25 Years Ago: Montell Griffin Vs. Roy Jones Jr – When “Superman” Fell (and fouled)

Dubbed” Superman,” Roy Jones Junior was at his soaring peak. Having ruled the world at middleweight and at super-middleweight, 28 year old Jones was now the light-heavyweight boss. Montell Griffin was a 26-0 contender who was coming off a decision win over common opponent James Toney; “Ice” having beaten Toney twice.

Those in the know knew how good 27 year old Griffin was, how well he had learned his trade and how hungry he was. Still, who was going to beat “Superman?” Jones looked about as invincible as any great fighter ever had. Astonishingly fast, hard to hit, possessing withering punching power and uncanny reflexive abilities, Jones was already looked at as an all-time great.

But Griffin, with his own somewhat quirky style, with his short and stocky physical attributes, set about taking Jones down in Atlantic City on the night of March 21, 1997.

To everyone’s amazement, Griffin was outboxing Jones, he was controlling the action. Jones just could not figure Griffin out, he couldn’t get into his groove. Jones was a fighter who had until then scarcely lost a round on the score-cards in any fight, yet here Griffin was putting rounds in the bank. Over the course of the first five rounds, Griffin was in charge, forcing Jones to the ropes and working his body.

Jones got into the fight at the half-way stage, scoring a flash knockdown in round seven; Griffin jumping right back up, unhurt and claiming he had slipped. Griffin tagged Jones with a notable left hand in the eighth and the fight was still very much up for grabs. Then came the ninth round and one of the most controversial moments of the boxing decade (this a decade that gave us Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson and the “long count,” and Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor and its stoppage with a mere two-seconds to go, to name two hugely controversial ring moments).

Jones hurt Griffin with a right hand to the head and he went full-out on the attack. Jones threw a blur of leather and Griffin took a knee. Jones then let loose with not one but two clean shots, both of which connected on Jones’ kneeling target. Griffin slumped forward and Jones celebrated, thinking he had won by KO. Instead, Jones had cheated – on purpose, Griffin later said – and Jones’ once perfect record would now be forever stained by a DQ loss.

Jones claimed he “didn’t have time to think and see whether he was down,” but the damage was done. To many people, a frustrated Jones had lashed out when a cooler, more sportsmanlike fighter would not have done so. Watching on replay, it does look as though Jones’ act was indeed deliberate. Jones was now 34-1. Griffin was now 27-0 and the light-heavyweight champion of the world.

Griffin’s reign didn’t last long; less than five months in fact. Jones, showing his greatness, took Griffin out in a round in the return. There would be no rubber-match.

Griffin was the only man to have ever beaten the prime Roy Jones Jr. It would be over seven years before Jones lost again, this at the age of 35.