What made Roy Jones Jr. great in a boxing ring was his ability to instantaneously make happen what ever was required. Yes, the word ‘instantaneously’ has the connotation of speed, Jones’ asset par excellence; in fistic terms it also implies absolute certainty of purpose. We all understand, however, no one remains certain about anything all the time and that speed is a finite and very often relative term. And yet Roy Jones, at the peek of his prime ability in the mid- and late-1990s made his applications of speed and expressions of certitude appear as if without condition, almost limitless, the man, his physical presence and the kinetic displays of his fistic prowess qualities strangely futuristic in their very being and doing.
Now boxing fans – Roy Jones Jr. fans – accept a relegation to sympathetic onlookers, emotions held in check, paying a suggested $29.95 (price might vary) as Roy Jones fights Camden, New Jersey’s “Prince” Badi Ajamu in Boise, Idaho, the Pensacola phantom’s Radio City Music Hall theatrics and a pound-for-pound HBO endorsed superstardom dimming reference points as Jones’ greatness recedes into constellating memory.
We can look on for signs of his full bore speed dynamics, the accelerations allowing him to hold his hands behind his back, along the ropes, a nanosecond invitation to Glen Kelly to attack, before blindsiding the Aussie with a vaporizing left hook that must have seemed to just materialize, exploding on contact. The pragmatists among us will be satisfied to see the raw courage to reorganized and reinvest in fighting off danger, as in his last four rounds of fight-back against Antonio Tarver in November, 1993. That effort securing the last successful title defense he made, though the three judges at ringside seemed to see three different fights. Provoked by the suggestion of vulnerability and humiliated for having lost a fight – by disqualification at the moment of a knockout win against Montell Griffin – Jones’ volleys in their August 1997 rematch simply electrocuted the new champion; it was as if Jones wanted to make a statement about the wrath of an angry deity and the presumptions of mere mortals to the delight of the crowd at the Foxwoods Resort.
Playing semi-professional b-ball for the Jacksonville Barracudas in the 1990s or now with the Brevard County Blue Ducks, Jones does his cardio training running for position, rotating beyond the top of the key. Roy Jones moves to the music of his soul be it fighting cocks, fishing with his twin boys, taking long walks in Florida dusk, hooking up new recording “artists” for his Body Head Entertainment – the apple of his corporate eye – or advocating for fighters’ rights before Congress.
The simple view of Roy Jones, four division boxing champion and consensus fighter of the decade during the 1990s, would be that he’s in total denial. Having been mugged and knocked out in his last two championship fights and riding a three fight losing streak, should be a clear enough signal that he’s simply not R.J. any longer, no longer the invincible, indomitable wonder-man of his media preaching prime. The signs have been clear, since at least 2002, that Roy Jones doesn’t even get a thrill out of preparing and fronting for championship belts any longer. To merely talk about boxing, fielding the routine questions of questing and besting became publicly tedious. All the logistics and sacrifices needed to get fit to enter the ring must be described and confessed upon, for the consuming interest of those paying to sustain boxing as an entertainment spectacle. But for Jones, trapped on the inside enduring the ritual of exposure as presence, the feedback looping recitation of being Roy Jones was drowning out his spontaneous joys and restless curiosity for everything beyond boxing.
Yet he was constantly advised to stay on the script of ‘Jones the immortal, Jones the committed champion’ and thus his own P.R. diatribes drove him from distraction to revulsion. For the last four years of his career, Roy Jones has secretly longed to talk about most things except boxing, hoping to show up and perform without being asked to emote upon the predictable outcome. And then came the defeats, his athleticism vanishing and the ironies essentially piled up around him as his unassailable public ego was frontally assaulted by humiliations.
Athletic greatness seldom fades until considered in retrospective adoration.
“Everyone loses… all the greatest teams have their days of glory and then they fall… why should Roy Jones be any different?” The self-styled question formulated a thesis of admission which helped shatter whatever remained of the notion of Jones the untouchable. The pirated video evidence of Antonio Tarver’s second round straight left hand that downed the legend of Roy Jones Jr. was played continuously over the internet on multiple temporary sites for days after their May 2005 anti-classic at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. It was as if the unthinkable had materialized in real time and only by saturating one’s self with the aid of virtual platforming could the essential message of the ‘event’ be fully comprehended. Only continuous display of repetitive exposure could fully engrain the result as actual/historical. Roy Jones had been knocked out. Time had indeed moved on; his aura and defenses had been sheared.
* * *
The time it took Roy Jones to move from budding superstar to undefeated championship marvel had, in an earlier time, also shocked sensibilities. Roy Jones appeared almost fully developed as a professional, as the 1990s arrived. We sports fans, who to a person love exceptionalism, project talent into the prism of expectation and hyperbole from the instant we sense the unordinary, the marvelous. For those who missed the virtuoso waxing of Ricky Stackhouse inside of a minute in January of 1991, the trumpeting slaughter of career spoiler Jorge Vaca inside of two minutes, a year later at the Paramount Theatre in New York City, confirmed that sightings of Roy Jones Jr., the latest super-man to inhabit the role of robed wonder, were as real as our attempts at mythologizing tend to get.
When Roy Jones neededto maximize distance and his non-rhythmic form of flash counter measuring – punching out patterns from obtuse angles – to deflect and distance himself from the up and coming Bernard Hopkins, Jones simply enacted the solutions, inch by inch, one upping the flicked switch of Hopkins’ voracious desire to be IBF middleweight champion. Jones topped the 22 and 1 Hopkins May 22, 1993 by immaculate calculations of free forming hitting zones. In most of his signature fights he simply dispensed with the orthodoxy of utilizing the left lead to set up power hitting. Instead, Jones just loaded up on triple left hooks or repeating right hook counters from outside positions, as he tore into the middle distance of a fighters’ power range and out again. If he needed hooks to the liver or ribs against the rangy light-heavyweight bull Merqui Sosa or the implacable Mike McCallum, he simply let fly, landing with chalkboard impunity. The sheer power deliveries on a stoic champion of the caliber of a Virgil Hill were hard to criticize, rationalize away.
And now we see Roy Jones looking for places to land a snapping jab or find a right hand to the head that might steal him a contentious round. Mostly he hangs around the ropes until he appears to be resting on them, as the dread comes over the compassionate fan that he may well be hanging off of the ropes, gulping air, searching beyond the lactic acids buildups to find muscular moments to counter, to hit any flesh he can. All the reflexive rifling of the opponents has abated; we see the straining effort to remain competitive, to try to stay strong when confronted with prowess driven by engaging force. When we see Roy Jones Jr. fights now, he actually battles, having to truly be brave, trying to survive, the intuitive performance having been drained from the performer. In 2006, Roy Jones Jr. fights for his right to win, with the outcome problematic each and every time he takes to the ring.
Old masters of boxing don’t paint epic scenes they become part of the canvas.
No wonder the great Roy Jones doesn’t look straight through the lens at us any longer, shouting his name, fired up with the bravado of his eloquent showmanship. He knows the truth of things and what waits for all those that defy expectation over time. Time wins.
(Patrick Kehoe may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)