Home > Boxing > Hang ‘em up Roy, the show’s over

Hang ‘em up Roy, the show’s over

I do not usually write in the first person, but I will make an exception on this occasion as I feel strongly about the issue of boxers continuing to fight well past their sell by dates. In doing so, they put their legacies and, more importantly, their health at risk.

I recently asked a friend and fellow boxing enthusiast who the best boxer he has ever seen is. Without hesitation, the name Roy Jones Jr. rolled off his tongue. Like him, I am too young to have seen the Alis, Leonards and Robinsons of the world whilst they were still fighting and so my friend’s opinion is one I share. It should however be noted that we were very nearly deprived of Jones.

Jones competed for the USA at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. He dazzled the global audience and won the Val Barker Trophy, which is awarded to the best stylistic boxer in the tournament. Unfortunately, the then 19 year-old Jones was the victim of one of boxing’s all-time great injustices. Despite dominating South Korean Park Si-Hun and outlanding him 86-32, the decision went to the hometown fighter leaving the young Jones distraught. Commentators and fighters alike poured scorn on the decision and it was partly responsible for the subsequent introduction of electronic scoring.

After being talked in to not giving up, Jones embarked on a remarkable career. Starting off as a middleweight, the Pensacola native reeled off 17 knockout victories before meeting fellow future great Bernard Hopkins for the IBF Middleweight title in only his 22nd fight. Jones dominated Hopkins for 12 rounds despite breaking a hand and bagged his first world title. After four successful defences, including an impressive sixth round stoppage of the teak-tough Sugar Boy Malinga, Jones stepped up to the Super-Middleweight division to challenge the excellent James Toney for his IBF title. The champion was confident and it was expected to be a close fight. In his career defining fight, Jones embarrassed Toney, flooring him in the third round before winning a landslide.

At 168 pounds, Jones looked super-human and defended his title six times (all inside the distance) before again stepping up, this time to challenge Mike McCallum for the WBC light-heavyweight title. Jones won by wide margins on all three cards to become a three weight world champion. His first defence saw his first defeat as he was disqualified for hitting Montell Griffin whilst he was down. An immediate rematch was arranged and an unusually aggressive Jones came out throwing left hooks, blowing Griffin out inside a round. He then proceeded to dominate the light-heavyweight division for years, defeating the likes of Virgil Hill, David Telesco, Eric Harding, Richard Hall, Julio Cesar Gonzalez and Clinton Woods along the way. Consequently, Jones was criticised for facing what many saw as a poor level of opposition. This was only fair in part as his unbelievable natural talent made some very good fighters look distinctly average. There were however some poor opponents such as New York police officer Ricky Frazier who had no place being in a ring with Jones.

The Jones we see now is a far cry from the one that domiated James Toney in 1994

Having exhausted all avenues in the 175 pound division, Jones took the decision to step up to heavyweight in 2003 and challenge John Ruiz for his WBA Heavyweight title. The much smaller Jones put on a boxing clinic and won easily, becoming the first man since Bob Fitzsimons 106 years earlier to win the middleweight and heavyweight crowns in the process. The man who nearly quit the sport 15 years earlier had not etched his name in to its record books.

I always felt that Jones should have retired at this point as the likes of Lennox Lewis and the Klitschkos were simply too big and strong for him and he had nothing left to prove at the lower weights. He opted however, to go back to light-heavyweight and fight Antonio Tarver and it was here that it all began to unravel.

Jones did not look like his old self and struggled against the unorthodox Tarver, but he managed to dig deep in the championship rounds to eke out a majority decision. Many viewed Jones as fortunate to get the decision and so a rematch was arranged for May 2004. Jones started the fight well, dominating the first round, a round in which Tarver only landed two punches. In round two however, Jones’s career was turned upside down as a huge left hand from Tarver crashed in to his chin and put him on the canvas. He managed to rise to his feet, but with the champion in no fit state to continue, referee Jay Nady stopped the contest. Tarver had shocked the world and Jones had lost his aura of invincibility.

Jones re-entered the ring four months later against Glen Johnson and was once again knocked out, this time in the ninth round. More worryingly, Jones lay on the canvas for three minutes whilst his feet were shaking. This was a warning sign, but one that Jones did not heed.

After taking a year out, Jones squared off in a rubber match against Antonio Tarver and despite putting up a respectable performance, lost by unanimous decision. Roy had clearly lost his lustre and was not the Roy of old, but still, he continued to fight on.

The third Tarver fight was followed by wins over second rate fighters Prince Badi Ajamu and Anthony Hanshaw. This was in turn followed by a fight against a faded, overweight and returning Felix Trinidad. Jones floored the Puerto Rican twice on his way to a straightforward victory that did little to give us the feeling that he was back to his best.

He challenged Joe Calzaghe in November 2008 and was dominated despite having floored the Welshman in the opening round. Jones clearly no longer had everything that made him great but still, he refused to call it a day. 2009 saw TKO victories over Omar Sheika and Jeff Lacy and in the latter, Jones showed flashes of his old brilliance, albeit against a taylor-made opponent. If the old adage that every great champion has one last great fight in him is true, then the Lacy fight was Jones’s.

After being knocked out by Danny Green inside one round in December 2009, Jones pushed on with plans to fight old nemesis Bernard Hopkins in April 2010. It was a dreadful fight between two fighters both past their best and certainly not befitting of two all-time greats. Jones was a shell of his former self, barely throwing a punch in anger and unable to avoid his opponent’s in a way which was once so natural to him.

So why does Jones continue to fight? Some claim that he needs the money following his unsuccessful foray in to the music business, others that he simply cannot live without the sport that has been a part of his life since the age of six. He certainly has nothing left to prove and is only endangering his legacy by continuing to fight. Those of us who remember Jones in his prime making a mockery of all-comers with his blurring speed and sensational reflexes are saddened by his insistence on not retiring. He has worryingly spoken about stepping up to the heavyweight division and challenging David Haye in what would be an incredibly ill-advised challenge for the WBA title he held nearly eight years ago. Roy no longer has the ability to perform in the way he once could and if he is waiting for it to come back, he will have to wait a long time. Boxing is littered with fighters who went on too long and Jones is in danger of becoming yet another, so I say ‘Please Roy, if you know what is good for you, hang ‘em up, the show’s over.’

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