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14 NOVEMBER 2018

Where am I? Home Columns Paul Upham

Knowing when to Retire

Roy Jones Jr in better times
Roy Jones Jr in better times

Comment by Paul Upham: The hardest fight of any boxers careers is the battle with his own mind when it comes time to retire. Despite suffering two knockout losses, if it wasn't clear to Roy Jones Jr that the time had come to hang up his gloves, it certainly is now after his points loss to Antonio Tarver on Saturday night in Tampa. While he showed two rounds of his old brilliance, at the age of 36 he is no longer able to sustain it for long periods against a world champion like Tarver.

After a year away from the ring, Jones was attempting to make a comeback from two brutal knockout losses to Tarver and Glen Johnson. After everything he has achieved including six world titles in four weight classes, Jones deserved the chance to regain his crown. There have been many successful comebacks against the odds. How would Evander Holyfield's career rate if he had never come back after his two losses to Riddick Bowe or the loss to Michael Moorer? Two of the greatest moments of the "Real Deal's" career were the comeback wins over Bowe and Mike Tyson.
What if Sugar Ray Leonard had never come back against Marvelous Marvin Hagler?

Unfortunately for Holyfield and Leonard, the success of prior comebacks resulted in further unsuccessful ones. Seeing Holyfield lose to Larry Donald and Leonard to Hector Camacho was cruel and unnecessary punishment for the fighters and their fans.

While there is no set rule, the fact is the majority of the sports greatest boxers end their careers with a disappointing loss.

No one wanted to see Muhammad Ali losing three of his last four fights to Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick. It happened and history can never be changed. But those final bouts of his career can never erase everything else that Ali achieved. The same should be the case with Jones.

When you look back through history, it is truly rare for the greats to retire while still on top. The lure of big money, the fame and stardom of boxing is unique and can never be matched in retirement. The greats almost always come back until they are beaten badly.

The two most high profile heavyweight world champions to avoid such a fate were Rocky Marciano in 1956 and more recently Lennox Lewis. After his exciting win over Vitali Klitschko in June 2003, Lewis saw the writing on the wall and at the age of 38 he hung up his gloves as heavyweight champion.

While we never penalise in our estimation the all time greats such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Henry Armstrong, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali for losses pass their prime, others like Marciano and Lewis will forever benefit from their decision to retire on top.

If Roy Jones Jr had retired after his win over John Ruiz to become WBA heavyweight champion in March 2003, he would no doubt have avoided some of the criticism his career will now attract. Of course, there was that run of defences at light heavyweight where Jones failed to meet anyone of real merit. That is not always the fighters fault. If Tarver who is now also 36 had developed a little earlier, maybe Jones would have been applauded more had they fought earlier. Unfortunately some fighters peek very early like Mike Tyson, other's mature later in their 30's like Lewis and Tarver. The primes of great boxers don't always run parallel. Maybe Jones would have always struggled against skilful left-handers like Tarver, as he appeared to do with Eric Harding in September 2000.

The one boxer who critics wanted Jones to fight during his reign as light heavyweight world champion was Dariusz Michalczewski. While the fight could never be made, the German based Polish fighter will suffer when it comes to assessing his own career due to the absence of a win over a true great. While he has not retired and remains unbeaten, WBO super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe is following the same path.

I was asked shortly after Saturday's fight what the future holds for Roy Jones? For someone who had always aspired to be the greatest boxer of his time, if he can't beat the current light world heavyweight champion, there is no reason to carry on.

There is no shame in admitting that you are older and not as good as you once were. The aging process effects everyone. But the absolute single minded determination carried into the ring by the elite that they are the best and cannot lose makes it hard to accept that they are not what they once were. While we will always marvel at George Foreman's achievement of becoming heavyweight world champion at the age of 45, the two-time world champion who was a physical freak of nature, set in many ways a bad example. Boxing is a young mans sport. Once you hit the age of 35, you are very close to the end.

Looking back through his career, Roy Jones Jr's best wins were over Ruiz, a James Toney (November 1994) struggling with the weight and a Bernard Hopkins (May 1993) who was yet to reach the peak of his powers. The three losses to Tarver and Johnson will always give Jones' critics fuel to discredit him.

Longevity at the highest level is an important consideration when assessing greatness. But of much more value is beating other great fighters. That is what elevates the finest boxers to the highest level. Roy Jones Jr was a very good boxer and one of the best of the current era, but the absence of wins over other very good fighters will prevent him from being ranked in boxing history on the highest level occupied by Robinson, Armstrong, Louis and Ali.

Paul Upham
Contributing Editor

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