He dominated his sport like few others before him. For a decade he reigned as the best pound for pound fighter in boxing. And for the first 15 years of his career, he rarely lost a round. But since turning 35 years old in 2004, life just hasn’t been the same for old Roy.
He didn’t simply begin to slip down the other side of the hill. He fell into a precipice.
The reason for his sudden demise was the very reason that he had been so great for so long—speed. He had lost it. No, he hadn’t suddenly gotten slow. He remained one of the faster fighters around. But he had drifted back into the range of normal human reflexes, albeit still at the high end.
His foot speed had diminished to the point that he had lost the ability to jump in with lead right hands and hooks and then move out of his opponents’ range, sometimes literally before they knew what had hit them (I had begun to wonder at the time whether HBO would need to upgrade its video equipment from 24 to 32 frames per second in order for fans to actually see him fight).
He had mutated back into normal human form.
He was never a well schooled boxer because he never had to be. His style was centered around his athleticism. Boxing historians are still searching for clues as to whether the words “Roy Jones” and “jab” have ever been used in the same sentence. So when his inhuman speed had forsaken him, he was left as a fighter with very good hand speed, tired legs and mediocre boxing skills. Hence the demise.
Of course prior to this he did manage to accomplish a few things inside the square. Save for a DQ loss to Montell Griffin, he was unbeaten in 49 fights across five weight classes through age 35.
He became the first middleweight since 1897 to have won a heavyweight title after beating John “Is This Guy Ever Gonna Retire?” Ruiz. He beat Bernard Hopkins and James Toney while both were in their prime.
And he did pull off a gutsy win in his first fight against the “legend in his own mouth” Antonio Tarver.
The knock on him is that he was a safety-first fighter. Not only did he not like to take chances inside the ring but he was also a business minded prizefighter who seemed to prefer to maximize his risk/reward ratio by fighting opponents who really didn’t pose much of a threat.
Do the names Richard Frasier, Richard Hall, David Telesco, and Glen Kelly ring a bell? Roy fought all of them while in his prime. Not a one of them won even a single round.
But should this disqualify him from debates by the crusty old, cigar chomping aficionados of the ring as to who were the greatest fighters of all time? I think not.
Sugar Ray Robinson is thought by many to have been the best middleweight in history. But he spent his entire time at middleweight as a 30-plus year old who was not what he had been in his younger, lighter days.
Others believe that Bernard Hopkins is the best. Roy beat him pretty handily. Marvin Hagler and Carlos Monzon tend to get a healthy amount of press as possibly the best ever as well.
At light heavyweight, names like Archie Moore, Billy Conn, and Ezzard Charles are the most frequently mentioned as the greatest ever.
Super middleweight, as a relatively new weight class is not often the subject of debate as to whom its greatest fighter was, although besides Jones, it would be very difficult to make an argument for anyone other than Joe Calzaghe.
In my opinion, you can pick any fighter in history from middleweight through light heavy and I will say that at Roy’s best I would be hard pressed to bet money against him.
Why? Because more than toughness, fundamental skills or possessing a crowd pleasing style, boxing is about hitting and not getting hit. And at his best Roy did that as well or better than anyone. Ever.
So how will Roy Jones Jr. be remembered? Like Michael Jordan, he should be remembered as a great athlete who just happened to stay a little too long at the hookah party.
When people look back on Jordan’s career, I’m certain that virtually all of them will remember him as the “His Airness” of his younger days rather than the nearly 40 year old “Floor Jordan” of his time with the Wizards. Let’s hope that Roy gets the same consideration.