Where Would Roy Jones Jr. Rate As An All-Time Great If He Were To Retire Today? Part 1
Juan Angel Zurita (June 23, 2004) Part II
In this two part series, Juan Angel Zurita assesses Roy Jones Jr’s career and gives his personal rating of where Jones would rate amongst the all-time pound-for-pound greats if he were to retire today. Part 1 assesses Jones’ all-time rating in each of the divisions he’s won titles in.
For over a decade, Roy Jones Jr. had been hailed as an immortal whose only real competition existed somewhere in the realms of time travel. Many lauded him as the Michael Jordan of boxing, a present day Ray Robinson. As his career neared its final chapter, it appeared he’d never find a true challenge. That all changed when he ran into a crushing left hook compliments of Antonio Tarver.
With Tarver’s kryptonite filled second round KO victory over boxing’s ‘Superman’, many have now been left scrambling to put Jones’ career into its proper perspective. In a crude twist, Jones’ worst nightmare has provided the sport of boxing with long sought after historical clarity. Boxing historians now have a barometer of Jones’ degree of greatness. The enigma that once existed is no more.
Not surprisingly, in the light of Jones’ recent misfortune, many are now questioning his place amongst boxing’s all-time greats. There is often a huge backlash within the boxing community when a perceived untouchable finally falls from his pedestal and Jones is the latest to fall prey to this vicious web. Unfairly, the criticism has been extremely harsh. Many have tossed around the words ‘fraud’ and ‘exposed’ to describe him. This is short-term memory loss and lunacy at his finest.
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No one in their right mind can erase the fact that Jones has had a marvelous Hall of Fame career. Not even a grandiose perfectly placed left hook.
In his 14 year career, he has shown immense talent and skill, a unique blend arguably unrivaled throughout the sport’s history. However, talent alone does not equate to greatness. So what does make Jones special? What makes him one of the best fighters of his era?
Perhaps it’s knowing that he would’ve brought home Olympic gold had it not been for one of the most corrupt decisions in the history of amateur boxing. Perhaps it’s that coupled with the fact that he won titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight, while dominating his competition over 90% of the time.
Yes, I’d say those are all good reasons.
After rehashing the obvious, that brings us to the mother of all questions. How would Roy Jones Jr. rate as an all-time great if he were to retire today?
To answer that intriguing question, we must first assess his place in each of the divisions he’s graced.
Jones looked damn near perfect in this weight class. He was as quick as lightning and had one-punch dynamite in both hands. Just ask Thomas Tate, a highly rated, world-class fighter whom Jones embarrassed in two short rounds of work. Jones the middleweight was a sight to behold. But ask current middleweight kingpin, Bernard Hopkins, and he might tell you different.
In their fight, Jones failed to dominate Hopkins. It was hardly one of his greatest performances. It was simply a good, competitive, match-up between two future greats who hadn’t yet come into their own. Nevertheless, Jones is excused for that less than stellar performance. After all, it was Hopkins and he did come out victorious.
So where does Jones rank as a middleweight? It depends on what one’s ratings emphasize. If you focus on the highly subjective ‘who-beats-who’ argument, he’s easily in the top ten. Based on my criteria (emphasis on quality of opposition, longevity, and accomplishments), he shouldn’t crack the top ten, but there is an exception to every rule. I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t rate him as one of the top ten middleweights of all-time. I can’t ignore the combination of talent and power he displayed in his short-lived stay in this weight class. What further justifies my ranking of Jones at middleweight is the success he went on to have in the super middleweight (emphasis on the Toney victory) and light heavyweight divisions.
I rate him at number ten, a few slots behind Bernard Hopkins. Yes, he did beat Hopkins, but Hopkins has accomplished much more in this weight class. However, I won’t argue with anyone who doesn’t rate him top ten at middleweight. Accomplishments and longevity go a long way and Jones had neither at 160.
The Super Middleweight
Now this is where Jones began to shake up the boxing world. In his first fight at super middleweight, he scored the most impressive victory of his career by outclassing IBF Super Middleweight Champion, James Toney, a top three pound-for-pound fighter of that time. Most impressive about this performance was the manner in which Jones easily out-boxed and toyed with ‘Lights Out’, at times making him look like a third rate opponent. Sadly, rather than pull out the broom stick and proceed to clean out the rest of the division, Jones opted to defend his strap five times against sub-par competition. Instead of facing Frankie Liles (scored a standing 8 count on Jones in the amateurs), Steve Collins, Chris Eubanks, Nigel Benn, Gerald McClellan (who beat Jones in the amateurs), Michael Nunn (Jones’ mandatory in the late 90s), he sparred against Antoine Byrd, Vinny Pazienza (blown-up lightweight), Tony Thornton, Merqui Sosa, Eric Lucas, and Bryant Brannon. Take a close look and you’ll see that the former bunch make the latter look like a Mercedes stacked up next to a Ford Pinto.
Surprisingly, despite failing to defend against the more difficult and dangerous super middleweights that lurked during his super middleweight reign, many boxing pundits, including this writer, will rate Jones as the number one super middleweight of all-time. One might ask how that could be possible. Jones is number one on the mere basis of his dazzling victory over James Toney? That’s ludicrous because he failed to defeat the aforementioned group, right? Again, his dominance in a higher weight class (light heavyweight), somewhat validates this ranking, but more importantly, it must be pointed out that the super middleweight division is but a mere twenty years old. There haven’t been many special talents in this division. In terms of accomplishments, Sven Ottke has a case, but do you really believe he was a much better super middleweight than Jones? Jones is basically the default choice in a division that has been a mediocre refuge during its short lifespan.
The Light Heavyweight
The light heavyweight division ultimately became Jones’ niche. It is in this division where he made his most significant mark. Here he notched wins against Mike McCallum (Hall of Famer), Virgil Hill (future Hall of Famer), Montell Griffin, Reggie Johnson, Eric Harding, Antonio Tarver, unified all the major belts, and in total scored twelve light heavyweight defenses. But as impressive as those accomplishments may appear, a few things can be a bit misleading regarding Jones’ opposition.
Mike McCallum was a 39 year-old, blown-up junior middleweight, when Jones defeated him. Virgil Hill was coming off a loss to German Dariusz Michalczewski. Montell Griffin was the first fighter to defeat Jones, albeit by DQ, in their first meeting. Harding was giving Jones fits before his corner stopped the bout due to a bicep injury suffered in the early rounds of their fight. Many feel Antonio Tarver deserved no worse than a draw in their first fight, and of course, Tarver knocked him out in the rematch.
Perhaps the biggest black mark on Jones’ light heavyweight career is the fact that he never became the undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world. He managed to unify the three titles, but never defeated the linear champion, Dariusz Michalczewski, the biggest threat throughout the bulk of Jones’ light heavyweight reign. Furthermore, the WBC light heavyweight title he held from 1998-2004 was unjustly stripped away from Graciano Rocchigiani by the WBC in 1998 after he’d won it by defeating Michael Nunn, the fighter Jones refused to defend that belt against.
It is these negativities that have led many boxing historians to conclude that Jones is not a top ten all-time light heavyweight.
I beg to differ.
Personally, I don’t rate Jones above light heavyweight greats, Sam Langford, Gene Tunney, Ezzard Charles, Archie Moore, Bob Foster, and Michael Spinks, but I do rate him above Conn, Fitzsimmons, Rosenbloom, Greb, and all others.
I rate Jones at #7 for a number of reasons.
1. Jones spent over six years at the top of the light heavyweight food chain. How’s that for longevity?
2. Although he didn’t exactly light the world on fire with his level of opposition, he dominated most of his mediocre light heavyweight opposition with such brilliance. Jones seldom lost a round when he was in the zone.
3. Critics will cite that when he finally ran into his best light heavyweight challenge, Antonio Tarver, he didn’t dominate him. He was lucky to pound out a win in the worst performance of his career. But in all fairness, Jones didn’t look 100% in that bout due to weight struggles, yet he still managed to come out victorious against a top quality opponent on his worst night.
Love him or hate him, Jones did prove he was a top ten all-time light heavyweight great. His longevity in the weight class and superb talent make it difficult to deny him a spot among the light heavyweight all-time top ten.
There isn’t much to discuss here. Jones took a calculated risk against a top five heavyweight from one of boxing’s worst heavyweight eras. Ruiz’s clumsy, slow-as-molasses style was the perfect fit for Jones. Fights against smaller, extremely skilled opponents (Hopkins, Jirov, Tarver) would’ve been much more competitive, and Tarver clearly proved that notion down the road. With one fight at heavyweight, Jones merits no ranking in this weight class.
In Part II Juan Angel rebuts propaganda used by Jones proponents to elevate his all-time standing, discusses pros & cons which affect Jones’ all-time rating, and rates Jones among the all-time pound-for-pound greats.
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