Roy Jones Jr. ... Legacy Time
By Chris Ackerman (September 6, 2005)
*This Article is Sponsored by 
Roy Jones Jr.
Roy Jones Jr. is a legitimate threat to Ray Robinson’s long time dominion over boxing’s all-time pound-for-pound lists. Prior to his rematch with Tarver and disastrous ‘tune-up’ fight with Johnson, this was a defensible position and one held by some members of the boxing press. Many a career eulogy was written following his second consecutive knockout loss however, and whether a wistful retrospective or a disrespectful diatribe, the common thread was that Jones was finished.

In the wake of the announcement that Jones-Tarver III is on, some comments and commentary on the legacy of Roy Jones Jr. seem appropriate. Perhaps wisely opting to forego another tune-up fight, Jones will be in the ring opposite Antonio Tarver on October 1. More than just an intriguing development, this fight could have a major impact on how history remembers a fighter who polarized analysts like none before him. When the dust settles at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida what will the record show?

Jones was named outstanding boxer of the 1988 Olympics in spite of being robbed of Gold, and Fighter of the Decade for the 1990’s. He is a 4-division champion, and the first fighter in over one hundred years to begin a professional career at middleweight and go on to win a heavyweight title.

Remember Roy putting Vinny Pazienza through the ropes? The schooling of Bernard Hopkins? The body shot knockout of Virgil Hill? The windmill punch on Richard Hall? The virtuoso dismantling of David Telesco? The humiliation of Julio Gonzales? Remember the knockdown by Lou Del Valle? The disqualification loss to Montell Griffin and the savage revenge? How about the hands behind the back knockout of Glen Kelly?

These are all career-defining moments for a man widely touted as the best fighter of his generation. However, questions still persist as to Roy Jones Jr.’s place in boxing history. How badly was his legacy tarnished following his last two disastrous outings? The answer depends on what exactly one believes these two dramatic knockouts show. Did another great champion get old before our eyes? Did lack of focus and desire play a role…or did Roy Jones get exposed as a fraud?

For there to be any serious damage to the Jones legacy, one would have to disregard his past achievements and the possibility that other factors contributed to his decline. The implication is that Roy Jones was essentially a paper champion who ducked any difficult fight possible but was simply unable to avoid Antonio Tarver. When finally challenged by an opponent seemingly impervious to intimidation, he couldn’t handle it and the knockout he suffered made him gun-shy for the Johnson fight. This is precisely the argument espoused by some members of the boxing press: Not only did Roy Jones consistently demonstrate an unwillingness to seek out legitimate opposition, he always did his utmost to avoid any real threat.

In a typically poetic soliloquy, HBO analyst Larry Merchant pontificated on this very topic. He pointed out that Jones’ great skills in the ring had taken him to the pinnacle of the sport but to secure his place he would have to face competition other than just “another Eric or Derrick” (alluding to Eric Harding and Derrick Harmon). This is indicative of a mindset that sees all of Jones opponents as tomato cans and finds fault with every career decision he made along the way. It is a theme that has plagued Jones throughout his career in spite of the fact it does not hold up to objective analysis.

It is instructive to undertake a detailed break down Roy’s resume to see what level of competition he actually faced. We know Jones has wins over Hopkins and Toney, but critics who say they were too long ago to remain relevant dismiss these accomplishments. For argument’s sake these fights will be excluded because even in their absence a Hall of Fame career remains. To illustrate the point, let’s play Six Degrees of Roy Jones:

In 1996 Jones blew out Merqui Sosa in two rounds. Sosa won a decision against Glen Johnson in 1997. Later that year Eric Lucas fell victim to a twelfth round TKO. Lucas is currently ranked 4th by the WBC. In 1997 Roy was disqualified for hitting Montell Griffin when he was down. The rematch didn’t last one round as Griffin was annihilated by the angry former champion. Montell Griffin is currently ranked 6th by the IBF and has had eight title fights since losing to Jones. This win was followed by a fourth round knockout of Virgil Hill. Hill beat current WBO champ Fabrice Tiozzo twice and decisioned Jones next victim, Lou Del Valle, who is currently ranked 5th by the WBC.

The picture should be starting to become clear by now, but there is more.

In 1999 Roy gave Reggie Johnson a boxing lesson, winning all twelve rounds. Johnson dropped a narrow split decision to Antonio Tarver in 2002. Jones began 2000 by dispatching with David Telesco and Richard Hall, both of whom went on to subsequent title shots. This was followed by a TKO win over Eric Harding. Harding holds victories over Antonio Tarver and Montell Griffin. In 2001 Derek Harmon was blown out. Harmon has a win over Glen Johnson. Julio Gonzales fell in 2001. He went on to take the WBO title from Darius Michalczewski and is currently ranked number 1 by the IBF, just below champion Clinton Woods who Roy took apart in six rounds.

One has to be cautious when citing fighters’ records particularly in light of the prevalence within the sport of the so-called ‘alphabet soup’ sanctioning bodies. Often corruption and other sinister forces render rankings such as those noted above, meaningless or at least deceiving. Compounding the issue is the fact that scorecards do not always tell the complete story. Over-reliance on such statistics is a hallmark of a spurious argument. Having said that, knockouts generally speak for themselves and two victims on Jones’ resumé are currently ranked among The Ring Magazine’s top 10 in the light heavyweight division. Julio Gonzales would have been the third had Jones decided to close him out. Furthermore, the opponents Roy Jones faced in the years following his defeat of James Toney and prior to the first meeting with Tarver had a combined record of 609 wins against just 45 losses.

After defending his light heavyweight title 13 times, Roy Jones Jr. made the move to heavyweight and took the WBA title from John Ruiz. Although widely considered uninspiring at best, Ruiz has wins over Evander Holyfield, Kirk Johnson, Hasim Rahman, Fres Oquendo and Andrew Golota. With his awkward, clutch-and-hold style and 27- pound weight advantage, he should have been a very difficult opponent for Jones. Instead, dazzling speed, precision, power and conditioning ruled the day. John Ruiz is currently ranked second among currently active heavyweights.

For many, the Ruiz win, while impressive was not sufficient to solidify Jones status as an all-time great. Instead, it was oft suggested that he should remain in the heavyweight division and test himself against a ‘real’ opponent, including then champion Lennox Lewis. Another option, and the one Jones opted for, was to lose over 15 pounds of muscle and fight the new kid in town who was comfortably hanging around at 175, winning some and losing some. He accomplished the task, and in a controversial decision regained the light heavyweight crown. To many observers however, the new champion seemed to have lost a fair bit of crispness of movement and snap in punches. The public and boxing community demanded either a rematch with Tarver or a return to heavyweight to fight Mike Tyson or James Toney…again. There was also talk of a catch weight fight with Bernard Hopkins…again.

Perhaps the case for the enduring legacy of Roy Jones Jr. is already made and not just by a simple review of his record over quality opposition. It could be argued that even the biggest of the Jones critics have an enormous amount of respect for the former champion. All the ridiculous demands, all the claims of whom Roy should fight in which division may be a tacit admission of his supreme abilities, for no other boxer anywhere, at any time has had so much expected of him. Is it not said that to whom great things are given, great things are expected?

The exercise above highlights the immense amount of disrespect shown by those who characterize Jones’ career as being without risk or challenge. It also indirectly disrespects and dismisses a great number of currently active fighters who fell to Roy during his prime. In a strange double standard, Antonio Tarver is lauded and praised for beating some of the same men Jones was mocked for even fighting.

Jones has now put himself in a position to offer his fans the ‘get back’ he promised a Pensacola crowd, but does he have it in him? Fights subsequent to the Ruiz win have led to speculation that the weight movements took too high a toll on his body. Heading into the first clash with Tarver, Roy did appear wilted and by his own admission from the locker room felt about 70%. Taking this fight with no tune-up hints at a return to the supreme confidence with which Jones carried himself throughout his career. The tempting inference that follows is that he must be extremely focused and hungry. That could spell trouble for his opponent.

Regardless of the outcome, signing on for the third fight in the trilogy should silence critics of Jones’ career decisions. This is no soft touch, for Antonio Tarver too has something to lose from a legacy standpoint. It is often said that to be the man you have to beat the man. Tarver did it but was not instantly catapulted to the same heights of superstardom Jones enjoyed. Perhaps because Jones follow-up fight clearly showed that he was not in peak form, or perhaps because Tarver had his eyes shut when he landed the knockout blow. He knows that a loss on October 1 would be catastrophic to his pursuit of legend status and that could spell trouble for his opponent.

It is often difficult to believe one athlete can be so superior to every contemporary so other explanations have to be found. In boxing the obvious place to look is to the fallibility of the opposition. In the absence of an epic war, or a nemesis to bring out the best in a fighter, it can be difficult to gauge their true caliber. In that sense, Roy is a victim of his own dominance. The problem as far as legacy is concerned is that it is, at least to some degree determined by the boxing establishment. Performance in the ring does speak for itself but the impact of what is witnessed can be diminished greatly when continually followed by “yes, but” statements.

The accomplishments of Roy Jones Jr. throughout his career have cemented his place as among the elite in boxing history. Nothing can diminish that. For boxing fans there are some lingering questions that need to be answered, however. Both men will come to the ring focused, and motivated by the feeling that a great deal hangs in the balance. It does. For Tarver, it is his ambition to fully emerge from the RJ shadow and be considered a great champion in his own right. For Jones it is to re-ignite the all-time pound-for-pound discussion and whether the names Roy and Ray should be mentioned in the same sentence.

3 Articles BY POPULAR DEMAND! REVISITED: When Roy Jones Jr tested positive for Steriods Dp
© Copyright / All Rights reserved: Doghouse Boxing 1998-2005