A look at the long and storied Hall of Fame Career of Roy Jones Jr.
Roy Jones is now almost 41 and not the man he used to be. The man he used to be was a prodigiously gifted boxer blessed with blinding speed, stunning power, and an ability to establish an alarming amount of separation between him and his contemporaries. In his prime, he could barely be touched, as he racked up one title after the next. From 1989-2003, he was without peer in the ring.
Jones compiled a 121-13 in a stellar amateur career that culminated with a berth on the 1988 Olympic team. He won a gold medal at the 1984 Junior Olympics at 119 pounds, as well as two National Golden Gloves championships in 1986-87 at 139 and 156 pounds, respectively.
In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Jones breezed to the finals without losing a round. In the finals, he faced host country South Korea’s Park Si-Hun, and outlanded and outclassed him by a clear margin only to see the decision go to his opponent. This was one of the worst decisions in amateur boxing history, a political and corrupt outcome that led to scoring reform in Olympic boxing.
Early Pro Career
Jones began his assault on the pro ranks in May 1989. After scoring 17 consecutive knockouts to begin his career, he went the distance in defeating 70-3-2 future world champion Jorge Castro. Three more knockouts followed before Jones, 21-0 (20), would challenge for the IBF Middleweight Title.
In May of 1993, Roy Jones took on fellow future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins for the vacant IBF Middleweight Title. Hopkins, not yet at his full powers, fought capably, but never could get his nose ahead against the flashy, lighting-quick Jones. It was hardly a fight for the books. Jones used his speed and legs to outmaneuver Hopkins while catching him with enough eye-opening flurries to cruise home a winner. Hopkins, to his credit, managed to win 4 rounds on each scorecard, but Jones was his master this night in winning his first title.
Jones followed his title-winning triumph with three non-title wins at super middleweight. He momentarily dropped back down to 160 for the last time for a wipeout defense against Thomas Tate before setting his sights on undefeated Super Middleweight Champion James Toney.
Toney was considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the game along with Pernell Whitaker. At 44-0-2, he was a peaking fighter of immense craft and intensity who was in explosive form. Jones was the underdog for the first time in his career.
The fight was hardly a fight at all. Jones dominated virtually every moment against the flat Toney. It was a signature performance with Jones’ skills in full bloom. He humiliated Toney, dropped him, and sent his career in a swoon that would take years for him to recover from. Jones dazzled with his rapid-fire combinations, stinging power, deft maneuvering, powers of improvisation, and complete ring generalship. It was a performance for the ages.
One would be hard pressed to find an example in boxing history where the #1 guy in the sport was beaten so resoundingly, especially while still in his twenties. Toney had weight problems and Jones detractors often point to that fact. Toney not being prepared for the hallmark fight of his career speaks more to his lack of professionalism than it does to diminish Jones’ great victory.
Jones cemented his #1 pound-for-pound standing over the next two years as IBF Super Middleweight Champion with five knockout defenses. It was around this time Jones began to heavily pursue his interests in rapping and basketball leading for many in the press to question his focus. He set his sights on the light heavyweight division.
Light Heavyweight Champion
In November of 1996, Jones won the interim WBC Light Heavyweight Title with a shutout decision over the esteemed but fading ex-champ Mike McCallum. Jones was soon upgraded to full champion and took on clever and undefeated Montell Griffin. Jones was leading on the scorecards when in the ninth round; he knocked Griffin out cold while Griffin was down, earning a disqualification. In the rematch, Jones knocked Griffin down in the first 20 seconds en route to a devastating first round KO.
Jones later unified the titles and for 6 and-a-half years dominated the division with an iron fist. Among his more memorable moments include a one-shot body punch KO that left Virgil Hill screaming on the canvas, as well as landslide victories over Lou Del Valle, Reggie Johnson, Eric Harding, Julio Gonzalez, and Clinton Woods. The criticism levied on Jones at 175 revolved around his sometimes-lax competition, as well not fighting longtime WBO champion and clear #2 Darius Michaelszewski.
On March of 2003, Jones became the first former middleweight champion to win a piece of the heavyweight title with a comprehensive decision over WBA Heavyweight Champion John Ruiz. Outweighed by 33 pounds, Jones put on a display of masterful boxing to befuddle Ruiz throughout. It was not close. Jones had made history. He was now 48-1 with his only loss via disqualification, a four-division champion, and seemingly without peer in the ring.
Fall From Grace
In perhaps an ill-fated decision, Jones decided to immediately drop back down to 175 and take on dangerous contender Antonio Tarver. Jones seemed fortunate to emerge with a majority decision win. He seemed lethargic and uncharacteristically easy to hit. Most observers wrote it off as a bad performance.
In the rematch six months later, however, notions of Jones’ possible decline were confirmed when he was stopped in the second round. Tarver landed a straight left that sent Jones halfway out of the ring. He got up at seven in a horrible state forcing the referee to stop the bout. It was the end of an era and quite a shocking sight to see a man virtually untouchable for 15 years in the sport so emphatically beaten.
A mere four months later, Jones was back in action to challenge IBF champion Glen Johnson. Jones showed almost none of his prior form and was behind on points when knocked unconscious by a Johnson right hand. He was on the canvas for several minutes before rising.
Jones fared slightly better in a third match with Tarver a year later, but still appeared to be an old fighter. In losing a unanimous decision he looked tired and unable to land much of note. This was an almost unprecedented fall from the pinnacle of the sport. He had lost 3 straight fights (lucky it wasn’t four) and the calls for him to retire were almost unanimous.
The Long Road Back
Jones tried to get his career back on track ten months after the third Tarver fight. He scored two decision wins before taking on the unretired Felix Trinidad. Jones won a clear decision against the smaller and slower Trinidad, giving him a much-needed high-profile win though Trinidad was certainly not the “Tito” of old.
This set him up for a bout with pound-for-pound entrant Joe Calzaghe. Jones shockingly dropped the heavily favored Welshman in the first round and managed to win a few of the early rounds. As the fight wore on, however, Jones found himself unable to cope with the speed and angles of Calzaghe and the fight became fairly one-sided. Jones was even subjected to a late-rounds Calzaghe mocking, which had to be painful for the proud former champion who was accustomed to doing that to his opponents. Calzaghe won a wide decision.
Oddly, 2009 has seen Jones miraculously able to regain some of his previous zip. In wins over Omar Sheika and Jeff Lacy, Jones has shown excellent speed and renewed energy. Jones looked particularly good in his 10th round stoppage over Lacy, which was an incredible athletic display for a 40-year-old man. While his last two opponents were past their best, Jones has still come a long way from where he was in 2005.
Looking Into The Future
Jones will fight at cruiserweight against Danny Green in Sydney on December 2. If he wins, he will fight Bernard Hopkins, who is also fighting on that night, in early-2010. With Calzaghe retired and Johnson and Tarver fading from the picture, a win over Hopkins would put Roy right back among the light heavyweight elite.