By Thomas Hauser: Boxing commentator Teddy Atlas once commented on Roy Jones's ring greatness with the observation, "For years, Roy Jones was Secretariat in the Belmont, winning by thirty lengths."
Jones dominated the middleweight, super-middleweight, and light-heavyweight divisions in a way that few fighters ever have. Then he moved up to heavyweight and, on March 1, 2003, defeated John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight crown.
For years, one could ask a hundred boxers, "Who's the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound?" Virtually all of them would answer, "Roy Jones." And when they spoke his name, it was with a mixture of admiration and awe.
Last November, Jones returned to 175 pounds to challenge Antonio Tarver for the light-heavyweight title. He struggled to make weight, was debilitated by dental surgery gone awry, and prevailed on a controversial majority decision.
"Roy looked human for a change," World Boxing Organization 168-pound champion Joe Calzaghe noted.
Then, showing a champion's heart, Jones gave Tarver an immediate rematch. Tarver scored a one-punch knockout in the second round. The Roy Jones aura of invincibility was gone. But Jones had an explanation. "God brings even the best people down," he said, "to see if they'll remain faithful and go back up."
On May 22nd of this year, one week after he was knocked out by Tarver, there was a "Support Roy Jones Rally" in his home town of Pensacola. Clearly moved, Jones took the microphone and told the adoring crowd, "I need you all. I need somebody to pick me up, and you all came to energize me. People wonder why I say, 'Pensacola is in the house' when I fight. This is the reason. If you see tears in my eyes today, don't think I feel bad. It's because I feel love."
Then Jones asked the question, "Do ya'll want some get-back?"
The crowd roared.
"Okay. I'm gonna go get some get back."
But instead of a third fight against Tarver, Jones signed to fight Glengoffe Johnson, who through a series of fortuitous events had become the International Boxing Federation 175-pound titleholder. Over the previous five years, Johnson had won only eight of nineteen bouts.
Jones spoke confidently before the fight. Yes, he had lost to Tarver; but in his eyes, he was still The Man. "Who beat John Ruiz since I beat him?" Roy demanded. "[Hasim] Rahman didn't beat him. [Fres] Oquendo didn't beat him. No one could beat him. Who beat Bernard Hopkins since I beat him? No one. It starts right here."
And it ended against Glengoffe Johnson on Saturday night in Memphis. Johnson pressed the action in every round and outlanded Jones 118 to 75. Roy scored with some good left hooks to the body, but that was all. Johnson won six of the first eight rounds. In round nine, he knocked Jones cold with an overhand right. Roy hit his head hard on the canvas when he fell. He lay there for eight minutes and sat on his stool for 24 minutes more before leaving the ring.
I've been at ringside for twelve Roy Jones fights. Other than Muhammad Ali in his prime, Jones was the most beautiful fighting machine I've ever seen.
I wasn't in Memphis for Jones-Johnson. I watched it on television. Whenever I think I might write about a fight, I scribble notes on a yellow pad between rounds. My notes on Jones-Johnson tell the tale:
Round 1: Roy on the ropes. He isn't moving like he used to. But he's 35 years old and a fighter has to play the cards in his hand.
Round 2: In the past, Roy went to the ropes as a way of luring opponents into punching range; but this is different. He's there by necessity; not out of choice.
Round 3: Roy looks weak and slow. And apart from looking old, it seems like getting knocked out by Tarver changed him. Is there a crisis of confidence?
Round 4: More of the same; Roy against the ropes getting hit.
Round 5: Roy's greatness was built on reflexes and speed, and they're simply not there anymore.
Round 6: In the old days, Roy would have won every minute of every round against Johnson. Now he's losing the fight.
Round 7: Roy getting hit with a lot of overhand rights. He looks like a shot fighter.
Round 8: This is like Muhammad Ali against Larry Holmes; except unlike Holmes, Johnson is an ordinary fighter.
Round 9: Roy KO'd at 48 seconds. He should never fight again.
Roy Jones once told me, "My father is a genius, but his ego ruined it for him." I hope that Roy is smart enough and has enough pride to retire from boxing.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com
September 26, 2004