By Andreas Hale
It’s hard to believe that a 48-year-old Roy Jones Jr. is still boxing.
The man who was once considered one of the greatest talents we have ever seen in the squared circle is 13 years removed from his glory days. Yet, here he is, in all of his mediocrity, boxing against relatively unknown opponents for little money and gaining very little in the public eye. If you split Jones’ career in half, you’d have two very different stories.
From 1989 to 2003, Jones was routinely recognized as one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves. A former four-weight world champion who became the only junior middleweight to claim the heavyweight title, Jones amassed a record of 49-1 with his lone loss a disqualification to Montell Griffin in a fight he was winning handily. As for his second half, Jones has gone a meandering 15-8 with five of those losses coming by way of knockout.
Had Jones retired after his majority decision against Antonio Tarver in 2003, the conversation about where he would rank among the all-time greats would be warranted. But now, unfortunately, Jones isn’t seeing his name tossed around in these discussions anymore. Which leads to the question of whether a boxer – in this case, Roy Jones – should be penalized for fighting too long. Or, is it fair to assess a boxer’s best years when it comes to their greatness.
It’s a complicated matter considering that pound for pound and greatest of all-time lists are extraordinarily subjective. But they exist and simply cannot be avoided.
It’s increasingly difficult to separate Jones’ two halves of his boxing career. It’s rare for any fighter to leave the sport on top and it would have been totally forgivable if Jones decided to call it a career after he had lost to Antonio Tarver in their third encounter. But then Jones didn’t stop. He kept fighting and was on the wrong side of some spectacular knockouts. Those of us who had watched the BWAA’s Fighter of the Decade for the 1990s compete were aware of his supreme athletic ability in the ring. But the new generation of fight fans only knows Roy Jones as the old guy who does HBO commentary and occasionally gets knocked out. For them, there is no way that Jones should be in anybody’s conversation as one of the greatest boxers of all-time.
But he certainly had a case before his shocking second round knockout to Antonio Tarver in their 2004 rematch. Granted, there will always be a number of detractors who say that the level of competition that Jones faced was subpar. However, there is no denying the physical gifts that Jones relied upon as he tormented his opponents night in and night out. From his sensational obliteration of Montell Griffin to his fourth round against Vinnie Pazienza where he went the entire round without being hit, Jones’ talent was otherworldly. But because he relied so heavily on his athleticism and reflexes, the day he became a fraction of a second slower was also the day he became a mere mortal in the wonderful world of boxing.
His refusal to retire continues to damage his standing simply because the narrative is no longer a footnote and now extending beyond a chapter. At this point, his fall has become almost as significant as his rise.
Most fighters end their career on a sour note. But that note is relatively short when compared to the duration of their greatness. Everyone saw the deterioration of Muhammad Ali’s in-ring ability, but it wasn’t this slow burn of a demise that never felt like it was going to end. The same can be said for most world-class fighters. When they begin to slip, they decide to bow out.
But not Roy Jones.
In the spirit of competition, Jones cannot let go and has allowed his second act to become nearly as significant as his first. His second act certainly won’t prevent him from entering the Hall of Fame as his accolades are something that cannot be taken away from him. But as far as how he’ll be remembered goes, everything post 2004 will need to be set on fire and destroyed beyond recognition for people to forget.
Who are we to tell Jones when to retire? As long as the man still feels like he can fight, why shouldn’t he? Although most of us would like to see Jones retire before he is badly damaged, it really is Jones’ career. He may not be what he once was, but his competitive spirit is what will keep him going. We may not like it, but what can we do?
Should Roy Jones’ career be penalized for his second half? Absolutely. But only because this has become a lengthy demise for the former champion. By comparison, Bernard Hopkins, who lost to Jones in 1993, managed to have a stellar career through his 40s. Obviously, Hopkins is an outlier. But a boxer’s career has to be taken in its totality and not in fragments. If that were the case, we’d see a lot more fighters who had brilliant moments, but not exceptional careers, enter the fray as the greatest of all-time.
But the best part is that Jones really cannot do any further damage to his career at this point. So he may as well keep fighting until he cannot do it anymore.