You don’t "play" boxing
By Martin Wade (October 15, 2004) 
Roy Jones Jr.
“When critics disagree an artist is in accordance with himself.” – Oscar Wilde

Back on September 25th I watched the rounds slip away from Roy Jones, into the Memphis night and into a time honored boxing paradigm. I thought that watching what was for so long a perversely gifted man look so ordinary would have had some kind of effect on me, but it didn’t. We mere mortals endure it all the time, of course with much less painful consequences. When I go to the gym in an attempt to stay in shape I am reminded everyday that I am not the man I used to be. You see, I’m a year older than Roy and nowhere near a world-class athlete; my reason for being there is to maximize the quality of my life when I am much older. Roy Jones for many years seemed to be the one boxer that many of us could relate to in that sense, the one fighter who spoke incessantly of life at 50. When Roy Jones brutally crumbled to the canvas courtesy a Glen Johnson right hand the immediately concussed pugilist was finally presented with the challenge to practice what he preaches. As the now mortal Jones lay stiff as a board the heated mantra of his arch nemesis James Toney came to mind: “This ain't no game, you don’t play boxing!”

And maybe that is a part of the reason Jones was such a polarizing figure throughout his reign as boxings best, he seemed to 'play' it. Never mind the body shot that floored Virgil Hill or his toying with a suddenly less credible (ask Holyfield and Rahman) John Ruiz. Roy Jones seemed to be the one boxer who would zoom through the boxing stratosphere never once offering an ounce of his blood and many resented it. Many fighters wished they could have maximized their earnings and minimized the swelling ala Jones, but few would ever verbalize it in public. For one, to admit it would destroy the 'warrior' archetype and thus consumer faith, although many of us refer to the risk/reward ratio all the time. It’s not a game and all pugilists know this, which is why pugs will line up at De La Hoya’s door as long as the 'open' sign is lit. Roy Jones not only played boxing like a 'game’, he also functioned as the game's ultimate cheat. He cheated the decree of subservience to promoters and managers; taking home a lion’s share of the income each time he engaged violence. He cheated conventional boxing fundamentals, skittering around the ring and leaping at opponents with power punches while ignoring the use of a jab. He cheated the media, a cardinal sin that was “Bondsonian” in its dual symptoms of egomania and aloofness. Though chafed that same media grudgingly anointed him boxing's pound-for-pound best despite reservations about his choice in opponents. And finally it seemed by March of last year Roy Jones would cheat fate and unlike many of boxings pantheon of greats exit the stage in Air Jordan’s, not on his shield.

Trying to gauge the complexity of the Jones backlash is of interest to me because it speaks of human nature. That Jones made boxing look so easy has more to do with how his downfall is received than if he’d been a Ricardo Mayorga type of fighter. Jones in his prime was so athletically gifted that he often turned stanzas of supposed combat into spectacle. Consider how far he was from James Toney when he knocked him down in 1994 and then ask yourself whether any other fighter, historically, could have gotten there with a hook nonetheless. Most of us will never make anything 'look' that easy and despite his 'comeuppance' Jones’s detractors will never forgive him for that. Boxing isn’t supposed to look easy, you don’t 'play' boxing but for most of Roy Jones’s career he did. When Jones lost a war of wills with Evander Holyfield in the summer of 2003 over money, it seemed the end of his heavyweight campaign and the end of his consecutive string of good decisions. He returned to the light heavyweight division forever altered, a shell of himself both physically and mentally.

Because he was such a physical anomaly, in many ways he entered the ring in his last three fights beholden to a set of ethereal gifts that he no longer possessed. Unlike Ali, Roy Jones was not blessed with great height, a bullwhip of a jab nor a battletested chin to get him through the epoch of mortality. Roy Jones was an artist who’s every movement, despite his precision, was high risk when you break them down into milliseconds. Glen Johnson was not a rapper nor did he have a clothing line, yet he was simply a rugged, well-rounded fighter and on September 25th that was more than enough. Unfortunately for Roy when you continue to break the technical laws of boxing and anatomy one day they will break you. Glen Johnson was there as a stark reminder of what can happen when you don’t get 'up' for a fistfight.

God willing Glen Johnson will go on to accumulate a fraction of Jones wealth for his gallant sacrifice in this blood sport. Hopefully Antonio Tarver will somehow retrieve some of the millions that eluded him as Jones crashed down on the canvas that night. As for Roy Jones Jr., he’ll be just fine. If you ever see him in the ring again it will be trademark Roy, with much deliberation and at a weight best suited to his advantages. On October 11th Jones wisely made the announcement that he will concentrate on promoting and working with boxings next generation. Hopefully Roy can guide several young men to success and riches in the 'sweet science'. Most importantly his experience over the last year will somehow benefit a young man’s mental approach to the brutal trade. If not, Roy can send the young man – all expenses paid – to LA’s Wildcard boxing gym to consult with an 'independent advisor' who will definitely get his point across.

“This aint no game punk, you don’t play boxing!” – James Toney

Until The Next 'Jones'
'The Boxing Junkie'
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