The Roy Jones Jr. Myths and Legends
By Tony McKenna, Doghouse Boxing (Jan 31, 2012) Doghouse Boxing
Roy Jones Jr
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 his misery.

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 could reach.

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.

3: 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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