|The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (May 23, 2011) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © HoganPhotos.com)
Way back on May 22nd,
1993, Roy Jones and Bernard Hopkins got into a boxing ring at the old
home of the Washington Redskins, RFK Stadium, for the vacant IBF middleweight
crown. Back then, Jones was the gifted, young, uber-talent who was destined for
greatness. A sublime blend of speed, quickness and power with an Olympic
pedigree, he came straight out of central casting as it related to U.S. boxing
stardom. Hopkins, on the other hand, was this unknown guy out of Philly, a
hardnosed, yet raw, slugger who just happened to be in line to face Jones for
this title. This wasn't supposed to be so much a prizefight but really a
coronation of a new king. Jones was the marquee name; this other guy, just a
bit player, someone who would be just a footnote in Jones' history.
Hopkins fought respectably
that night in D.C. in losing by the tallies of 116-112 on all three scorecards.
But the story of the night was Jones, who five years after being horrifically
robbed of his much-deserved gold medal in Seoul, South Korea, was able to gain
a measure of redemption by picking up the first of many world titles.
As expected, Jones did go on
to fulfill the prophecy of fistic greatness. On his way to collecting belts at
middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, he was the
clear consensus choice as the game’s best fighter for a full decade. However, a
funny thing happened to “The Executioner”; instead of fading away in obscurity,
he diligently crafted his own storied career. Nearly two years after his defeat
at the hands of Jones, Hopkins eventually captured the same IBF title (then
vacated by Jones) by stopping Segundo Mercado in their second go-round. From
there, he would embark on an often anonymous and workmanlike journey through
the division that was more a testament to his professionalism and consistency
than his ability to inspire awe from the masses.
While Jones was HBO's poster
boy, Hopkins still had to make title defenses on Fox Sports Net and the USA
Network. When he was on HBO, Roy was part of the ringside announcing crew. It
was as if Jones was the teacher, Hopkins the pugilistic pupil whose every error
would be dissected for the country to hear by the professor from Pensacola.
It seemed destined that Hopkins would always be in Jones’ shadow.
As you fast-forward to May
21st, 2011, it was Jones who was playing out the string as the B-side
in Moscow, Russia against Denis Lebedev. The man that we all thought would
never be the sad story of the boxer who simply won’t call it a day has become “that
guy.” Like Sugar Ray Robinson playing out the string of his illustrious career
in locales like Tijuana and Honolulu, Jones is now just another version of Evander
Holyfield, deluded in his own mindset and undaunted by a certain reality that he
simply no longer has it. Graceless exits have been around since the inception
of this sport but it makes it no easier to witness. Unlike other sports, where
elder statesmen sit at the end of the bench with foreign uniforms on (think
Shaq O'Neal in a Celtics jersey, for the most recent example) and make their
infrequent appearances that harken back to their more youthful and vibrant
days, boxing, unfortunately, has none of that sentimentality attached to it.
These guys do it because they simply have no other options and while other
sports celebrate their former greats playing out the string, this sport uses
them as cannon fodder, a notch on the belt or another big name on a growing résumé.
Jones is now just a shell of
the shell of himself that he was after his back-to-back knockout losses to Antonio
Tarver and Glen Johnson (which forever took away his supposed cloak of
invincibility) and he's not even that guy that can stick around against the
likes of Joe Calzaghe. The stark reality is that he is a guy that has lost
his last three contests in lopsided fashion, one of them an unnecessary rematch
against Hopkins last year, which is sandwiched around two knockouts. The scene
of Jones lying prone on the canvas for a minute or two after getting brutally
stopped by Lebedev is shocking and scary. What's even scarier is that there is
no guarantee this will be his last outing in the ring.
All Jones has now are his
distant memories of his sublime talent, where he redefined boxing. He had a
style all his own and he could break all the rules because of his extraordinary
God-given skill set. He did everything wrong and yet, it turned out right
because he was “RJ.” Now he's “The Artist Formerly Known as Roy Jones,” whose
gifts have left him for good, his greatness in the rearview mirror.
Now we get to Hopkins, who
on the same night in Montreal, became the oldest ever fighter (at age 46) to
capture a major world title by defeating the athletic, yet flawed, Jean
Pascal for the WBC light heavyweight title. You can say it now; while
Father Time has trampled Jones, Hopkins has been able to feint and parry his
way from being overtaken. No, he's not the same guy who he was a decade ago (then
again, who is?) but where Jones never really had a need to rely on a certain
fundamental grounding, Hopkins was forced to hone all the small, subtle skills
that allow him to still box effectively while still losing a few inches off his
No, Hopkins isn't
particularly exciting, especially to the casual fan of the sport, but as it
relates to all the small, scientific things that are to be appreciated: tucking
your chin in tightly, having an angled stance, rolling with punches and picking
your spots, he is a boxer that is to be admired and even emulated in an era
when so many fighters are incomplete and one-dimensional. Hopkins is boxing's
version of the wool blanket. If you have a fire that needs to be quelled, he'll
find a way to smother it. Once again, versus Pascal, he fought a more athletic
individual who was stronger, faster, quicker and younger. Once again, none of
that mattered, as it was Bernard's guile, grit, mental toughness and technical
superiority that ruled the day. In many respects, it was like the tortoise and
While Jones' flaws have been
fatal as he reached the twilight of his career, Hopkins' overall game and
craftsmanship have allowed him to compete with the very best the game has to
offer well past his 40th birthday. You can even make an argument
that he has not clearly and definitively lost a prizefight since facing Jones
back in 1993. You don't have to like him personally. Yeah, his inner-city, penitentiary
shtick got old a few years ago and he is no longer this renegade he portrayed
himself to be, given his partnership with Golden Boy Promotions- now every bit
the establishment he once railed against- but it's almost impossible to not
marvel at his accomplishments.
Jones is now a has-been.
Hopkins is a still-is.
As one guy keeps looking
back to recapture the ‘90s, the other guy keeps moving ahead into the 21st century.
You could just hear the
frustration in the voice of noted trainer Emanuel Steward during the
middle rounds of the bout between his newest client “Casual” Chad Dawson and Adrian
Diaconu. While he was doing enough to win, it wasn't enough for Steward, who
like many others, wants more out of Dawson (who over-promises on potential and
under-delivers on actual performance). It did seem, at times, that Dawson did
try and punch with more authority and fight with a bit more assertiveness but
again, while you can teach and change technique, it's not really clear you can
change a boxer's temperament. What did Cus D'Amato once say about
square pegs not dying round?
It'll be interesting to see
where this Steward-Dawson union goes. I think it was too much to ask for Dawson
to suddenly become Matthew Saad Muhammad after one training camp. This
could be a reclamation job like the one Steward oversaw with Lennox Lewis and
Wladimir Klitschko or a failure in the mold of Jermain Taylor. Either way,
I think a true evaluation of this duo can't be made for another couple of
I've always wondered though
about Dawson; was he “Rosario'd”? Like Hector Camacho Sr. before him, we have a
talented fighter who gets cracked really hard on the whiskers for the first
time, survives the ordeal but is never quite the same again. The “Macho Man”
wasn't so, after getting drilled by Edwin Rosario in 1986 at Madison
Square Garden. Well, Dawson, in my view, has never been quite the same after
getting dented by Glen Johnson in their first hook-up in April of 2008.
I know there is some debate
as to who will be regarded higher in the history books as it relates to Hopkins
and Jones (if you care about that kind of stuff) but here's the thing; while
you can certainly make an argument for Hopkins based on his late career run,
I'm not so sure it's fair to penalize Jones for his recent fade. After all,
he's at the “Johnny Unitas in a San Diego Charger uniform” stage of his
career. Most athletes are defined by what they did in their prime years, not as
they were badly faded. I mean, does 1965 count against the greatness of Ray
Robinson (he lost five times that year)?
I've never really bought
into this whole opinion of Jones being the G.O.A.T. To me, he was not the
greatest fighter ever but really, with the way he could handpick his foes and
play HBO like a fiddle, I always thought he was the greatest manager/matchmaker
ever. Regardless, I do recognize that at his best, he was a special talent and
when you ask me to define Roy Jones, it won’t be off him getting stopped by Danny
Green or Lebedev but his mastery against the likes of James Toney and
his dominance of the light heavyweight division in the ‘90s.
What makes Hopkins special
is when he was no longer at his physical prime, he found other ways to be consistently
successful against world-class opposition. So the question is, do you rate
Jones above Hopkins for what they were at their respective apexes or do you
flip them for the overall scope of their careers?
Speaking of tucking in their
chins, Sadam Ali has some tools but he could learn from Hopkins on the art of
keeping his chin hidden and safely protected...Speaking of the great Ray
Robinson, in his last year of boxing in 1965, he had 14- yes- 14 fights. That's
amazing...I thought Charles Huerta did enough to get the decision over
Christopher Martin but good fight either way...Ronny Rios got some good work in
against Georgi Kevlishvili on that same card at the OC Hangar...Deandre
Latimore and his camp want to make it clear that they are willing to take on
all comers at 154 pounds after Erislandy Lara left them hanging to fight Paul
Williams on July 9th...I thought Alfonso Gomez looked really
good in blowing out Calvin Green in two frames on “Top Rank Live”...As long as
you pair up Jean Pascal with someone local, you can do a Hopkins-Dawson fight
in Montreal, as far as I'm concerned. That just might be the best boxing market
in the world...Speaking of which, how ‘bout a bout between Pascal and Tavoris
Cloud down the line? I'd love to see it...My prayers to Gary Carter. “The
Kid” was the best catcher of his era, in my opinion...And also to Oscar De
La Hoya who entered rehab on Saturday. Whatever he has to work on, I
hope he's successful at it...
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet at www.Twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.
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