them. Instead he fought Glenn Kelly, Richard Hall and Richard Frazier. Those fights provided the ammunition for his enemies and led to the invention of the term, “Roycott.” Roy may have been a star and a mainstay on the boxing scene but he never achieved the popularity of an Oscar De La Hoya or Sugar Ray Leonard. He simply played by his own rules and those rules involved the most money for the least amount of risk. Is it any wonder that he challenged the least challenging heavyweight in John Ruiz in his sojourn into the ranks of the big men?

So in light of his knockout loss against Tarver what does all this mean? Where does Jones now belong in terms of historical significance? Making that determination now is probably just as bad as it was when some reasoned he was as good as or better than Robinson when he seemed unbeatable. Tarver may be that one fighter that will drive Jones to distraction no matter how many times they meet. Muhammad Ali had Ken Norton, Thomas Hearns had Iran Barkley and Sugar Shane Mosley had Vernon Forrest. Or maybe Jones just got caught and a third match would be completely different. The fact remains that in spite of the blemishes on his record and the questions surrounding the level of his opposition Roy Jones Jr. is a great fighter, arguably the preeminent fighter of the last 12 years, and is a lock for the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in Canastota. He’s earned that consideration all ready. At his best, in his lightning quick prime, he would be competitive with anyone from middleweight to light heavyweight. But Jones, despite what his adoring fans pontificated year in and year out, was not “Superman”. Not ever and, quite frankly, he was never in Sugar Ray Robinson’s league. Not even at his best.

But when he was good, he was damn good. In fact he was great. He just wasn’t the best the sport of boxing has ever seen.

Article posted on 24.05.2004

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