Once the most spectacular prizefighter on the planet, the gears have rusted slightly for Roy Jones Jr. who now fights for respectability not world titles.
How the mighty have fallen.
Jones meets Prince Badi Ajamu (25-2-1, 14 KOs) at Qwest Arena in Boise, Idaho for the NABO light heavyweight title on Saturday. The fight card is promoted by Sports and Entertainment and KO Promotions and will be shown live on pay-per-view.
Don’t expect Jones to flash the lightning speed of foot that dazzled the middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight divisions from 1988 to 2002. It was during the fight against John Ruiz for the heavyweight title (that Jones won in 2003) when the speed of light leg movement became visibly slower.
But ask Jones if he lost any mobility or speed from his peak years before 2002 and he doesn’t speak directly.
“I can’t even talk about that now,” said Jones (49-4, 38 KOs) by telephone. “I just got to make sure I got my head on straight and make sure you see the Roy Jones Jr. of old.”
Who can forget the nearly impossible moves displayed by the pride of the South?
Remember the right hand Jones delivered to Julio Gonzalez from 10 feet away?
The punch was delivered with such speed many gasped in disbelief at what they saw.
Jones was one of the most athletically gifted athletes to ever grace a boxing ring.
Now, the athleticism has ebbed from his legs like a slow-moving glacier; steady and unstoppable.
“Roy Jones Jr. doesn’t have any legs any more,” said Floyd Mayweather Jr. while having lunch at a Universal Studios restaurant last spring. “Without his legs he ain’t Roy Jones Jr.”
Once considered the best boxer in the world pound-for-pound, Jones, 37, has been relegated to proving he still has enough skill to merit a fight card on the major cable television giants HBO and Showtime.
HBO would not approve a fight with Jones against Bernard Hopkins who eventually dismantled Antonio Tarver last month.
It was Tarver who noticed a flaw in Jones movements and called out the four-division world champion immediately after capturing the heavyweight title against Ruiz. Though he lost the first match by a slim margin, Tarver knocked out Jones in the rematch and sent the Floridian into a downward spiral.
Now Jones, who hasn’t won in three years, faces a hungry boxer in Ajamu.
“I never thought the great one would place me in front of this man,” said Ajamu humbly about his match with Jones. “It feels great.”
Ajamu, 34, and trained by Buddy McGirt, who orchestrated two victories with Tarver over Jones, finds himself meeting an idol. It might be the break Jones needs.
Jones still has a burning desire to prove his legs have spring in them. The hand speed is still there but the ability to dance out of danger after delivering a lightning combination no longer responds. The Pensacola flash wants one more chance to prove he’s got it.
“Anyone who knows life knows you go through ups and downs,” says Jones in speedy delivery. “I’m anxious to perform again and do what I do.”
He also said that before facing Tarver for the third time in decisive defeat and looked like he was carried the last two rounds by his fellow Floridian.
“If I’m washed up it’s my problem and my problem only,” Jones said.
Based on his performances against Glen Johnson and Tarver, television cable giants Showtime and HBO refused to sign Jones and other fighters his company suggested. It was feared that the former 1988 Olympian would be hurt in front of a massive audience or that people would not buy a pay-per-view featuring him.
But Jones has star power. Big star power. On a daily basis people ask when Jones will be fighting again. His athletic talent was so great that few believe the flame has been extinguished from the candle.
Perhaps it’s the memories of seeing Jones meet James “Lights Out” Toney and winning by a wide margin according to the judges. That was not Toney’s best day, since he was forced to lose weight and contracted a flu virus days earlier, but nonetheless, had Toney been at his best it may not have been enough in 1994.
That Jones had quickness of feet that far superseded almost any boxer at the time including Pernell Whitaker, Terry Norris or Oscar De La Hoya. Maybe only Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, a flyweight had quicker feet.
Don’t forget it was Jones who beat Bernard Hopkins who went on to remain unbeaten for 12 more years. That day he fought another future Hall of Famer but showed his athletic quickness and fast hands could bewilder the tough Philly fighter for the early portion of the fight. Then Hopkins began to mount a counterattack using his head and longer reach. Jones held off the challenge.
That was the last stiff test for Jones. It would be another four years until he met the perplexing Montell Griffin in Atlantic City, New Jersey in March 1997. That day Griffin used his awkward style to win early rounds while puzzling Jones in the process. But suddenly, Jones attacked and dropped Griffin in the ninth round. But he fired one punch too many including a blow while his opponent was down. Jones was disqualified and suffered his first career loss.
A few months later, on August 1997, the fight moved to Ledyard, Conn. but fans saw Jones blitz Griffin and clobber him in 2:32 of the first round. Revenge was his.
The light heavyweight division saw Jones dominate like no other since the days of Archie Moore. A dozen ranked prizefighters met the storm known as Jones and were bewildered and humiliated by the zephyr of a fighter. From 1998 to 2003 he dominated the division and gained a legion of fans worldwide. Jones fans are infamous for their devotion to the Florida boxer with the incredible quickness.
Then came the WBA heavyweight challenge against titleholder John Ruiz.
Jones, at 5-11, worried about facing a big 6-2 tall Ruiz who averaged 220 pounds and had once dropped the iron-chinned Evander Holyfield in one of their bouts. He feared that big right hand of Ruiz.
Not wanting to give too much of a weight advantage to the Puerto Rican boxer, Jones began to scientifically put on weight as muscle. For months he worked his body from head to toe. When he finally emerged in the ring inside Thomas and Mack Center, the arena was filled with Hollywood celebrities, fellow champions and retired boxers like Felix Trinidad. But Jones looked different.
Once the fight began it was clear that Jones lacked the spring of his prior fights. Though he had a distinct speed advantage, his legs kind of shook when he made quick movements.
That day Jones beat Ruiz by moving and hitting and proving he could use quickness to beguile his opponent. But the legs were gone.
Later, after beating Ruiz, Tarver interrupted Jones’s post fight party with blistering words. Jones fumed and accepted a fight. When he arrived on November 2003, what fans saw was just a semblance of the lightning in the bottle that was Jones. The legs were dead. He won the fight with heart and determination that night. But experts saw the weaknesses. The next year that weakness was exploited by a single Tarver left hand. After that, Johnson showed that Jones was human after all and knocked him out too.
But Jones has pride enough to fill the entire Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. He doesn’t want to quit on a losing note. He believes he still has the talent to return to his former stature.
“Just the allure of not being in the ring is enough for me,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here, happy to be fighting a guy like Prince Badi.”
It’s the same old Jones.
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