|This might be the guy that Roy Jones, Jr., still sees in the mirror, but he's the only one left.|
Maybe it's the "Junior," maybe it's the fact that he used to be the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the game, or maybe it's just that recently, Jones blew it again by skipping out on Showtime and a possible fight with rising contender Anthony Hanshaw. Seeing promotion done right for this Saturday's fight just puts a glaring spotlight on the problems that still litter the sport.
One of those problems is has-been fighters that hang on too long, become delusional, and simply can't find their way home, in a sense. Jones was once great. I'm 25 years old -- Mike Tyson was my first exposure to boxing, but I was still very young. Roy Jones was the guy that opened my eyes to non-heavyweight fights and is in large part responsible for my lifelong interest in boxing.
It was hard to not love the guy. There he was in the ring, with lightning hand speed, power that came out of nowhere, and some of the most ridiculous knockdowns and knockouts you'll ever see. He made James Toney -- a great fighter -- look stupid. He obliterated his opposition, and he did it with style and a violent grace that most boxers could never hope to mimic, even the great ones. There was a poetry to watching Jones move around the ring.
But even as a fan, I always felt something else watching Jones, too, and that was pity for his opponents at best (many of them were overmatched to a ridiculous degree) and disgust with the squawking teenage girl fans he made out of commentators that reveled in watching him massacre yet another outclassed fighter.
Now, it wasn't Jones' fault that his opposition wasn't as good as him, or simply couldn't figure out how you box Jones. Part of the beauty of Jones, really, was that he was so unpredictable, had no real set pattern about him, and could hurt anyone with any punch.
But there are two fights in particular that stick out in my mind. The first was his slaughter of Vinny Pazienza in 1995. Pazienza, game as they come, did his best, but he was no match for Jones' speed. He was viciously pummeled in the sixth round to the point where even Jones looked like he didn't want to continue to hit him, and like me, wondered why the fight wasn't being stopped. Pazienza would have gotten up after the third knockdown (there was no three-knockdown rule) had anyone let him keep fighting. He was as tough as anyone, but I remember feeling a different sensation watching that fight than I usually did when I'd watch someone put on a great performance. I just wanted it to be stopped.
The second time that happened with Jones was his bout against Clinton Woods in 2002. Jones put the beatdown on Woods until finally the corner threw in the towel in the sixth round, knowing that Woods may not fall, but wasn't going to get anywhere.
It's not something I blame on Jones or anyone else, but that sense of pity I sometimes felt for Jones' opponents is so rare. I felt it watching the Darchinyan/Burgos fight in March, too. It doesn't happen all that often. And I'm not quite sure why Roy Jones had the ability to make me feel that way, but really it just makes him that much more unique, and that much more memorable.
Like all fighters, though, time came that Roy wasn't Roy anymore. After he beat Woods, he made a pointless, showy step into the heavyweight division to beat plodding champion and cry machine John Ruiz via unanimous decision to win the WBA title, which he immediately gave up. Was there any point to this other than just being able to say he was the heavyweight champ at some point? Of course not.
But that's Roy, and it leads us to the real downfall. Beating Ruiz was Jones' last true accomplishment. He took a controversial majority decision over Antonio Tarver eight months after beating Ruiz, and then ran straight into the wall. Tarver brutally knocked out Jones in May 2004, and then we saw maybe the most unbelievable performance of Jones' career five months later when he was dropped in the ninth round by Glen Johnson: Roy Jones barely fought. This lifeless, no-energy impersonator of a once-great fighter was one of the more disappointing things I've ever seen in a boxing ring. For God's sake, he was 35, not 50. He looked to be in good shape. He certainly had something to prove.
Tarver beat him again. Everything washed up. He had to put on a pay-per-view event to take on Badi Ajamu in July of last year, and hasn't fought since.
It doesn't seem like so long ago when HBO would have walked over burning coals to televise Roy Jones fighting half a tuna salad sandwich. But it's been a while. You'd think this sobering reality check would hit Jones, but apparently not.
The Hanshaw camp knew what they were getting into, and Showtime did, too. Jones is notorious for his flaky personality outside of the ring, and for his downright arrogance when it comes to contract negotiations and money. It used to be that Jones could get away with it, because everyone wanted to see him fight. But it appears as though the 38-year old former champion thinks this is still the good ol' days, and that he isn't in the dimming twilight of a career that has gone the way of so many before his. Jones tried to get triple the money that was initially agreed upon to fight Hanshaw, as if he was still in a position to call the shots with Showtime or anyone else.
Roy has backed himself into a huge corner with this one. It will further steer HBO and Showtime away from him. Frankly, a fight with a 29-year old, largely untested guy like Hanshaw could have been great for his career. Had he beaten Hanshaw -- not entirely unlikely -- he could have been back on the map. We all know that Tarver's next fight is on Showtime, and if both guys were able to score solid wins, you can even do Tarver/Jones IV, throw it on pay-per-view, and squeeze the final bit of juice out of Jones' career.
Now what does Roy do? Fight another ham-and-egger like Ajamu on a pay-per-view no one wants to buy? Hope against hope that someone out there will want to give him enough money to please his ego and his sadly mistaken sense of worth in the year 2007?
Roy's in that awkward position now where none of the top fighters are going to fight him because it's not an impressive win, and he seemingly feels that those are the only fights worth his time.
The reality of boxing -- and all sports -- is that eventually the game passes the players by, no matter who they are. Willie Mays stopped being able to catch up to fastballs, Joe Montana couldn't thread the ball in there anymore, and Roy Jones, Jr., isn't any different from thousands of other great fighters. Everything comes to an end.
For Jones, that end has probably already come. Roy wants to stay gold. It's past too late, and all we're left with now is a fallen star still trying to shine.