The Roy Jones Jr. Myths and Legends By Tony McKenna, Doghouse Boxing (Jan 31, 2012) Doghouse Boxing - Tweet
1: Roy Jones has irrevocably tarnished his legacy.
In the period following his sudden drop from heavy weight to light heavy
weight in 2003, Roy Jones has incurred some dismal results. He was
twice defeated by Antonio Tarver. He looked exhausted and bereft of
hope in his confrontation with determined journey man Glen Johnson, a
fight in which Jones remained constantly on the back-foot, shuffling
away from his opponent, until an inevitable right hook put him out of
Later still, Jones looked lack-lustre when facing a vibrant Calzaghe who
pepper-punched him for the best part of twelve rounds before winning on
points. In fact the only decisions that have favoured Roy Jones
recently have been those against over-weight, rusty ex champions (Felix
Trinidad) or relatively unseasoned or unknown ‘straw’ men.
Nevertheless, though this matters in the extreme from the point of view of Jones’ increasingly precarious health, it
shouldn’t matter in relation to his legacy. In other fields we would
hardly deign to admit that it might. In the later part of his life, for
example, Albert Einstein developed ideas about physics which were
widely discredited but these, of course, didn’t detract from his status
as the great theorist of relativity.
In Boxing’s own history we can recall how often titans like Muhammad Ali
would fight on, well past their peak, often receiving bloody beatings,
much to the chagrin of the faithful.
And yet Ali’s epithet will perhaps always read, as the ‘Greatest of All
time.’ So too should we judge Jones - from the contribution he made to
boxing history in his prime.
2: Roy Jones only looked good in his prime because the
boxing division of the 90s was unremarkable, and any serious threats
were deftly avoided by Jones.
The second section of the statement seems relatively easy to refute.
In the 90s Jones fought top class fighters including James Toney,
Bernard Hopkins, Thulini Malinga, Virgil Hill and Mike Macullum. Both
Hill and Macullum were past their best when they fought Jones but that
certainly wasn’t true of the undefeated Toney or Bernard Hopkins, or the
other notables to boot.
More difficult to refute is the suggestion that the boxing stratum of
the 90s which Jones Jr occupied was less than a golden era for the
sport, especially when one refers to the decade before and the intense
confrontations between fighters like Leonard, Hearnes, Hagler and Duran.
But though Jones learnt a great deal from those fighters (Leonard in
particular) he purified and concentrated their skills to the point of
eclipse; that is - his sinuousness, dexterity and tactical awareness
combined, allowing him to box in a vacuum, a place which no-one else
And this, in a sense, holds the key to the commonly recycled notion that
Jones was fighting in a relatively unremarkable division. What we have
to do here is to create the boxing equivalent of ‘It’s a wonderful
life’ – that is, we have to imagine the character of a 90s division in
which Roy Jones Jr simply didn’t exist.
And let me tell you – that place looks completely different. In that
place the legends James Toney and Bernard Hopkins have several epic
super-battles. In that place too, an undefeated number one fighter
named Montell Griffin and a fighter who was made of steel, had never
been knocked out, and had reached fruition as an indominatable warrior –
Merqui Soza, becomes the Duran to Griffin’s Leonard. These two have
several confrontations which result in defeats on both sides, though
Griffin is remembered, in retrospect, as the greater.
Two British fighters named Ben and Eubank, relatively unknown in
America, inflict shock defeats on Soza by points though they are, in
turn, defeated by Griffin and Toney respectively. And this then creates
the basis for a super-fight between Montell Griffin and James Toney
which eventually yielded a decision in Griffin’s favour. Now who could
ever imagine that happening in reality?
In other words, if Jones had not been around, then the division itself
would have shaped up into a lot more of a complex and competitive place.
In his prime Jones was significantly better than the rest. It was not
the case that a lacklustre division made Jones look great, but rather
the greatness of Jones which caused the division to appear lacklustre.
Jones curtailed the careers of fighters who otherwise would have been
far more vividly remembered.
Jones was a fighter who relied purely on ‘natural ability’.
In the late 80s and early 90s several chess grandmasters played out
matches against the IBM super-computer nick named Deep Blue. Recalling
this experience, in a conversation with the British writer, one of them
remarked that ‘it’s like a wall coming at you.’
That, to me, seems to sum up the experience of fighting a prime Roy
Jones. The sheer claustrophobia of it. Every action you take is at
once nullified and neutralized by a boxing brain which is so finely
tuned as to counter the moves of opponents even before they have made
them. Consider the famous sequence in the fight with James Toney, where
Jones feigns and Tony responds, only Roy has executed his counter
almost instantaneously so as to catch Tony clean, sending him staggered
to the ground. Or the devastating KO of Glen Kelly where Jones rested
his hands behind his back, swaying to and fro, before a flashing right
dropped his opponent cold.
The point is that the capacity to out-manoeuvre an opponent so entirely
is not the product of an innate ‘natural ability’ but rather the result
of a highly developed boxing mind which was tuned over time, and through
practise. Certainly Roy’s ‘natural’ abilities, his speed and
lightening like reflexes helped facilitate his victories, but he
combined those abilities in a fluid, and at times poetical style which
drew upon and indeed superseded the methods of previous boxing greats.
Roy Jones was a fighter who learnt, he wasn’t simply born.
This was also reflected in his ability to adapt his style in accordance
with the fighter he was facing. With a bruiser like Soza or Malinga,
Jones would draw them in, deflect or dodge their offense, and then
belittle them with a barrage of counter-punches, short, intimate, close
up. He was capable of playing the long game too, of resting on his
laurels, of floating enticingly just out of reach and thereby exhausting
his opponents, before inflicting a few telling jabs, and winning the
fight on points, without ever truly opening up his arsenal.
Jones could intuit, feel out, his opponent perhaps better than any
fighter I have ever seen, and tailor his fight plan thereby. In fact
the only time I ever remember seeing a prime Roy Jones somewhat
wrong-footed was in his first fight against Montell Griffin. It would
be perhaps a little much to say that Jones was actively losing the fight
before the eventual disqualification, but certainly there was something
about Griffin which Jones hadn’t managed to get a handle on, and which
caused a rupture in his otherwise flawless and sweeping dominance.
Nevertheless Jones learnt from this, and when the time came for a
rematch, he had recalibrated in order to deliver to his opponent a
somewhat different response. He knocked Griffin out in the first round.
Masterful! And this is how Roy Jones Jr should be remembered.
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