By Cliff Rold (photo by Ed Mulholland/FightWireImages)
After his one-sided domination of World Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik on October 18th, there were vocal calls from around the Boxing world that former Middleweight king and current Light Heavyweight Bernard Hopkins had proven himself the best fighter of his generation. Before his ‘retirement’ earlier in 2008, there were still others declaring the same for Floyd Mayweather Jr. If he beats Oscar De La Hoya in December, Manny Pacquiao could well pull ahead of both Hopkins and Mayweather in terms of similar accolades. They may have been better in recent years, certainly in terms of just this decade to date, but…
To borrow a line from an otherwise awful song, y’all musta’ forgot.
This is and remains the Roy Jones Jr. generation. No, not at the box office; that realm belongs to Oscar De La Hoya. But, in the ring, Jones remains the standard of his times. Just as the Muhammad Ali era didn’t really end until he lost to Trevor Berbick, just as Ray Robinson’s story flowed all the way through a final loss to Joey Archer, Roy’s time remains until it doesn’t. The 39-year Jones (52-4, 38 KO) has a chance to remind the world of that this Saturday against 36-year old Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight titlist Joe Calzaghe (45-0, 32 KO).
Jones will enter the ring a solid underdog and that is as it should be. The best Roy Jones hasn’t been seen in the ring for years. His last great wins were five years ago, wresting the WBA Heavyweight title from John Ruiz and narrowly outpointing rival Antonio Tarver with a late, pure guts surge. His last complete performance came earlier than that when he razzled, dazzled and beat up the rugged Clinton Woods in September 2002.
While his fight with Calzaghe could turn out to be the year’s biggest Pay-Per-View event outside Pacquiao-De La Hoya, fans can be forgiven for feeling like Roy Jones is already a thing of the past. He looked like it in two further fights and losses, one on a single punch stoppage, against Tarver, being knocked out by Glen Johnson in between, and in ordinary wins against Badi Ajamu, Anthony Hanshaw and Felix Trinidad since.
In contrast, Calzaghe feels more current, at least for U.S. fans, with his biggest career wins and heaviest impact at the gate coming in the last three years. His Super Middleweight unification wins against undefeated Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler, and competitive decision win against Bernard Hopkins in April of this year, carry the urgency of now.
It’s not the reality of course. Calzaghe has been around for years and been good for all of them. His best wins are magnified because long time Calzaghe watchers can spot that he’s achieved them past his best. Calzaghe used to be even better than he is now.
When he was better, so was Roy.
They didn’t fight then.
It’s indicative of why the word ‘but’ remains so large in assessments of Jones. For instance, when names like Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran, and Harry Greb come into play, it’s ‘great fighter,’ period. For reasons both fair and unfair, twenty years into his career, Roy Jones remains with caveat. ‘Roy Jones was a great fighter, but…’
It’s a debate heard everywhere at some time or another whether it be on message boards, in gyms, along press row. There are those who see Roy as a modern heir to the greatest that ever lived, proclaiming him perhaps even the greatest athlete ever to lace gloves, a combination of speed, power, agility and intelligence rarely if ever seen. Others see him as an exceptional talent who fell short of the highest pantheon of immortals through a combination of hubris and risk aversion. There is seldom much in between but the ferocity and length of time the debate has existed serves as a powerful clue of the impact Roy has made in Boxing.
On the occasion of his latest, maybe last, great challenge the debates are worth revisiting. The easy start is the timing of Roy’s career. Roy’s resume is littered with some outstanding names, Hall of Famer Mike McCallum joined by certain future Hall of Famers Hopkins, James Toney and Virgil Hill at the top of the list.
There has always been an argument that he caught each on a perfect night. Hopkins was not yet fully developed. Toney showed up grossly out of shape. McCallum was well past him prime. Hill was coming off a lengthy layoff and bruising beating against Dariusz Michalczewski.
Hopkins, while not peak, was still good enough not to lose again from 1993 until 2005 and Jones hadn’t hit his prime yet either. While he may have been closer than Bernard, Hopkins was still quite good already in 1993. Toney, while out of shape, was often out of shape and only a couple months off of a spectacular win against Charles Williams. His bouts with the scale started as soon as he reached the big stage and continued for his entire career. Only Jones (and Dave Tiberi) ever so completely dominated Toney. McCallum, while past prime, was not shot. He’d lost his WBC Light Heavyweight belt to Fabrice Tiozzo on a debatable decision on foreign soil and followed the Roy loss with a final, very competitive bout with Toney. Hill? The body shot Roy Jones stopped Hill with in 1998 was so perfect that it doesn’t really matter when it landed.
His biggest wins always felt too widely spaced with lots of soft filling in between. He could have done better than what felt like too many lesser foes. His reluctance to grant Michael Nunn a WBC mandatory through Nunn’s two lengthy stays atop the WBC ratings always seemed odd. The request that the IBF force Tarver to fight an eliminator before a title shot the first time Tarver had hit their #1 spot, a fight Tarver lost to Eric Harding, seems both prescient in light of how their later rivalry went and humorous when recalling how adamantly he felt the WBC mandatory of Ricky Frazier be respected. And through over five years together as mutual titlists at 175, there was never a Jones-Michalczweski fight. Worst of all, many Roy supporters would merely write off the fights not happening with “Roy would win anyways.”
As fellow scribe Doug Fischer pointed out at Maxboxing this week, using last weekend’s Vic Darchinyan-Cristian Mijares bout as an example, “Most observers didn’t think Darchinyan had a chance in hell of beating him, so many would have given (Mijares) a pass if the Australia-based Armenian’s challenge was rejected by Mijares the way Roy Jones Jr. dismissed so many badasses in the 160-, 168- and 175-pound divisions during his athletic prime…Too many folks said “Well, he would have beat him had they fought” when guys like Gerald McClellan (at 160), Nigel Benn or Chris Eubank (at 168), and Dariusz Michalczewski (at 175) were brought up as opponents for Jones Jr. But the truth is we don’t know what will happen until those two fighters step into the ring.” To be rated with the Robinson’s and Greb’s, such questions have to be kept to a minimum.
While Roy could have pushed harder for harder fights while under contract to HBO, the contract came with problems which predated his time at the top. The bulk of the top guys at 160 and 168 while Roy was there were promoted by Don King and Frank Warren, both of who had lucrative deals with Showtime and that’s not even getting to the outright King-HBO blood feud in the 90s. Those fights were harder to make than just Roy saying yes, particularly when one assumes King would have wanted options for Roy to face titlists under his charge, and not all of the others wanted to fight Roy all that bad. For all his talent, Roy was never a huge attraction making a potential loss worth the risk and Roy wasn’t willing to travel to off shore spots where the fights would draw. To his credit, the top fighters not with those promoters and/or Showtime, Roy fought.
No matter the reasons, a lot of good fights didn’t happen and a lot of Vinny Pazienza and Glenn Kelly’s did.
At least in the case of Jones-Michalczewski, it can be chalked up to neither man wanting to risk solid economic ground on their home turf. It just wasn’t meant to be and debating whose fault it was is pointless. And while Jones didn’t fight Dariusz, he did fight plenty of quality Light Heavyweights. Lou Del Valle, Reggie Johnson, Woods, Montell Griffin along with others already mentioned might not be murderer’s row, but Roy’s competition at Light Heavyweight from 1996-2003 stacks up well with the Light Heavyweight opponents of Bob Foster and Foster is heralded as one of the absolute best ever at the weight. That’s all without Dariusz. It still doesn’t bode well in comparison to some other legends, but how could it? Those guys fought sometimes four and five times as many fights and made less, adjusted for inflation, with ten fights per years waged than Roy did with one.
Roy even fought civil service employees.
Enough already with this one. Police Officer Frazier is a gimme’ but some of those civil servants were guys like Tony Thornton, a capable fighter who no one batted an eye at when he received title shots against Eubank and Toney. The fact is lots of fighters have day jobs because few can afford not to, even in the ranks of contenders. Because he was Roy, he was held to a standard higher than all of his contemporaries.
He was Roy and, with exclusive guaranteed HBO contracts and star treatment, he should have been.
On and on it can go, easily devolving into a sort of schizophrenic circular logic. Arguing about Roy has almost become as much a part of viewing his career as, well, just viewing it. It remains ever in the eye of the beholder to find answers. As long as there is Boxing going forward, there will be folks who rate him among the all-time top ten and others who barely squeeze him into the top fifty. It says something positive that he was perceived to be so good once that with three losses in his last six fights, two by brutal knockout, there are still knowledgeable Boxing people who feel he’ll upset a fighter most have no lower than third best in the world right now across the weight spectrum.
It’s a symptom of why there really should be no buts about whose generation this has been. A win over Calzaghe, however improbable, would make a hell of a closing argument to clear it up even further.
We stay tuned.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more, and on the heels of a major fight at 115 lbs. it is to be expected from this corner:
Darchinyan-Mijares Coverage: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=16722
AND a Post-Fight Report Card: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=16726
AND Gary Shaw on Vic’s Future: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=16744
Joe Calzaghe’s Lasting Legacy: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=16775
October Reviewed: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=16739
T.V. Picks: https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=16756
On the YouTube beat, WBA Middleweight titlist Felix Sturm looked fantastic last weekend. Some would ask when he’ll step up his competition again but Sebastian Sylvester was no worse than the #3 contender to the World Middleweight champ Pavlik and Sylvester was as good as his rating. Sturm remains a legitimate threat to Pavlik or Arthur Abraham…A doubleheader featuring Vic Darchinyan-Fernando Montiel and Ulises Solis-Ivan Calderon would be outstanding. Just thinking out loud…So it’s looking more like Mosley-Margarito in January and, with Paul Williams probably a Welterweight no more, a Margarito win would give him full claim to the crown at 147…Wladimir Klitschko-Hasim Rahman? Seriously?...Finally, condolences to the family of Gary Smith back in Fresno, California. Gary died tragically on Tuesday in a car accident just hours before the historic triumph of Barack Obama, casting a pall on an otherwise amazing day. Gary and I attended high school and played Football together. He was both a solid lineman and the best gospel voice on campus, making him eligible to both save someone’s butt and their soul. At least, when he was singing, it seemed that way. Heaven’s choir just got a little bit better. Rest in peace to an old friend.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com