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The Slow, Sad Crawl to the Finsh Line: Roy Jones Jr. Heads to Moscow

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Roy Jones Jr. heads to Moscow this Saturday for what could be the end of his line in boxing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Roy Jones Jr. heads to Moscow this Saturday for what could be the end of his line in boxing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Every time he fights, I can't help myself. I care about what happens in the ring when living legend Roy Jones Jr. laces 'em up and tries on yet another fight.

But it has been years since anything has truly mattered.

The last time Jones was in a legitimately relevant fight, he was facing Antonio Tarver for a third time in 2005. He lost, but at least wasn't embarrassed the way he had been in his last two fights when he was knocked out by Tarver and Glen Johnson in 2004.

That was seven years ago, the back-to-back knockouts, and it was assumed then that Roy Jones Jr. was "done." While you can argue that he wasn't done, since he's kept on fighting, he was. Glen Johnson finished Roy Jones Jr. off with a one-sided, ninth round knockout on September 25, 2004, at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

That night, as you can see in the video, HBO's Larry Merchant asked, "Will we ever see Roy Jones again?" Colleague Jim Lampley responded, "Nope. Not the one we're used to seeing."

He was right. We never saw the real Roy Jones Jr. ever again, as Jones embarked on his rickety, five-year Stay in the Game Tour. On Saturday, he heads to Moscow for a fight that could finish his in-ring career once and for all, against a dangerous opponent who will want his weathered scalp.

Since the three straight losses to Tarver and Johnson, Jones has gone 5-3, but done so in almost the least impressive fashion possible. His losses to Joe Calzaghe, Danny Green and Bernard Hopkins weren't even close. His wins over Prince Badi Ajamu and Anthony Hanshaw were wins over pure inferiors, while Felix Trinidad, Omar Sheika, and Jeff Lacy were either old and blown up, or just plain old. Jones hasn't beaten a relevant fighter since his questionable majority decision win over Tarver in 2003.

Denis Lebedev is a relevant fighter. He's a solid, powerful, sound cruiserweight, one of the very best in the world. Jones, once one of the most recognizable fighters in the world (and still a name because of his prime), is not up against another Sheika or Lacy. He's fighting a 31-year-old puncher on top of his game, on the road, and for nothing but money. The game is prizefighting, and Jones -- who now works with HBO as a commentator -- is, in the end, entitled to keep fighting so long as he can pass medical tests.

The real question about Jones' worth in today's boxing world is simple: Does anyone care anymore?

That's what has become the saddest part of this never-ending farewell. It's not that Jones isn't what he used to be, it's that he's so far from that, and so long removed, that it's been years since anyone even cared what Roy Jones Jr. was doing, crazies like me aside.

It's been as much a sobering realization for me as a Roy Jones fan as it has been simply observing the general public's disinterest in watching Jones, north of 40, continue to put his greatness in a forever-stretching rear view mirror. Nobody cares. Hell, even I don't care anymore, and I held on fooling myself longer than most would deem sane.

A Saturday is coming with a Roy Jones Jr. fight. If the start time doesn't conflict with anything else going on, I'm sure I'll try to watch it, to see yet another lame fight in the expired career of a fighter who once thrilled with his dazzling displays of speed and power, an attack impossible to replicate, though many have tried. Jones did things through pure athleticism and natural ability that you can't teach, and that have been taken from him by Father Time. Now, we see Jones as a has-been hanging on for scraps of real life in the ring. A man who once danced in the ring with fluidity and grace, picking opponents apart with lightning punches, is now reduced to so often holding his hands up high with his back against the ropes, hoping to find a moment to escape and get away from younger, stronger fighters.

Lebedev isn't fighting Jones as an exhibition in Moscow. He's coming to beat the remaining shreds of name value out of Jones, who may next head to Germany or Japan or the UK to get trounced on a different piece of foreign soil. He can't make money in the United States anymore, but he's a novelty elsewhere.

A novelty. That's what Roy Jones Jr. has been reduced to these days.

As for Saturday, I just hope it's quick and relatively painless, because I know he can't win.