It’s only when you take a look back at the prime Roy Jones Jr in action that you can appreciate just how amazingly special he really was. During his 1993 to 2003 peak (and that’s a long peak) Jones really did look like one of the greatest, fastest, most all but unbeatable fighters in boxing history. In short, nobody could keep up with Jones. Nobody. Not James Toney, not Bernard Hopkins, not Thomas Tate, not Vinny Pazienza and, in their rematch (this after Jones had been controversially disqualified), not Montell Griffin. Heck, even heavyweight John Ruiz was dominated by Jones.
On this day back in 1996, the tough, durable and extremely rugged Merqui Sosa had his chance against Jones. Jones, perfect at 30-0 and having captured world titles at both middleweight and super-middleweight, took a fight above 168. Sosa, a born fighter from the Dominican Republic, had been in with the best at 160 and 168 – James Toney (L12), Frankie Liles (LTKO), Michael Nunn (L12) – and he had recently gone to war with “Prince” Charles Williams twice at 175 (a technical draw, the fight stopped due to it being too brutal! and a KO win in the return).
On January 12th of 1996 at Madison Square Garden, Sosa, fighting at the agreed weight of 172 pounds, took the heat right to Jones. The opening round was sizzling, Jones forced to the ropes but getting the better of things while there. Jones’ hands were absolutely blazing, his left hook to the head and body a thing of beauty. Sosa had a touch of success but Jones had his man hurt in the second half of the round and the pound-for-pound king threw and landed a ton of leather, all within a few breath-taking seconds.
It was a mesmerizing display and the red-hot pace of the round surprised even the ultra-experienced, seen-it-all Gil Clancy, who was co-calling the fight for HBO. How long could Jones keep up this amazing pace, Larry Merchant wondered. In round two, Jones closed the show. Albeit it somewhat controversial fashion. After dropping the rock-chinned Sosa with a lead right, Jones forced his opponent to the ropes and unleashed a torrent of unanswered blows. Sosa blocked some of these shots but enough got through for the third man to decide he’d seen enough.
Sosa angrily shoved Ken Zimmer as soon as the fight was stopped. Sosa’s co-trainer Tommy Gallagher hurled a torrent of X-rated language at the ref – “What the f**k are you doing stopping the fight!” Gallagher demanded.
Merchant agreed with the outrage, saying the fight had been stopped too soon. HBO’s Harold Lederman agreed too, saying the ref could have and should have issued a standing eight count. “They have the standing eight count here in New York,” Lederman stated. Clancy agreed, saying that this is the type of thing a standing eight count is for.
In any case, Jones, looking as sensational as ever, if not more so, had won again. Could anybody beat him? It sure didn’t look like it. Jones was on the top of his game and he had shown he was just as fast, just as special up at light-heavyweight (or at 172, Jones to make the full move up in due course.)
Later, when looking back on his career with Ring Magazine, Jones said that Sosa was both the strongest man and the best puncher he faced. “Merqui missed me with a shot that almost buckled my knees,” Jones told Ring. “If that had landed it would have been different. I had to get him out of there early. He was very strong and wasn’t planning on going nowhere.”
In some ways, the second-round TKO Jones scored a quarter of a century ago was one of his finest performances. Sosa at the time had been stopped just once and he had never been on the floor.