Roy Jones Jr is 48 years old. He hasn’t been a legitimate contender since his three-fight losing streak in 2004-05 against Antonio Tarver (twice) and Glen Johnson, knocked out in the final two of those fights. And yet he fights on.
Tonight, in Wilmington, Delaware, Jones (64-9, 46 KO) climbs back through the ropes for the 74th time as a professional, this time facing Bobby Gunn (21-6-1, 18), a 43-year-old fighter with a curiously edited Wikipedia page, whose biggest claim to fame came from an attempt to breathe life back into bare knuckle boxing a few years ago.
Jones fought twice last year, beating a debuting Vyrno Phillips (TKO-2) and club fighter Rodney Moore (UD-10), after an ugly fourth round knockout at the hands of Enzo Maccarinelli in 2015, in Jones’ would’ve-been adopted fight home of Moscow. Dating back to 2011, he’s won 10 of 11 fights, but none of those victories coming against a quality opponent.
In fact, every time we’ve seen Jones face someone dangerous in the last 13 years, he’s been beaten, and usually trounced. Tarver and Johnson started him down the path. Joe Calzaghe shut him down over 12 rounds. Danny Green clubbed him out in the first. Bernard Hopkins beat him in a tepid old man rematch. Denis Lebedev knocked him out in a scary scene. And then Maccarinelli.
When Jones fights these days, people don’t show up. He had a fight in Atlanta in 2011 against Max Alexander, which was aired on internet PPV. I bought the fight. I watched it. It was a sad, wannabe spectacle. There was a concert. But people didn’t show up to see Roy fight anymore.
His best wins in 13 years have come against a bloated and retired Felix “Tito” Trinidad and a shot, exposed Jeff Lacy. He cannot beat good fighters anymore — he has tried, repeatedly, and failed pretty gloriously each time. Even mid-tier fighters with a punch like Green and Maccarinelli have been able to blast him out, which makes Gunn, who can punch if nothing else (and it’s nothing else, basically), a slight danger to Jones, even though Gunn hasn’t won a fight in a pro boxing ring since 2009, and hasn’t been in one since 2013.
Why does Jones continue to fight? He tells Joseph Santoliquito at The RING that he’s “addicted to competition.” I’ve been told in the past by associates of his that Jones fights on because he believes the fans want to see him. (The fact that he can’t get his fights on television anymore argues differently.)
My personal belief has long been that Jones, noted for a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward his job back in his prime, found out how much he loved boxing after his gifts had eroded. At his peak, there weren’t many names in boxing history who blended his sort of speed, power, accuracy, timing, and style. He was a thrill to watch, even in one-sided beatdowns. He was flashy and could toy with even good fighters. Now, he has a tendency to plop himself against the ropes, his legs long since gone, looking to counter the clumsy boxers in front of him with arm punches.
Jones vs Gunn is billed as “skill vs will,” but this both overshoots what Jones has left, and sells him short in a way, too. All he really has left is the will to climb back into the ring and take the risk at least one more time, every time he does it. And as much as I hate to see a living legend reduced to lousy fights in empty buildings, there is something I greatly admire about that will and that desire. Whatever it is that drives Jones to keep going into the ring, that’s something I respect.
You won’t see him fight Bobby Gunn tonight. There might be highlights after, at least from a cell phone or five, popping up on Twitter or YouTube. But win or lose, you can expect Jones to do it again in five or six months. Maybe he really is addicted to competition. Maybe he’s addicted to whatever attention he can still get out of boxing. Maybe he’s just addicted to the grind of being in the gym, getting ready for whatever fight he can find.
I say good luck to the man. I’ve never been a “tarnished legacy” kind of guy in a situation like this, but I spent many years wrestling with my feelings about Jones’ continuing on — and on, and on, and on. But these days, after all the “embarrassing” losses and all the fights that he couldn’t get to TV but went through with anyway, I have to think it’s just Roy Jones Jr doing what’s in his heart.