For the purposes of this exercise, we have to remove any remembrance of Jones Jr. blinking up at the lights after Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson, Danny Green, and especially Denis Lebedev. That Jones Jr. is a world removed from the Roy I want you to be imagining. That Roy Jones Jr. is in danger of losing his life every time he steps into a ring. I want you to go back to 1997, when a prime and primed Roy Jones Jr. wanted revenge for the first highly disputed loss of his career against Montell Griffin.
It was this fight against Griffin that showed the world what Roy Jones Jr. was capable of when given the motivation to not just win, but to make a statement in victory about why he was not just a once-in-a-generation talent, but the most gifted boxer who ever lived.
The sad legacy of Roy Jones Jr. is that, throughout his career, this was one of the only glimpses we had into that Roy. And his achievements have already been overshadowed by the tragic wreckage of Jones Jr.'s latter failed conquests in the ring. He promised us early on that the career he's now having would never happen him. He promised us he'd get out far sooner than he has.
Roy Jones Jr. had 15 years of complete dominance over the sport. Nothing stood in his way. He achieved everything he set out to accomplish. But we never saw a more tuned Roy Jones Jr. than when he fought Montell Griffin in their rematch.
What was that Roy capable of accomplishing given the competition through the ages? Could anyone have matched him?
Now you'll have to indulge me in imagining the Roy Jones Jr. who rematched Griffin drop some weight to fight some all-time great middleweight champions...
For starters, both Leonard and Jones Jr. are the same height and have the same reach. I can't really give either the edge in hand or foot speed either. Jones Jr. employed his skills in a far more unorthodox style than Leonard. The big question would be whether Leonard could deal with punches coming at him from angles he'd never seen, faster than he'd ever experienced them thrown at him.
Where I'd give Roy Jones Jr. an edge in this fight is his ability to pivot to some obscene postion and reset with lightning speed and precision to throw any kind of punch he wanted with knockout power. I think this ability is something that Jones could sharpen throughout the fight in order to exploit a weakness in Leonard. It could be an uppercut, a hook or a shot to the body like he took out Virgil Hill with.
Jones Jr. simply had too much power and speed for Leonard not to get into trouble.
Where Leonard could find an edge is with mind games. Leonard's cruelty and meanness served him well in not just never giving up after being dropped or fighting hard throughout his fights, but also in breaking the will of opponents. Prior to getting knocked out by Tarver, the greatest shot I ever saw Jones really exposed by was the humiliation all over his face when Tarver called him on his tendency to fall back on excuses just prior to their rematch. Tarver got inside his head and was the first opponent Jones Jr. had faced who fought him to win. It was a different Roy Jones Jr. from that point onwards.
If Leonard could figure out Duran after such a crushing defeat and get into his head, it seems probable that he'd have plenty of mind games up his sleeve to get inside Roy's head. How much this could nullify Jones Jr.'s immense arsenal is hard to say. Without mind games, Roy simply has far too much firepower not to overwhelm Leonard.
The greatest indication of what Roy Jones Jr. could do to Marvin Hagler is his defeat at the hands of Ray Leonard.
Roy Jones Jr.'s experience early on against future Hall of Famers James Toney and Bernard Hopkins demonstrates his poise against championship-caliber competition. Hagler was a brilliant boxer, but his brilliance lacked any kind of sophistication when it came to style or innovation in the ring. You knew what to expect from him. Roy would have to deal with Hagler's aggression, power and determination to corner him at every opportunity. A prime Jones Jr. simply would be too fast and clever to expose himself to any of Hagler's strengths as a boxer.
A match between a prime Hagler and Jones Jr. might actually prove to be the most dull of any mega-fight involving Jones Jr. Roy would most likely be content to pile on points and win a unanimous decision and keep Hagler at a distance while mocking him throughout the fight.
Tommy Hearns' height, reach and power could spell defeat for Jones Jr. with even the most minor of mistakes. Look what one punch from Hearns was capable of doing against someone of the quality of Duran.
But we have to remember that the Jones Jr. facing Hearns hasn't yet been exposed to us or himself. As far as Roy would be concerned, he's at the greater advantage to land a game-changing punch at any time, from any angle.
Again Roy's ability to throw punches from fantastically unusual angles could confuse Hearns. Hearns was as deadly a boxer as there has ever been coming forward or standing and trading. Jones would never bother engaging Hearns in that fashion and the big question of the fight would be whether Hearns had the ability to trap or corner Jones and unleash what he could to finish Jones.
While I can't see Jones intimidating Hearns or slowing him down, I can see the frustration of Hearns not being able to fight the way he's used to, leading him to throw with greater intensity and possibly get reckless. This could be the lethal mistake that proves his undoing against Jones Jr. Nobody in the history of the sport had the ability to capitalize on the mistakes of others faster or with more precision than Roy.
What's a memory worth to you? If I asked you about the greatest fights you've ever seen, who appears in your imagination?
I would trade the catalogue of memories Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s career has given me for a few rounds of Roy Jones Jr. against Duran. Watching the best of Duran makes watching 95 percent of other greats' highlights a let down. Duran's intensity is unmatched in the sport.
Now then. Do I think Duran has much of a chance against Jones Jr.? Frankly? No, not really.
Jones would never make the mistake Leonard did in their first fight. Which is why, for better or worse, Leonard is a beloved fighter for the ages and Jones' career is a strictly academic affair. Jones Jr. would never take risks against Duran. He might not need to, given the extent of his ability and talent.
But let's imagine he did get suckered into a brawl with Duran and traded with him. The thought of what Duran might do in celebration of a victory over Jones Jr. (especially if Jones had doled out his usual brand of fruity, impossibly dull theatrics meant to humiliate his opponent) could have made this my most savored boxing memory. I mean, we saw Duran's reaction to beating Leonard. That crotch-grab still calls out to the ages as the very definition of machismo.
It's impossible not to give "The Raging Bull" full credit for one of the best chins in boxing and everything he accomplished against the greatest boxer who ever lived, Ray Robinson. And it's obviously ridiculous to compare boxers in different eras.
But LaMotta was very special in a way he shouldn't have been, given his limitations. If he could do what he did against someone as fabulously gifted as Robinson, nothing can be put past him against Jones Jr.
So how does this match unfold? LaMotta stalks Jones Jr. the entire fight looking to take his head off while being unloaded upon by a hailstorm of punches. Would this amount to another scene in Raging Bull where LaMotta loses clearly yet proudly sneers, "You nevah knocked me down, Roy. Hey Roy, you nevah knocked me down."
My guess is yes.
Unfair as it is to compare these two given the years between their careers, Jones is too big, fast and intelligent not to walk away with this fight.
Carlos "Shotgun" Monzon had a career record of 87 wins and three loses, back in the days of 15 round fights. He beat the hell out of his wives, mistresses, paparazzi and, one assumes, many others outside the ring. He did time for murder.
For all these reasons, when soberly considering Monzon's chances against Roy Jones Jr.––and despite Monzon's death in 1995––I live in fear suggesting Jones Jr. could beat him.
It could have been an epic contest if Jones Jr. found it in him to make a statement with this fight. Monzon was a beast on a level all his own.
Monzon is talked about as frequently as other greats from his era, but the contrast of personalities and huge wills on display could've made Jones Jr. against Monzon an instant classic.
And if Jones Jr. won (which he still should have), nobody would be safe. Not me, not you, least of all the girl Monzon went home with that or any other night.
For my money, Ray Robinson and Roy Jones Jr. are the most gifted boxers to ever ply their trade in the history of the sport. In terms of the ability they had in their respective eras, both demonstrated an excellence that was so removed from their competition that they stood alone and projected an awe around their abilities nobody before or since has equalled.
In terms of the careers they had, Jones Jr.'s pales by a mile to Robinson's. Even more depressing, Roy's decline continues along with his active career.
Roy Jones Jr. had the potential to be our generation's successor in terms of legacy to what Robinson engendered with fans of his time. Instead, Roy has become yet another cautionary tale. He has the trite money issues, and travels far and wide taking fights that put his very life in danger in order to pay the bills. And his hubris in the ring and out of it made far too many fans savor his comeuppance to Tarver and the others who bested him after the bloom of his prime was over.
It shouldn't have gone this way for Roy Jones Jr. Winning the heavyweight title was an enormous feat, but it hardly makes up for the career that could have been.
Dispensing with their respective careers, what would have taken place in the ring had these two met in their primes?
Something tells me they would have brought out the best from each other and put on a display for the ages. I'm hesitant to lean toward either fighter getting the better of the other, lest a rematch go an entirely different way. And then a rubber match again tipping the scales in the opposite direction. Perhaps this is what makes considering these two completing something unique in the history of the sport. Two pugilistic Stradivariuses, the best we've ever had, seeing what kind of music they'd make together.
So I cop out on who I think would win. I can't get that far...