Tampa – When appraising a champion boxer’s place in history you need to judge his accomplishments in the context of the era in which he fought as well those great champs who came before him. Unfortunately, today’s culture demands that great contemporary athletes automatically be placed into the pantheon of all-time greats.
Such is the case with Roy Jones, who we can now and forever refer to as a “former” four-division champ. As game as he was in his unanimous decision loss to light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver Saturday night, Jones’ performance dictates that he is not, and never again will be the best fighter at 175lbs. – or any other weight.
Enshrinement in Canastota is a given and is well deserved. But there are different levels of Hall of Fame status and it needs to be said: Roy Jones is not an all-time great. Period. His accomplishments in the ring easily fill a Hall of Fame plaque. But keep in mind, he fought in an era of fragmented titles and twice as many weight divisions. And, just as importantly, there are far few boxers today than there were 50 years ago.
Generation X-ers, most of whom believe that boxing started with Mike Tyson and baseball with Barry Bonds, as well as the ranting idiots who need to fill time at any one of the half-dozen ESPNs or hundreds of sports talk radio shows, bestow “all-time great” status upon some of today’s top athletes, but lack the knowledge of the accomplishments of the truly great champions in history. They don’t seem to care either.
Saturday’s outcome didn’t alter my opinion of Jones at all. Sure he won world titles in three weight divisions, but his blinding speed, as we now know, camouflaged a weak chin. Nevertheless, he was the best fighter of his era, but he’s not an all-time great. In the late-90s momentum was building among the under-30 crowd that Jones was not only the best light heavyweight in history, but also the best ever.
Sugar Ray who they asked? Aren’t all his fights on black-and-white film? For those who need to be reminded, in 1951 boxing writers voted Robinson the best fighter of the first half of the 20th century. Forty years later Hall of Fame trainers Ray Arcel and Eddie Futch, who were both involved in boxing before Robinson turned pro, still agreed with that opinion. And keep in mind in 1950 Robinson was just beginning the phase of his career, which was to last 10 years, as a top echelon middleweight.
I made the case in several mediums at the time, but it deserves to be stated again: Jones not only is not one of the best champions ever, he wasn’t even one of the best light heavyweights! Gene Tunney was recognized as the top 175-pounder of his day before moving up in weight and defeating heavyweight Jack Dempsey. I believe we can safely state that no even Norman Stone would argue that Dempsey was many levels above Johnny Ruiz.
Futch considered Billy Conn one of the best pure boxers he’d ever seen. Does anyone seriously think that, given Jones’ aversion for slugging it out, he would have done as well against Joe Louis as Conn did?
Although heavyweight champ Ezzard Charles didn’t win a light heavyweight championship, it was only because titles were frozen during WWII, the prime years of his career. Serious historians place Charles among the elite of boxing’s 175-pounders.
Archie Moore was a champion in his forties and, due to the fact that he had a great chin and you-know-who doesn’t, was able to stand atop the division in the 1950s. Moore also gave Rocky Marciano a brief scare.
Bob Foster, standing 6-3, had a mean jab and one-punch knockout capability as his challengers can attest. His toughest fights during his reign as light heavyweight were opponents named Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali.
Virgil Hill was a good fighter in the late-80s and early-90s. He made 20 defenses of the WBA light heavyweight crown over two unspectacular reigns. He even added the IBF diadem and later a cruiserweight title. Yet, not even the citizens of Hill’s hometown of Bismarck, North Dakota, would dare to elevate him to the status of “all-time great.”
Jones unwittingly made my case in his remarks after the Saturday’s fight. He stated that he wished he had fought Tarver and Glen Johnson earlier his career. He was alluding to the often-heard complaint from boxing aficionados that challengers to his thrones at middleweight, super middle and light heavyweight provided very few compelling moments.
But what’s hanging out there is the obvious: given what we now know about Jones’ lack of a world-class chin, Tarver and Glen Johnson, who are both the same age as Jones (36), could have knocked him out a few years ago.
Now, with three consecutive one-sided losses on his ledger, only the most blinded of Jones’ hagiographers could still cling to the notion of all-time great status. Hopefully, he decides to retire. He’s got his millions, and, thankfully, his health. He’s got nothing left to prove. Yes, Roy Jones was among the top fighters of his age, but Tarver and Johnson have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he certainly was not a champion for the ages.