by David P. Greisman
Time is unforgiving. Fortunately for the aging athlete, people are far more likely to buff away the tarnish and allow the luster of a legacy to linger.
Mike Tyson was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and lauded for his pre-prison prominence — when he was the most-feared, most-famous heavyweight fighter around — and not for his many embarrassing moments from his last decade in the ring.
Michael Jordan was enshrined as the great six-time champion for the Chicago Bulls, not as the past-his-prime Washington Wizards player whose two seasons brought more losses than wins.
And for all of the oft-repeated stories about Willie Mays stumbling in the outfield or Brett Favre’s struggles at quarterback in his final few years, those end chapters of their careers become but footnotes, quickly read and recognized, informative yet inconsequential when compared to the greater story.
That doesn’t make watching those final chapters unfold any easier.
Perhaps it is better, then, that Roy Jones Jr. is becoming increasingly invisible as he becomes increasingly inconsequential, fighting on far smaller shows than he’d been accustomed to while winning world titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, and traveling outside of the United States to box in Australia, Russia and Poland, fighting in foreign countries for the first time since he’d been a 19-year-old amateur Olympian ripped off and robbed in South Korea.
That was 1988. Jones is 43 now, and the American team traveling to London this summer will be the sixth since he was in Seoul. Half of the men and women representing the States this year hadn’t even been born yet when Jones ended his amateur career.
Perhaps it is better that few in his own country saw Jones knocked unconscious in Moscow by Denis Lebedev, saw him go the distance in Atlanta with a foe named Max Alexander whose record was 14-5-2 and who hadn’t won a fight for more than four and a half years before then.
Perhaps it is better that few might have watched live online as Jones did little en route to a split decision victory Saturday over Pawel Glazewski, a last-minute replacement opponent who was undefeated but unheralded, whose 17-0 record entering that bout included but four knockouts, and who nevertheless knocked Jones down in the sixth round.
Perhaps, however, it would be better if these last years of his career weren’t consigned to the foreign and the fringe, to the international cards and independent pay-per-views.
Perhaps it would be better if Jones had to deal with realizing the repercussions of more people watching beyond his lone major American appearances in the past six years, beyond his 2008 win over Felix Trinidad, his one-sided loss to Joe Calzaghe later that year, and his ugly rematch defeat against Bernard Hopkins in 2010.
Instead, Jones’ appearances when he wins are best summed up by the policeman’s cliché crime scene phrase: “Nothing to see here. Move along.”
Except what could be there to see with Jones when he loses is a body laid out on the canvas, a once-great pro whose invincibility has long since shattered, whose speed and skills have long since faded, and who now presents more displays of vulnerability than he does of victory.
He is dancing with danger, emboldened by his successes against those who never could have shared the ring with him before, yet undeterred despite his failures and frights.
He looks worn and weary, with little activity and little energy, never moving into the higher gear that once left so many behind, that once allowed Jones to distance himself from fighters far better than those he’s beating now.
He was never traditional in his technique, relying on his reflexes to avoid oncoming punches and jump forward with unorthodox attacks. When his timing and his legs began to go, so too did his chin, which cracked and then crumbled against Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson.
He believes he can contend at cruiserweight now, despite the evidence to the contrary, despite the one-round knockout loss to Danny Green in 2009, despite barely getting a split decision over Glazewski — who was far too respectful of Jones even though Jones never gave him much reason to be.
There are problems with the premise of taking Jones, whose bouts with Green and Glazewski were about 20 pounds under the cruiserweight limit, and putting this aging fighter — one with less of an ability to throw punches and less of an ability to take punches — in with 200-pound contenders and titleholders who have both speed and power.
It is reminiscent of Evander Holyfield’s continued quest for the heavyweight championship. There are only two types of 40-year-old boxers: those who remain competitive, and those who just remain.
At least Holyfield, who is nearing 50, hasn’t fought for world titles since his last two shots in 2007 and 2008. His few fights since have come against two fellow forty-somethings and a journeyman.
Jones is angling for the top tier, which at cruiserweight means trips overseas. The nostalgia of name recognition brings value for audiences who recognize the legend performing in front of them.
There are no more legendary performances, though. The name is nearly all that Jones has left.
That name is what will be inscribed in Canastota some day, when Jones has finally decided to hang up his gloves and keep them off for five years. He will be lauded as the great who won world titles in four weight classes — not the faded fighter who has won seven fights and lost seven fights in the past eight years.
It is no longer surprising when a boxer continues to fight long past the time when he should. It is shocking, however, that Jones would be one of those fighters, given his well-known concern about getting hurt in the ring like his friend Gerald McClellan, who was only 27 when he suffered life-altering injuries in a loss to Nigel Benn.
“I used to be haunted … All the time that’s what I was afraid of, that you could end up like that,” Jones told boxing writer Thomas Gerbasi several years ago.
“I don’t even want to be like none of the old fighters are,” he said. “I want to be just like I am now.”
The problem is that Jones still believes he can be what he was. He still comes to the ring rapping along to the tune of “Y’all Must’ve Forgot,” a rap single he released more than a decade ago, a song celebrating victories over nine men — of whom the only two still fighting are Bernard Hopkins and James Toney.
Those nine victories are among the wins for which Jones will be celebrated when he retires. Boxing fans will buff away much of the tarnish from the past eight years and allow the luster of his legacy to linger.
People are forgiving. Time, and Roy Jones’ other, more tangible opponents, are not.
The 10 Count will return next week.
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]