By Andreas Hale
Roy Jones Jr put a cap on his 29 year professional career with a dominant 10-round unanimous decision against Scott Sigmon in what he says was his farewell fight. It wasn’t necessarily the Roy Jones that dominated the 90s, but it was remnants of that legendary fighter that came out to play in his 75th professional fight.
Now that his career is over, it’s time to have a very real discussion about where Jones lands on the list of greatest boxers of all time.
“I understand there’s a lot of great fighters who’ve followed me already since I was the champ - and I hope there’s another who comes along does even better because want to see that - but I haven’t seen anyone do what I did yet. I haven’t seen anyone turn pro at 154lbs and win the heavyweight championship of the world,” Jones said during a recent media workout. "So, pound-for-pound the greatest of all time? It isn’t hard to figure out, Roy Jones Junior is your king of the hill.”
Many may scoff at the notion of Jones being the G.O.A.T. considering that the second half of his professional career was mediocre at best. But how do we judge greatness? Do we judge a fighter over the entirety of their career or do we take snapshots of their prime years and use that to gauge where they rank among the greats.
For instance, many people believe that either Jim Brown or Barry Sanders is the greatest running back of all-time. However, both careers were relatively short. But because both running backs retired while still on the top of their game, they are recognized as the greatest. But then there are running backs like LaDanian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk who may have been better during their peak years than both Sanders and Brown. However, they were unable to sustain that kind of production throughout the entirety of their career. Obviously, it’s quite different factors that come into play for a team sport versus an individual sport, but you can get the gist of the comparisons.
Let’s just say that Roy Jones Jr. retired from boxing after capturing the heavyweight title against John Ruiz in 2003. He would have left the sport with a 48-1 record, with his only loss being by disqualification to Montell Griffin (a loss he would savagely avenge with a first round knockout five months later). Would those accolades place him on top of boxing’s fictional pound for pound mountain? Probably not because the level of opposition Jones faced didn’t quite rival what Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran, Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Leonard faced. Even Floyd Mayweather, for all the criticism that he’s received over the years, has had a more complete career. But when you look at the top 20 lists published by many respectable media outlets, Jones name is often left off.
A 2012 list published by Bleacher Report had Jones ranked 39th — one spot ahead of Tommy Hearns but 12 spots behind Bernard Hopkins. ESPN’s list, published in 2006 after Jones suffered three straight losses, had Jones ranked 46 — one spot ahead of Hopkins but seven spots behind Oscar De La Hoya. The Sportster’s list, published in 2015, doesn’t have Jones ranked in the top 25, but Joe Calzaghe sits at 24. Evidently, as time went on and Jones continued in relative mediocrity, his place among the greats slipped. It’s partially because what we remember last is how we quantify a ranking while the other part simply has to do with not knowing when to throw in the towel. It certainly hurts his cause when he goes from pound for pound king to suffering brutal knockout after brutal knockout. And his final act where he faced substantially lesser opposition did nothing to help his cause.
But who is to tell Jones that his career is over. He clearly knows that he’s no longer in his prime, but he truly enjoys boxing and continued his career just weeks short of his 50th birthday. Unfortunately, he’s been penalized for doing what he loves and not leaving when we wanted him to.
"I’m not sad to get older, we all get old. I had a great prime. I was good in my prime, y’know? I wasn’t surprised that I was getting old, and that my abilities were getting more limited. Everybody knows everybody gets old, but I think some guys really don’t think their body will get old,” Jones said. “There are things I wanted to accomplish that I knew were no longer within my reach. I love boxing, even out of my prime I love boxing like I did when I was champ. But you can’t go on forever no matter how much you love it. It’s time, I’m ready to say goodbye.”
How do we quantify Jones at his peak? He was the Boxing Writers Association of America’s Fighter of the Decade for the 1990s and was a seemingly invincible. During his era of dominance, how many fighters from any era displayed that kind of athleticism and supremacy? If we go by the pound for pound rules, who was better than Roy Jones Jr. when he was at his best. Who can forget his fourth round against Vinny Pazienza when he became the first fighter in CompuBox history to go an entire round without being hit by his opponent? Or what about the time he became the first athlete to compete in two paid sports in the same day when he played a basketball game in the morning and knocked out Eric Lucas in the 11th round to defend his IBF super middleweight title in the evening?
He turned in dominant performances against Bernard Hopkins and James Toney and was arguably the most exciting fighter on the planet during his torrid run in the 90s. That has to count for something, right?
Imagine if social media existed when Jones was at his peak. If you plug “Greatest Boxing Highlights” into the YouTube search engine, you’ll find a Roy Jones video with 13 million views. Not bad for a fighter who was at his peak before YouTube existed.
Perhaps we’ve been too hard on Roy Jones Jr. for continuing his career and putting a tarnish on his once nearly bulletproof legacy. But now that he’s (allegedly) gone, how will you remember him?