By Brent Matteo Alderson
There have been more than a couple of writers who have stated that Roy Jones Jr. ducked Joe Calzaghe in the late nineties after Joe won the vacant 168-pound WBO title with a win over the dangerous yet ring-worn Chris Eubank. That statement is completely false and an inaccurate portrayal of contemporary boxing history. Circa 1997 the WBO didn’t have the credibility that it does today and their title was seen as a marginalized championship throughout the industry.
Ring Magazine, which prior to the internet age was the sport’s most influential media vehicle, never recognized the WBO title and with the exception of a few established stars such as Naseem Hamed, Johnny Tapia, and Oscar De La Hoya in the early stages of his career, the quality of their champions were generally of a lower pedigree and commanded less respect and generally substantially smaller pay days.
And a lot of fighters like De La Hoya used the WBO championship as a kind of minor league championship that helped prepare them for the next level. A few fighters like Hamed, Barrera, and Tapia were loyal to the WBO because it catered to their whims because the organization was trying to establish itself and needed their notoriety.
The WBO’s treatment of Naseem Hamed exemplified this behavior. Juan Manuel Marquez was the WBO mandatory challenger for a number of years while Hamed was champion and the Prince was never stripped of the title. The organization even implemented a rule about being a super champion after a certain amount of defenses so Hamed could legally avoid fulfilling his mandatory obligation to fight Marquez.
Today, the WBO title is on even par with the other sanctioning bodies, but in the late nineties, WBO champions weren’t considered legitimate world champions by boxing enthusiasts. Thus Joe Calzaghe wasn’t viewed as a legitimate world champion in 1997. He was just a promising up and coming contender that picked up the WBO Super middleweight when Irishman Steve Collins retired in October of 1997 a couple of months after Roy Jones had emphatically avenged his defeat to Montell Griffin with one of the most spectacular first round knockouts in boxing history.
At the time of Calzaghe’s ascension to the WBO Super-Middleweight throne, Jones was still viewed as an enigma, a kind of super fighter and in no way was perceived as a threat to Jones pound for pound supremacy.
If Jones had ducked anybody at 168 pounds it was Frank Liles. Fabulous Frank was a huge super middleweight with solid wins over a still useful Merqui Sosa, an underrated Michael Nunn, and had avenged his only defeat with an electrifying knockout over Tim Littles. If Jones had wanted to avoid anybody at 168 pounds during his tenure as IBF champ it would have been Liles, not Calzaghe.
Trainer and former world title challenger John Scully commented, ” If there was anyone in the game who I think Roy maybe wasn't in so much of a big hurry to fight, from what I have gathered over time, it would be Frankie Liles and Michael Nunn. They were tall southpaws with good range and difficult styles. Roy knew Frankie very well from the amateurs and, as a matter of fact, Frankie was the only guy who I ever saw give Roy a standing eight count (at the 1988 U.S. Championships). Roy would have fought him, I believe, but he wouldn't have been first on his list.”
That fight couldn’t be made at the time because Don King had exclusive rights to Liles and from 1991 through 1998 King wasn’t involved in a single HBO telecast and had exclusive control over Showtime championship boxing. That particular cold war didn’t end until HBO and King formed a truce in 1999 so they could put together the De La Hoya-Trinidad and Lewis-Holyfield mega-fights.
Still today people keep randomly adding names to the list of fighters that Jones ducked through his career. Now I’m in complete agreement when people say that Jones’ career was a bit of a disappointment and that he failed to live up to his potential. Jones should have fought frequently and dominated every division from Super Middleweight to Cruiserweight. He should have demanded the biggest fight possible each time out, but he didn’t. He fought a lot of good fighters and a couple of great ones, but he didn’t aggressively seek challenges. Even some of the guys that people consider push overs weren’t that bad. Otis Grant, Eric Lucas, and Bryant Brannon were all world class fighters that would have been formidable foes for any Super-Middleweight in the world with the exception of Jones.
As with most lies, there is always a smidgen of truth. The one fighter that Jones should have fought and didn’t was Dariusz Michalczewski. When Jones abandoned the Super Middleweight division he moved up to 175 pounds and was matched against Mike McCallum for the interim WBC light heavyweight title that Frabrice Tiozzo had vacated.
During that same month in November of 1996, the WBA champ, Virgil Hill went over to Germany and partially unified the Light-Heavyweight title by defeating Henry Maske for the IBF belt. Both fighters had engaged in lengthy reigns (19 defenses between them) and the win established Hill as the division’s true champion. In his very next fight Hill fought Dariusz Michalczewski in another unification bout. Dariusz was the WBO champ and annexed the IBF and WBA titles with a dominant twelve round decision over Hill.
At the time the boxing scene was a little different and HBO and Showtime weren’t paying as much attention to the European fight scene and Dariusz never fought outside of Europe, which hurt his marketability in the states and made it difficult to make a fight with Jones economically feasible on the domestic front. And since Jones had never psychologically recovered from the thrashing he took from the international judges in the 1988 Olympics and refused to fight Dariusz in his adopted homeland of Germany, the fight never came off.
Regardless of the circumstances it’s an undeniable fact that Virgil Hill unified the Light-heavyweight title with a win over Henry Maske and then Dariusz Michalczewski defeated Hill for the linear 175 pound title. Jones did impressively knock Hill out with a body shot in his very next fight, but Hill had already lost his titles and the fight was made at a catch weight of 177-pounds.
Jones eventually earned the 175-pound IBF and WBA titles that were stripped from Michalczewski with wins over Lou Del Valle and Reggie Johnson. Even though Jones simultaneously held all three major titles and was technically the undisputed champion, he wasn’t the linear title holder and never made a concerted effort to get the linear title holder, Dariusz Michalczewski, in the ring. Virgil Hill fought both fighters and always felt that Michalczewski’s awkward style would give Roy problems. In actuality a prime Jones would have been at least a 4 to 1 favorite to beat Michalczewski, but from 1997 to 2002, Dariusz was at worst the second best 175 pounder in the world and had earned the opportunity to fight Jones.
Probably the only other time that you could say Jones ducked a fighter was in the spring of 2002. The previous year Bernard Hopkins had unified the Middleweight title with an impressive knock out of the then undefeated Felix Trinidad and both Hopkins and Jones defended their crowns on the same HBO telecast. Afterwards Larry Merchant tried to get the two to agree to fight each other, but Roy Jones insisted on a 60/40 split while Hopkins wanted parity. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Jones Ducked Hopkins because the very next year Roy moved up to challenge John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight title, which at the time was regarded as a much more dangerous fight. Still after all that Hopkins has accomplished a lot of insiders wonder if Jones had already recognized the extent of Hopkins’s greatness before he actually demonstrated it in the ring.
So please stop arbitrarily adding names to the list of all the fighters that Roy Jones ducked throughout his career because Dariusz Michalczewski is the only fighter that a prime Roy Jones definitely should have fought and didn’t.
Here is the link to an article I wrote about why Roy Jones should be ranked higher than Hopkins on an all time list. http://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=4591
I just recently got back from Costa Rica. I was there for the summer and had a chance to see Carl Davis Drummond fight. He’s an undefeated local heavyweight with a 26-0 record. He’s about 6’2 and a cut 220 and actually has some boxing ability and might be able to surprise a couple of guys in the top 15.
I recently read the book, The Magnificent Rube by Charles Samuels. The book was published in 1957 and is a biography of the successful boxing promoter, Tex Rickard, and was truly a joy to read. Not too many people have lived as interesting of a life as Rickard. As a young man he was a cowboy and a sheriff. Then he went up to the Yukon in Alaska as a gold speculator and ended up getting involved in the casino business which eventually lead him to Nevada. In boxing circles Tex is known for having promoted the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, boxing’s first million dollar gate as well as the Jack Johnson-James Jeffries fight.
Brent Matteo Alderson, a graduate of UCLA, has been part of the staff at BoxingScene.com since 2004. Alderson's published work has appeared in publications such as Ring Magazine, KO, World Boxing, Boxing 2006, and Latin Boxing Magazine. Alderson has also been featured on the ESPN Classic television program “Who’s Number One?” Please e-mail any comments to [email protected]