by Paul Magno
As Roy Jones Jr. prepares for a possible fight with Joe Calzaghe in what may possibly be his last big hurrah, I think this is as good a time as any to talk about what Jones’ legacy in the sport will be. For the sake of fairness, we’ll keep it to his physical prime and leave off his losses to Tarver and Johnson, as well as his most recent wins over the less than stellar Prince Badi Ajamu, the overstuffed Anthony Hanshaw and the “Put a fork in him, he’s done” Felix Trinidad. After all, it’s what a fighter does in his prime that counts most towards his legacy.
Name a boxer around today who has beaten two legit first-ballot hall of famers in their primes? You can look around the rankings and find a few who have beaten one or maybe two if you ease up your standards on having to fight them in their primes. And even then you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has even 1 dominant win over a hall of fame caliber opponent. Nobody has done that- not De la Hoya, not Mayweather, not Klitschko, not Cotto, not Calzaghe.
Roy Jones did. He beat a prime Bernard Hopkins and a prime James Toney. And not only did he beat them, but he beat them easily.
Name another boxer who held World titles from Middleweight all the way to Heavyweight?
Well, Roy Jones did. Forget the fact that he beat John Ruiz for a portion of the Heavyweight crown; The fact of the matter was that he did something few thought he could do and he did so convincingly.
Those two deeds alone put him in the top 5% of all boxers and would be more than enough to cement his legacy as one of the best of our era. But to some, its not enough and there are some who see his career more for what wasn’t than for what was.
These critics forget the other names on Jones’ resume. Names like: Clinton Woods, Eric Harding, Montell Griffin, Reggie Johnson, Virgil Hill, Julio Cesar Gonzalez, Thomas Tate, Thulani Malinga, Otis Grant, Jorge Castro, Lou Del Valle, Merqui Sosa, Tony Thornton, Mike McCallum and Eric Lucas. All either World Champs at one point in their careers or legit Top 5-caliber fighters, that is, until Jones beat them easily and made these good, pro fighters look less talented and less skilled than they actually were. What his detractors seem to conveniently forget is that these weren’t weak fighters who fought an overrated Jones; They were all very good fighters made to look weak by a phenomenal Jones. There’s a big difference.
No, instead of the names I just mentioned, his critics will point to the hapless Vinny Pazienza getting slapped around by Jones or the assorted Antoine Byrds or Richard Fraziers on his hit list. Keep in mind, though, that most of his weak opponents were mandatory defenses which Jones could do nothing about. Remember, Jones loved collecting belts and with so many titles comes so many pointless mandatories. At one time, Jones simultaneously held the WBC, WBA, IBF, IBO, WBF, IBA and NBA Light Heavyweight titles- That’s a lot of fat cats to have to make happy.
Notice, though, that the WBO was not one of the titles he held…and that’s his critics’ other beef with him. They point to the guys that Jones supposedly avoided, one being Dariusz Michalczewski.
Now, Michalczewski was a good fighter, but no more significant than any other Eastern European WBO champion of the 90’s. He held some decent victories over Montell Griffin, Virgil Hill and Graciano Rocchigiani, but nothing spectacular and certainly nothing that would cause Jones to tremble in his boots. But since he held the WBO title and Jones wasn’t rushing to catch a flight to Poland with a 50-50 contract in a brief case, some deemed him “The Guy Jones is Afraid to Fight.” The fact of the matter was that most believe Jones would’ve handled “The Tiger” fairly easily and, possibly knowing that as well, Michalczewski, never really made much of an effort to put up his WBO title and take that first-class flight to the Big Leagues against Roy.
Other “avoided” fighters that critics point to are the stuff of pure fantasy. Guys like Gerald McClellan, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank are pointed to, but quickly excused from the list of fighters “ducked” by Jones since none of those names competed in the same weight class at the same time as Jones.
No, there is a deeper reason why many dislike Jones and will try to demean his legacy and it has to do with the very nature of the fan base of boxing.
Boxing is the bluest of blue collar sports. In order for a fighter to be embraced by the boxing masses, he needs to be vulnerable and, more importantly, relatable. We have to see a bit of ourselves in him as a guy who struggles and works and finds a way to come out on top despite the odds. A guy like Arturo Gatti was a true “People’s Champ” because we could relate to him on a personal level…Few people could relate to boxer/basketball player/rapper/cock fighter Roy Jones Jr. as he threw 10 punch combinations and avoided punches like me avoiding the salad bar at a Vegas buffet.
This attitude is unique to boxing. You don’t see Michael Jordan take crap for jumping too high or moving too fast ; You don’t see Joe Montana getting ripped for being too accurate of a passer. Most upper-echelon athletes in pro sports are honored and respected for their unique gifts. The fact that they make things look easy is a positive thing.
No, there is a different attitude in boxing; A different attitude among people who claim to be “hardcore” fight fans. These are the fans who, while professing a true love for the sport, are actually helping to tear it down by tearing apart the very same mega fighters who should be the ones bringing boxing back to the mainstream. While discrediting the best of the best, they are making sure that the most marketable of fighters are already damaged goods, promotionally, by the time they get out into the general public.
That’s what happened to Roy Jones. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Jones belongs near the top of any list of this era’s best boxers. But if he was just a little slower and easier to hit..If he hadn‘t made things look so easy…If he just wasn’t quite that good., he would’ve been a lot more respected by the critics. Boxing is a very strange sport indeed.