By Corey Erdman
Roy Jones Jr. has been a professional boxer for almost as long as I have been alive.
By the time I started covering boxing professionally, the boxer I had grown up watching, idolizing and imitating on the basement heavy bag was still fighting, gripping onto his last strands of relevance as a true contender. Which is to say that my entire career, I have been covering the Roy Jones Jr. retirement tour, writing and talking about fights that “could be his last.”
On February 8, Jones will have what he has sort of said will be his final fight, a cruiserweight bout against Scott Sigmon in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida. Both Jones and the Island Fight promotional team were sneakily vague in the early goings of the fight’s marketing, describing the bout as Jones’ “final fight in Pensacola,” which is drastically different from “final fight, in Pensacola.”
With the announcement that the bout will be streamed on UFC’s Fight Pass service, Jones was a little more deliberate in his wording.
“Ya’ll musta forgot I always said that my final fight would be in my hometown of Pensacola. I meant it then, and I mean it now. This is where it all began for me, this will be my 75th professional fight, and it will be my last one,” said Jones in a press release.
That release was sent on the very same day Jones told TMZ that he was campaigning for a bout against UFC legend Anderson Silva, had even lined up financial backers to put the fight on. It would seem then, that the UFC airing Jones-Sigmon is perhaps a first step in a business relationship and a sign of things to come, rather than a broadcast outlet airing a momentous bout.
Even without that anecdotal evidence, there is enough empirical evidence to suggest this isn’t actually it for Jones. In December, he was quoted as saying he’d be “throwing punches in his coffin,” and leading up to Miguel Cotto’s farewell fight, scoffed at the idea of what it’s being suggested he’s doing on February 8.
"I don't want no farewell video. When I'm in the coffin you can talk about my stuff. I don't want to go, I want to still be fighting and be in the coffin throwing punches at people. I don't want to go out like that [with a farewell event], that's their stuff, I don't do all that," Jones told BoxingScene at the time.
Two months prior to that, he was telling reporters he wanted a bout against then-WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew. Jones’ well-publicized desire to win a cruiserweight title has led to brutal knockout losses at the hands of Danny Green, Denis Lebedev and Enzo Maccarinelli, each more frightening than the last.
“If God truly wanted me to stop, all He’d have to do is have one doctor at the Mayo Clinic find something wrong with my brain. Just one little CAT scan showing any sign of trauma or damage and I’d be done. Am I slurring right now? I’m right where God wants me to be. To stop now would be to spite God with everything he gave me and everything he has planned, yet. That’s why I’m here…and nobody can tell me different," Jones told Bleacher Report’s Brin-Jonathan Butler in 2015.
Jones’ situation is unique in boxing history. There is indeed no shortage of fighters who have held on far too long, including some who are active today. It’s also true that many of the greatest fighters in history have sad final chapters—Muhammad Ali losing to Trevor Berbick at a poorly-organized event in the Bahamas, Sugar Ray Robinson taking part in a bout so pitiful that the referee left in the second round, a flabby and balding Joe Louis becoming a professional wrestler.
But of fighters considered to be all-time greats and prodigious talents, no fighter has continued to fought longer past not just his peak, but the ability to compete at the top level than Jones has. Robinson, for example, had a lot of fights in his twilight, but in terms of years, retired in 1965, five years after he nearly won the middleweight title from Paul Pender.
The last time anyone could have even optimistically considered Jones a fighter capable of either winning a world title or at least giving a world champion a run for his money was in 2009, when he defeated Jeff Lacy. Realistically, that time was probably around 2004.
Nobody has ever been able to truly explain why Jones continues to fight, and he’s never offered reasoning beyond suggestions of divine intervention. There have been whispers of money trouble, but there has never seemed to be concrete evidence of that. Jones isn’t a partier, and he still lives in Pensacola, a few blocks from where he grew up, and trains in his own gym rather than spending money on lavish international camps. Not to mention, he has a regular job—seemingly one he’ll hold for life—as a commentator on HBO broadcasts.
It would be easier to believe that Jones is quitting if his reasoning for fighting on all these years were more apparent. If, say, he had back taxes to pay off and his purse would help those go away, or if there were a specific number of fights he wanted to hit. As it stands though, all we know is that Jones wants to have a send-off fight in Pensacola—something as recently as a month ago he said he did not want.
I’ve never known a boxing world without Roy Jones Jr. as an active fighter, and I’m not sure I believe I’ll be in that world come February 9.