Superman Returns, Can Roy Jones Jr. turn back the clock?

Roy Jones Jr.Mike Cassell 9/4/08 - As I browsed through a major website news service and clicked the sports tab, I noticed the considerable list of sports buttons that included MMA. I had to go to the very bottom of the page and click “other sports” moving past archery and arena football to find boxing. As I read the two short news stories on the otherwise blank page, I had to ask the question, what the hell has happened to what used to be one of the world’s most exciting sports? The names on the front page used to be familiar names with familiar faces.

American fighters with personalities we could relate to. In the 90’s as the myth of Mike Tyson was destroyed by a virtual unknown in Tokyo, the popularity of boxing was slowly slipping away from the imagination of American fans. Next to Evander Holyfield, there was only one man who personified the excitement and tested the limits of the sweet science, and that man was Roy Jones Jr. He was cocky, unapologetic and very fun to watch, in and out of the ring.

Boxing has been the best reality entertainment since the Queensbury rules were published in 1867. What made the game were the fighters we loved and sometimes hated to watch, in and out of the ring. In 1988 Roy Jones Jr. was cast into the international spotlight after a controversial gold medal bout during the 1988 Seoul Korea Olympic games in a match with Park Si-Hun. This match was regarded as one the worst scored matches in the history of Olympic boxing, robbing Jones of a gold medal and gave a very tough talented boxer a lot to talk about as he entered the professional ranks. Jones was a fast talking incredibly talented fighter who didn’t hold his hands right, punched from unbelievably awkward angles, and made a living making talented world class fighters look pedestrian in the ring. He made his opponents look as if they were fighting in slow motion. His speed and power was unmatched for nearly a decade, and his personality only made his self described “Superman” alias stick a little better. Truth be told, he is one of the few fighters who never needed a nickname.

As a professional he captured IBF championships in the middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight divisions. He moved up in weight and obtained the WBA Heavyweight title from John Ruiz. He is also held the WBC, WBA, IBF, IBO, NABF, WBF, and IBA light Heavyweight Championships at the same time. Most criticized him for being too involved with a music career and a semi-pro basketball team. He probably had just as many people tuning in to see him lose, than to see him win. He seemed virtually indestructible, and reminded fans of that fact as many times as he could. The bottom dropped out in 2004 when he was not just beat by Antonio Tarver, but he was knocked out cold in front of an international audience. It all finally caught up to Jones. His full court basketball games before championship fights. His moving up and down in weight and spending more time in recording studios then in gyms all converged into one gigantic ball of kryptonite that seemingly took out Superman for good.

Losing again two more times in 2004 and 2005, seemed to solidify the end for the man who was voted fighter of the decade in the 90’s. Jones managed to win his last three fights, but he has not knocked out an opponent since he fought Clinton Woods in 2002. His convincing victory over retired fighter Felix Trinidad brought him back into the public eye, displaying flashes of his old self in front of a very respectable pay per view audience, but Trinidad was a shell of the fighter he once was. On November 8th, Jones will step into the ring and face Joe Calzaghe, who is considered one the best fighters in the world and is the longest reigning title holder in any weight class in boxing, recently passing the ten year mark as the WBO super middleweight champion. Calzaghe, a European fighter, is coming off a big win against Bernard Hopkins and has decided to make this bout with Jones his swan song. This will be Jones last chance to prove to the world and maybe a little bit to himself, that he is still relevant in the game of boxing.

Jones needs this win, but so does American boxing. Although the talent is out there, the personalities are few and far between. Jones recently told me “they can’t stand that I’m still here, they would just like to see me go”. He may be half right, but I think the true fan who wanted to see superman fall, are now watching for another reason. Jones is the underdog who has cracks in his armor. He is vulnerable, but still very dangerous. He has lost the reflexes to avoid the big punch, and his power is not what it once was, but he still has surprising speed. He was born with that natural ability and that is something that may surprise Calzaghe from a distance. Jones is training harder than ever before and you can pretty much bet that he will not be playing basketball, cutting any albums or staring in a Matrix sequel before this fight. And who knows, while browsing your favorite news service on November 9th a decisive Jones victory might just take boxing out of the “other sports” tab and put it back on the front page where it belongs.

Article posted on 04.09.2008

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