The Final Inquisition of Roy Jones, Jr.
By Blaine Hislop (October 4, 2004) 
Photo © HoganPhotos.com
Legitimately great - all-time - great fighters are an understandably rare phenomenon. In my lifetime, there have been, really, precious few of them: Ali, certainly, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Roberto Duran at lightweight, Ray Leonard (the welterweight), perhaps Salvador Sanchez at featherweight, Tommy Hearns, Hagler and, of course, Julio Cesar Chavez and (maybe) Pernell Whittaker. In my humble opinion, that is the lot of them. For a long, long time, however, I thought Roy Jones Jr. just might join that group. He was a kid with seemingly everything: A body like Praxiteles, remarkable reflexes, hand speed, seemingly obvious punching power, and superb coordination. In the early years of his career it mattered not a whit that he fought almost no one of consequence (indeed, up until he confronted a still-green Bernard Hopkins, the most decorated foes he'd ever faced as a pro had been a severely faded Jorge Vaca and an equally shot Jorge Castro). Moreover, the twin facts that Roy had never been in a genuinely tough engagement with an inspired foe and that he'd never been required to exhibit any "heart" in any of his early bouts was frequently attributed more to his superiority (especially by the sycophantic lot at HBO) than it was to the fact that maybe his opposition wasn't really all that good (to put it in perspective, Ray Leonard was fighting the extremely dangerous Adolfo Viruet by his twenty-first pro fight and, roughly six months after finishing off Viruet, was scaling the heretofore unassailable summit popularly known as Wilfredo Benitez). What really mattered in the early years was that all of us - or at least most of us - had been convinced that this was one of those guys who made otherwise solid pros look more ordinary than they really were by virtue of his remarkable skills.

Now, it would seem, in the wake of Jones' drubbing at the hands of Glengoffee Johnson, that the early naysayers were right all along. After Jones-Tarver I, Roy had plenty of excuses: "I was too weak from the weight loss," "I didn't train properly," "I couldn't get up for this guy," blah, blah, blah. In the stunning aftermath of Jones-Tarver (or is it really Tarver-Jones?) most of us were prepared to give Jones the benefit of the doubt just as we had six months earlier; after all, unexpected one-punch knockouts do happen, right? Roy gets his rematch in a few months time, knocks the bum out, and life goes on. But a strange thing happened to Roy Jones on the way to his anticipated place in boxing history; quite simply, he forgot that great fighters get right back up, conquer their in-ring demons, and exact revenge for their setbacks. Rather than fight Tarver, Jones - after apparently months of ruminating on the matter - Jones went after Glengoffee Johnson, a guy with nine losses on his record, a guy who had "nice pay-day" written all over him; in short, Roy ducked the Man of the Moment to fight the ostensible bum of the month. And we all know what happened then, don't we?

For nine rounds last Saturday night, Roy Jones got his ass kicked by a stolid, determined journeyman. For the second time in a matter of months, he was dropped cold by a guy who, despite his professional commitment, will never be confused with an all-time great. For the third fight in a row, question marks hover disturbingly around the legacy of Roy Jones Jr. the fighter. On Saturday night, I saw a guy with obvious physical talents who simply never had the chin and, maybe, the "heart" to be an all-time great. On Saturday night, I saw a guy who was as deep as a dishpan in the crucible of a tough fight; I saw a guy who, quite simply, made a career out of fighting limited opponents he absolutely knew he was going to whip. Is all of this fair? Is all of this too harsh? Well, ladies and gentlemen, boxing is a hurt business - and Roy Jones (who made millions of dollars overwhelming outclassed opponents) should know this better than almost anyone.

Today, as I think of Roy Jones, I am reminded of something Larry Merchant once said when asked about the relative merits of Mike Tyson vis-a-vis Joe Frazier (yes, boxing fans, even Larry Merchant occasionally has worthwhile things to say - albeit they are about as common as Haley's comet). Joe Frazier, Merchant said, was a mile wide and a mile deep; Tyson, Merchant then said, is a mile wide and an inch deep.

Switch the names around a little bit, and you have a fitting epitaph for Roy Jones the boxer
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