It's not a sweet science for Jones
Anyone ever see Sugar Ray Robinson in the position Roy Jones Jr. was in Saturday night?
For too many years, people who should have known better kept mentioning the four-time world champion as the heir to the throne Robinson held as the best boxer ever. This seemed ridiculous to some because Robinson fought and defeated everyone while Jones fought and defeated no one. Yet the more Jones beat up on second-tier fighters, the more his advocates tried to make him out as the next Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, or Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Among his victims were a schoolteacher, a fireman, a policeman, and a sanitation worker. He even did something that hadn't been done in 100 years when, as a former middleweight champion, he moved up to heavyweight and won a form of that title when he beat John Ruiz.
It was a carefully picked opponent who allowed Jones to avoid the true champion, Lennox Lewis, and still get credit for the feat. As skilled as Jones was as a fighter, he was even more skilled as a mass marketer and con man. He could fight, no question, but his opponents were carefully picked.
Many observers, like his opponents, were blinded by his speed and reflexes, never noticing that technically he was not sound in many areas and would one day pay a severe price if he ever got in the ring with the kind of opponents Robinson regularly faced during his long career. Writers voted him fighter of the decade in the 1990s, taking the award away from Evander Holyfield and making themselves look foolish.
The point here is not to denigrate Jones after he was knocked cold for the second straight time Saturday night, but to point out that the greatest of fighters don't end up the way he did against Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson -- regardless of advancing years. Losing is not the issue. The issue is, how did anyone ever compare Jones to Ray Robinson, who was the most beautiful boxer and most dangerous fighter ever? What were Jones's greatest victories? Ruiz? A decision over an out-of-shape James Toney? A lackluster win against Bernard Hopkins 11 years ago on a night when both seemed unwilling to take a risk?
Why was there never a rematch with Hopkins, who has not lost since that decision and who pursued Jones for years? Why was there never a rematch with Toney, who chased Jones up in weight several times without being able to get a second shot?
Whereas Robinson fought Jake LaMotta five times, Jones never gave any challenger a second chance except for Montell Griffin, and that was only because Griffin beat him by disqualification in their first fight, and Tarver, who knocked him cold in their rematch after a controversial decision in the first fight.
Jones talked often of fighting Mike Tyson but never did. He claimed to have pursued Holyfield but ended up with Ruiz. Robinson fought and defeated a list of what sometimes seemed like half the guys in the Boxing Hall of Fame. He beat LaMotta, Carmen Basilio, Kid Gavilan, Charley Fusari, Randy Turpin, Bobo Olson, Rocky Graziano, Gene Fullmer, and on and on, retiring with a 175-19-6 record and 109 knockouts.Jones was a very skillful fighter who violated all the technical rules, and when his reflexes began to slip, he could not adjust. Jones became an ordinary fighter because he never fully mastered the sport he claimed to dominate and didn't have the chin of a Muhammad Ali, who at the end of his career could fight flat-footed and take punishment as part of his strategy. Jones could not, as he proved Saturday night when he stood on the ropes for long minutes and got blasted by Johnson until he finally fell without ever answering back with authority. Jones will ultimately end up in the Hall of Fame as a fighter, but he would better deserve a place there as a manager because no one ever managed a career better than he did. Jones had speed, grace, and reflexes in abundance, and was always in shape, but he had no respect for the opponents he faced, because he knew they truly were not in his class.
Jones can always argue that he was the best pound-for-pound fighter of his time. He can boast that he won titles in four weight classes, including the World Boxing Association heavyweight title. He can even say he was selected fighter of the 1990s. He just can't say he was Sugar Ray anybody. Neither Robinson nor Leonard. Maybe he could have been if he'd just taken a risk when his skills were in their prime, but Jones was always risk-averse. Now is no time to challenge the risk-reward ratio he seemed to hold dearer than even his place in boxing history. Now is time to walk away. While he still can.
Last week was a big one for promoter Dan Goossen. First he saw James Toney dominate undefeated Rydell Booker to become the World Boxing Council's mandatory No. 1 contender, and then he watched Johnson stun Jones, possibly setting up a unification fight with Tarver . . . People can say what they want about boxing's waning popularity, but the Toney-Booker fight, which was broadcast live on Fox's "Best Damn Sports Show Period," tripled the show's usual rating . . . Oddity about the light heavyweight division: Its three biggest names -- Jones, Tarver, and now Johnson -- are all 35 . . . On Saturday night, Kassim "The Dream" Ouma finally gets the chance he has been dreaming about since 1996, when he fled Uganda and a miserable life as one of that country's child soldiers to pursue a boxing career in America. Ouma was supposed to fight Verno Phillips for the International Boxing Federation junior middleweight title in June, but a training injury a week before the fight forced him to pull out. Now he will finally get his chance when he steps in against Phillips on Showtime as part of the card headlined by Wladimir Klitschko and DaVarryl Williamson . . . Hopkins may now look to fight the winner of Saturday night's Felix Trinidad-Ricardo Mayorga fight because Jones is out of the picture, but here's another suggestion. Hopkins should consider going to England for big money to beat up undefeated 168-pound champion Joe Calzaghe. If he wants, he could demand a catch weight and Calzaghe's promoters would agree. They'd also pay him big money for a fight he should dominate with his superior boxing skills . . . Former IBF junior welterweight champion Zab Judah recently said of the Klitschko brothers, "Neither one of them got heart. They got the same blood in their bodies. If [Wladimir] ain't got no heart, [WBC champion Vitali] ain't got no heart, either. What's in his body is in his body. Put a little more pressure on him and he folds up, too." . . Holyfield has been added to the November card at Madison Square Garden that will headline IBF champion Chris Byrd vs. Jameel McCline and Ruiz defending the WBA title vs. Andrew Golota. Holyfield takes on shopworn pacifist Larry Donald on the undercard in the hope that one win can get him back into the title picture . . . Can you imagine a potentially fouler fight than Ruiz vs. Golota? If it comes down to a battle of will over skill, which it should, expect Ruiz to again confound the experts and successfully defend the title . . . Sad to report old warrior Tyrone Booze was injured on the job in Clearwater, Fla., last week when he was run over by a garbage truck. Booze was the kind of journeyman fighter you see often but remember little about. He was beaten by Holyfield and Bert Cooper and briefly held the World Boxing Organization cruiserweight title in 1992, a championship he lost the next year. According to published reports, Booze fell down as the truck was backing up and it went over his leg . . . Promoter Don King has guaranteed Mayorga will be in the ring Saturday night despite his legal problems in Nicaragua, where he has been accused of rape and did not appear at a hearing. Now training in Miami, Mayorga has declared himself innocent and promised Trinidad a terrible return to the ring after his two-year layoff. "Wherever I punch him, he will hit the floor," Mayorga said. "Three or five rounds, five if he's brave enough." Mayorga has made such boasts before and backed up some of them, but he was boxed into submission by Cory Spinks a while back at 147 and in his next fight showed up more than 10 pounds overweight. Now he's up to 160, and he claims he will force Trinidad back into the retirement he is only now emerging from after Hopkins knocked him out several years ago . . . In four months, Hopkins will enter the final year of his career. On her death bed, his mother asked him not to fight when he's over 40, and Hopkins agreed. "I've always had a plan, and when I stuck to it things worked out," the undisputed middleweight champion said. "If I deviate from that now, I'm not sure what would happen, but it might not be good."
Material from personal interviews, wire services, and other beat writers was used in this report.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.