By Anthony Evans: The recent defeats of Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, and Shane Mosley have proven the folly of proclaiming active fighters as ring immortals. While I believe all three of the aforementioned trio will be considered all-time boxing greats after they retire, I think we have to allow space for perspective. For the same reason, I think it’s too early to ascertain where Roy Jones Junior ranks alongside the giants of antiquity.
What if Jones get knocked out in two rounds by Vassiliy Jirov, if they fight this summer? What if the unfancied Clinton Woods, Jones’ No.1 contender, gives the Floridian a torrid time when they clash later this year? A revision of Jones’ ‘right’ to be ranked alongside Ali, Leonard and would certainly be in order and for that reason I think it best to judge a play after the curtain call, not halfway through Act Three.
However, unlike my friend and colleague Paul Upham, I believe RJJ has significant work to do between now and when he claps the ring boards for the final time. Like a growing percentage of the fight fraternity, I believe Roy Jones Junior has not proved himself worthy of a place alongside the very best of boxing.
His various gimmicks, fighting with a microphone attached to his arse, playing semi-pro basketball on the same day of a world title bout and all the other parlour tricks are not smoke or mirror enough for fans to fail to realise Jones has not fought a truly dangerous opponent for eight years.
Yes, Roy Jones can do things in the ring that only a handful of fighters in history have been able to do. Sure, the three-weight champion makes capable opponents seem ordinary. And his hammerings of the Richard Halls and Lou Del Valles are most impressive, but the only two meaningful wins of his career – his points wins over a green Bernard Hopkins and weight-drained James Toney – are now in the distant past.
Since then Jones has failed to climb into the ring with every top flight opponent to cross his path.
The only light-heavyweight fight that has mattered for the past four years, Jones v Dariusz Michalczewski, will probably never happen. RJJ blames Michalczewski’s refusal to leave mainland Europe for the deadlock, and while I’d be included to let it slide, this is no isolated case.
Jones used similar geographically themed excuses for not facing the big punching two-division world champion Nigel Benn in the mid 1990s. Just a few months after Jones moved up from middleweight to wallop Toney, his great rival at 160lbs, Gerald McClellan stepped up 8lbs to face WBC king Benn. The defending champ overcame two brutal knockdowns to stop his challenger in a bout as thrilling as it was tragic. The idea was for Benn to then face Jones in a unification bout, but it never happened.
Neither did a bout with super-star and two-division world champ Chris Eubank.
Fast forward to 1997, another two-division world, Steve Collins, after clearing up the super-middleweights, called out Jones. The Irishman’s credentials were impeccable, but the bout never happened.
Since then Michalczewski has been the natural opponent for Jones. But as of yet the bout has never happened. There is a pattern here.
Jones is often referred to as the “undisputed light heavyweight champion”. He is not. Even accepting the WBO is less well respected outside of Europe, Jones’ claim to be THE light-heavyweight champ is far weaker than the German-Pole’s.
Follow these time lines:
In September 1994, Michalczewski beats Leeonzer Barber in Hamburg, Germany. He has held the belt every since.
In Oberhausen in June 1997, Michalczewski soundly outpoints Virgil Hill to add the WBA and IBF titles to the WBO belt already in his possession. Almost immediately, boxing politics contrive to take away the Tiger’s prize. Barely three months later, Lou Del Valle won the ‘vacant’ WBA belt.
Of course, Del Valle lost it to Jones. But the only reason Jones holds the WBA belt is because Michalczewski gave it up.
As above, but with William Guthrie and Reggie Johnson acting as intermediaries to give Jones Michalczewski’s belt.
Last year the US Federal Court ruled that German Graciano Rocchigiani had wrongfully been supplanted by Jones as the WBC champion. Rocchigiani had won the title proper (Jones was supposed to be in possession of the “interim” belt) by beating Michael Nunn. When he returned to boxing he was beaten by Michalczewski.
So, while Jones has achieved much during his six years at light-heavyweight he is not the linear, much less the “undisputed” 175lbs champion.
He has done enough to rank alongside the like of Joe Frazier, Archie Moore and the second tier of greats. But a place alongside Ali, Robinson and Louis still has to be earned.
His mooted clash with Vassili Jirov would be a great start. So would a bout with the formidable super-middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe, or the long talked about clash with Dariusz Michalczewski. Jones Junior could cement his legend with two or three big fights, it could be achieved within a year, but at age 33 he has to do it now.
For all appearances, Roy Jones is one of the most talented fighters of all time. He just has to prove it against worthy opposition. You have to dare to be truly great, and as long as Jones continues to play it safe, his legacy will remain in jeopardy.
Do you agree with Anthony Evans that Roy Jones is several steps short of the altar of true greatness? Has Jones purposely avoided the truly dangerous assignments, and if he hadn’t would he have joined the likes of Trinidad, De La Hoya and Mosley as beaten pound-for-pounders?
Or do you agree with Paul Upham, that Roy Jones is a rare and special talent with the statistics and trophy case to prove it? Click here for his argument >>
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