Roy Jones Jr: Only the Name’s the Same
By Aaron Lloyd
In his work entitled “Good Night, Sweet Princes,”famed boxing writer Budd Schulberg describes the overwhelming sense of anguish that he felt as he watched a 47 year old Roberto Duran get knocked out by a man nearly half his age and half his prime ability. Schulberg goes on to list many other great fighters, such as Benny Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Muhammad Ali, who also fought well past their prime and suffered the same ignoble fate of being bested by fighters well beneath the talents of their younger selves. After witnessing a 40 year old Muhammad Ali labor and eventually succumb to an inferior Trevor Berbick in his last professional fight. Sunday Times columnist Hugh McIlvanney was prompted to respond, “A king rode into permanent retirement on the back of a garbage truck,” illustrating the poignancy of watching a brilliant career being regrettably tarnished.
Well get ready to go dumpster diving once more, because on December 10, 42 year old Roy Jones Jr. will be perched atop the big green sanitation machine once again, as it lumbers into the Atlantic Civic Center for a showdown with 14-5-2 Max Alexander for the “UBO Inter-Continental” title. Jones has lost his last three fights in a row, and since 2004, his record is a very unassuming 5-7 with 1 knockout. To his credit, all of the fighters he has lost to recently have been elite-level combatants (Danny Green, Denis Lebedev, Bernard Hopkins, Antonio Tarver, and Joe Calzaghe), however, it is unfathomable to imagine the Roy Jones Jr. of the mid-90s hardly losing a round to these guys much less being knocked out and/or decisively decisioned. Ol’ Roy was hands down the greatest fighter of his era, until one day when time, the great neutralizer, abated his abilities and turned him into a mere mortal right in front of our unsuspecting eyes. For those of us that grew up watching Roy, marveling at his hand speed and special abilities, seeing him on the wrong end of a knockout against Antonio Tarver was a difficult and surreal spectacle to behold, and it essentially signaled the end of an exceptional career that was already more than fifteen years in the making. To make matters worse, Roy incurred a follow-up knockout loss to Glen Johnson, and then fought a string of uncharacteristic performances that made some unfairly question his historical placement among the sport’s all time greats.
Personally, I think Roy Jones Jr.’s legacy is built on a very solid foundation, and I have very little problem separating the exploits of his prime from the desecration of the present. To say that Roy’s knockout loss to Antonio Tarver at age 35 somehow requires a reassessment of his overall career is unwarranted. That would be like saying Joe Louis wasn’t a great heavyweight because of his loss to Ezzard Charles in 1950 (age 36), or that Jack Dempsey’s ability and motivation were the same in 1927 (age 33) as they were in 1919. Hell, the vast majority of fighters are not as good in their mid-30s as they were in their mid 20’s. Roberto Duran lost to Kirkland Laing when he was 31, and when Benny Leonard tried to make a comeback at age 35, it was very apparent that he was just a shell of his former self.
Guys age differently, and some guys (Mike Tyson for example) lose the desire to fight long before they lose the ability, while others like Archie Moore and Bernard Hopkins manage to remain competitive and relevant in the fight game for years past what is seemingly possible according to the laws of nature. Obviously, Roy Jones Jr. is no longer relevant in the boxing scene, however, nothing could possibly detract from my memories of him outclassing James Toney, humiliating Vinny Pazienza, pitching a shutout against Mike McCallum, or downing Virgil Hill with one of the greatest body shots of all time. I just hope he has one knockout left in him, and I hope he has the wherewithal to recognize it as his last one.