Roy Jones Slams Merchant, Who Shrugs It Off

BY Michael Woods ON October 28, 2008
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Counting down to the sternest test he’s taken on in three years, Roy Jones was in mostly upbeat form on a Wednesday afternoon conference call. He predicted that he’d beat Calzaghe, insisted that he wouldn’t bother giving Bernard Hopkins a rematch and, shades of George Bush during a 2004 press conference, said he could not/would not cite a single career regret.

But, in the course of the call, Jones also detoured into territory that could be construed as amusing to some, but slanderous to others. I began to ask Jones about some comments by HBO analyst Larry Merchant offered to TSS on Tuesday, and Jones didn’t wish to address Merchant’s take.

“He probably was drunk,” Jones answered. I protested that I was sober during the Q and A with Merchant, and I could safely attest to the fact that Merchant was sober when I spoke to him. He made quite a bit of sense, wasn’t slurring, and I’m comfortable in my judgment. But Jones persisted in the allegation--mock, or humorous though it was perhaps intended to be--and I switched gears, to another topic.

Jones, as many hardcore fight fans will remember, worked with Merchant on HBO’s boxing broadcasts. He took the analyst seat left vacant by George Foreman, who left the spot in January 2004. Jones was handed the position in March 2004, and worked until January 2006, when he was dismissed. Ross Greenburg, HBO sport president, said, “Roy wasn't able to give us the commitment we needed in terms of time, preparation and focus. He still thought of himself more as a fighter than as a broadcaster. He treated it as more of a hobby than a career. I thought I could get that commitment, but he wasn't ready.”

TSS put in a call to Merchant, asking for his response. He shrugged off the crack. Jones didn't mean it literally, he said, and fighters often do what they have to do in order to insulate themselves from a negative critique. Jones and he have always gotten along fine, Merchant said, so there is no simmering feud that has been ingited, or re-ignited. Years back, Jones was miffed when Merchant tapped Shane Mosley as the top pound for pounder in the game, over Jones, but by and large, the two have gotten along fine. Boxers have a difficult job, in Merchant's view, and are going to say some things to make that job easier. All in all, he didn't take the jab personally, he said.

Regarding the task at hand on Nov. 8, Jones (52-4, 38 KOs, one stoppage win in his last nine fights) was asked to provide a prediction. He declined to do so, but was then asked if he didn’t want to hand out a guess as to the ‘when’ and ‘how’ a win might happen, was he at least confident that he’d beat Calzaghe? “I will win it,” he said, firmly.

Jones has won all three of his bouts since he left the HBO talk squad, against Badi Ajamu, Anthony Hanshaw, and Tito Trinidad. TSS readers know that Merchant thinks that at 39, Roy’s best days are long past. Interestingly, RJJ chooses not to posture, and state that his skills haven’t diminished, or spin his aging by saying that he makes up for lost athleticism with brainpower. Asked to assess where he stands now versus his heyday, Jones said, “I don’t know. We’ll find out November 8.” The pundits, Jones said, can make that call.

Jones conceded that Calzaghe, at 45-0, is the best man he’s faced since James Toney (in 1994), with his own age factoring heavily into that designation. In fact, he seems to be lapping up the ‘Roy is past his prime’ talk, to an extent. On his underdog status, Jones said, “I love it, that’s what I want to be.” Perhaps he’ll channel that status, like Hopkins did, and perhaps that will propel him to be busier, and less inclined to try and steal rounds with occasional pockets of showy combos.

No, Jones didn’t get jazzed up by watching Hopkins fight like a 25 year old against Pavlik. Jones was present in Atlantic City, but he chooses not to go out of his way to laud Hopkins, give a fellow fighting sernior citizen some love. As of today, he says he won’t fight Hopkins again, and give the Philly hitter a chance to avenge the 1993 UD12 loss. “I already beat him,” Jones said. Besides, Jones offered, Hopkins doesn’t drive PPV buys like Jones does, as evidenced by the estimated 200,000 buys for the Pavlik-Hopkins scrap. (And anyone that thinks this isn’t posturing to make Hopkins beg, and keep this proposed rematch faceoff on fans and fightwriters “wanna see” list, just hasn’t followed the sport for that long.)

Speaking of showy combos, Jones isn’t all that impressed with Calzaghe’s punching power. “In pro boxing, ten pitty pats are equal to 1 (regular) punch,” he said. Will he have to be as busy as Calzaghe in MSG? “This is pro boxing, not amateur, so I don’t have to match Calzaghe’s output.”

Unless Calzaghe is suddenly chinnier than he has been, or Roy is able to catch him with the sort of shot that he hasn’t been able to muster in many moons, I can’t agree with Roy’s last declaration. Then again, that Hopkins outing has muddled the Jones/Calzaghe tussle for me. I’ve seen slippage in both men. Is one or the other more likely to turn back that clock, and fight like Hopkins did in AC? Like Merchant, I haven’t seen Roy do much more than potshot, and pick his spots, against boxers that have been skillfully selected to make Jones look his best. Calzaghe, with his busy hands, is no Hanshaw, is he? But maybe Roy’s legs will have more bounce in them than we’ve seen in years, I presume he knows he’ll need to use them more than he has in ages. Maybe, as if any of us need more proof in this year of upsets, we’ll just have to see how it plays out on Nov. 8.

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