Heart Was Willing, Body Not Able
NEW YORK – Maybe Roy Jones Jr. could do it. Maybe he had it inside him to defy Father Time. Defy the odds against him. Defy a raucous Madison Square Garden crowd wholly against him from the moment he entered the area at 9:30 p.m. EST.
Maybe Jones wasn’t the electric showstopper he was 10-20 years ago, but he was a winner of his last three fights, most recently a unanimous decision over fellow legend Felix Trinidad. But the recent run of success has its caveats: He’s 39 years old and Trinidad is finished. And for the first minute against Joe Calzaghe, his last shot at old glory, Jones was tentative and caught in a corner by a barrage of punches.
Then it happened. Jones slipped in a left jab to Calzaghe’s nose and a right hook, his forearm catching his opponent’s jaw and dropping him to the canvas. That blinding hand speed was still there. Maybe Jones had it in him to paint by numbers and outpoint his opponent one last time.
Beginning with the next round, and every round after in a fight only a Seoul-type screw job could rob Calzaghe of a unanimous decision win, a defiant Jones was learning no one puts one past Father Time. Ten years ago Jones would have wiped out his opponent. Instead, a graybeard in boxing’s world was outhit and outclassed, beaten at what was once his own game. All three judges, and this TheSweetScience.com writer, scored the bout 118-109.
Calzaghe, who like in his prior marquee fight against Hopkins, was floored in the first before rallying to win the decision. But unlike Hopkins, there was no debating Calzaghe against Jones. According to CompuBox, Calzaghe threw a ridiculous 985 punches and landed 344 to only 475 thrown for Jones. The number landed by Calzaghe was the most by a Jones opponent in 31 fights tracked by the scoring system.
"Those pitty pat punches he throws were a little harder than I thought,” Jones said. “I couldn't see out of my left eye.”
The heart may have been willing, but Jones’ body refused to keep pace or let him further speak his peace. A Calzaghe left hand in the seventh opened a cut above that eye, put him into a shell the rest of the fight and kept him from meeting the media in the post fight press conference. Even before the decisive blow, every time Jones actually snuck in jab, Calzaghe gave him a look that read, “You’re kidding, right?” Each time Calzaghe’s glove met Jones’ face, the rhetorical question took a completely different context.
“I felt stronger,” said Calzaghe at the post-fight press conference, comparing himself to the Hopkins fight. “I knew I had to make Roy Jones respect my punches. I felt I did. I think I stunned him on a few occasions.”
By the start of ninth, the fight doctor studied Jones’ eye more closely and tested his sight by moving his finger before the 11th. By that time, Jones’ tank was empty. Calzaghe stood with hands extended and played up to much of a partisan crowd that flew in from Wales and serenaded him with calls of “SU-PER JOE CAL-ZAGHE” to the tune of “Skip to My Lou.”
Calzaghe resorted to hop-stepping at the final minute of the final round, knowing he had the fight won. It could have been over sooner, but Calzaghe, who a week after announcing he’d retire but since changed that stance into one of uncertainty, refused to fall into a trap. He may have been fighting a shell of Roy Jones Jr., but it was a shell of a former world champion in four different weight classes.
“I was having fun,” Calzaghe said. “I was enjoying the fight. I didn’t feel I needed to go for the knockout. I didn’t want to make a stupid mistake and get caught.”
It was long ago that Jones’ star dimmed into just another in the constellations. On this night he was a 39 year old hanging on for one more payday. Money would be earned – and so would depression, like Muhammad Ali against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick. Like Sugar Ray Leonard’s sad display in a one-sided loss to Terry Norris in the same building. Jones was slapped around and could do nothing about it.
“I don’t know what's next for me,” Jones said. “I worked so hard for this fight. I just don’t know. I couldn't figure him out.”
Here’s some free advice: Retire. Six years after he was knocked down twice by Norris and called it quits for a second time, Leonard’s stubborn streak hit its nadir when he agreed to fight Hector Camacho. He was humiliated in five rounds, finally ended his career and is lucky to have his eyesight intact.
Jones’ journey from the 19-year-old phenom robbed at the Seoul Olympics is done. On a night worlds collided, he reached another crossroads. No maybes here. It’s about time Jones drives into the sunset.