From 1988 to 2003, Roy Jones Jr. proved he was head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.

Well, not quite.

Jones was head, shoulders and legs above the rest of the competition with an emphasis on agility that bordered on superhuman and left him unbeatable against the likes of Bernard Hopkins, James Toney and Mike McCallum.

But then came the 2004 crash equal to anything that Wall Street could provide.

Now, Jones is trying to prove that his head and shoulders plus blazing hand speed are still enough to offset the fighting machine that is Joe “The Pride of Wales” Calzaghe (45-0, 32 KOs) on Saturday, Nov. 1, at Madison Square Garden. HBO pay-per-view will televise the clash.

Jones is trying to rekindle the magic before the crash from Antonio Tarver’s fists and enters the boxing ring as the underdog for one of the few times in his career.

“That’s exactly where I want to be,” said Jones (52-4, 38 KOs) about being cast as the underdog despite capturing world titles in the middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions.

The Pensacola fighter has that seven-year itch for Calzaghe. In that time span both fighters tried their best to match skills and wills with each other to decide the best fighter of their generation.

Jones, 39, seldom fights and though he convincingly manhandled Puerto Rico’s Felix Trinidad including knockdowns, he could never apply the coup de grace.

One more thing:

Trinidad is no Calzaghe.

Never lost

The Welshman has never lost a fight in his entire professional career and he’s battled with numerous American fighters not named Jones. The closest Calzaghe came to losing in his entire career came this past April in Las Vegas when Philadelphia’s Bernard Hopkins knocked him down but ran out of gas at the end. Only then was Calzaghe able to rally for a split-decision victory.

Regardless, this fight has been on Calzaghe’s wish list ever since he dominated the super middleweight division from 1997 to 2007. He abdicated his boxing throne after cleansing the division of any real threats.

Retirement is firmly entrenched on his mind and he wants to end his boxing career with the biggest scalp he can find and that’s where Jones comes in.

“I just want to win this fight,” said Calzaghe, 36, who defended his super middleweight title 21 times before moving up in weight to face Ring light heavyweight champion Hopkins. “I’ve been boxing for 25 years and I don’t want to fight any more…I don’t have anything more to achieve.”

Only a few world champions have ever retired never having lost a fight and those can be counted on one hand: Rocky Marciano and Mexico’s Ricardo “Finito” Lopez are two.

“To be undefeated after 46 fights would be amazing,” said Calzaghe during a conference call. “I fought the best fighters I was able to fight.”

This fight could and should have happened many years ago, but the Welshman’s former promoter kept blocking efforts with demands that the American was unwilling to accept.

“Immediately after Frank Warren’s (Calzaghe’s former promoter) contract was over I got the contract with Joe Calzaghe,” said Jones.

But maybe the timing just wasn’t right?

Not until Calzaghe dominated America’s Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy did boxing fans outside of Great Britain or Europe take the Welshman seriously. That one-sided win over the muscular fighter cemented him as one of the elite prizefighters to watch.  He followed that win with more lopsided victories against Sakio Bika, Peter Manfredo Jr. and Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler.

Doubts about Calzaghe are almost completely gone.

Jones calls Calzaghe the most skilled opponent he’s ever faced since stepping in the ring against James “Lights Out” Toney in 1994. Jones won easily then, but that was 14 years ago when the Floridian was basically fighting at supersonic leg speed.

Jones no longer flies. He’s grounded for good like a chicken with wings but unable to fly. Ever since he moved up to heavyweight, bulked up with muscle and then tried to return to 175 pounds against Tarver in 2004 the Pensacola flyer is now a low level shadow of his former self when he could spring across the ring, smack an opponent 10 times, wink to the crowd and look good doing it.

“He’s got a tremendous chance,” said Calzaghe, who despite British humility perceives himself as the best fighter in the world. “I have to make sure I’m in great form.”

Though Jones was knocked out against both Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson in 2004, he’s rebounded with solid victories against Prince Badi Ajamu in 2006, Anthony Hanshaw in 2007, and Trinidad last January.

Audiences that tune into the fight think Jones will fly again.

“He likes to be a showman, he likes to fight, he likes to dazzle,” said Calzaghe, who has been studying tapes of Jones in preparation for their showdown. “I’ll be forcing the fight but I’ll be more clever.”

Calzaghe employs a blistering pace that few fighters above 168 pounds can sustain. His punch output and speed usually bewilders opponents.

“In pro boxing it’s all about one big punch,” says Jones about facing Calzaghe’s swarming style. “He takes me as a more deadly challenge so he’s going to be on his A game.”

But in typical Jones fashion, the Pensacola speedster expects to perform close to the same standards that had boxing fans comparing him to Sugar Ray Robinson and other former greats in pro boxing.

That was yesterday and Jones knows that.

“I was having a good time, I was more than just a fighter,” said Jones about his peak performances in the past. “You could watch me fight anybody because you knew he (Jones) was going to do something spectacular.”

Jones still yearns to perform to those same standards before he moved to the heavyweight division in 2003 and destroyed the spring in his legs and removed the biggest advantage he formerly possessed: his fleet footedness.

The only thing remaining in Jones’s arsenal is the hand speed; pure blinding punches that shower opponents into a defensive shell or surprise those who are too busy punching. The combinations still pour out of Jones like a machine gun. But the bursts are not as long.

“People know when Roy comes to town it’s going to be a show,” said Jones in third person. “He’s going to look good doing it and people are going to talk about it the next day.”

An eager Calzaghe applauds Jones’s words.

“I think Roy Jones Jr. is Roy Jones Jr. The guy is still a legend in the ring, he can still fight,” says Calzaghe diplomatically. “He still has speed, he still has power. Ok, he may not be as good as he once was.”

Calzaghe knows his boxing legacy is on the line against Jones and loves that the fight is being held in historic Madison Square Garden.

“All the great fighters of the past fought there,” said Calzaghe. “It’s like a fairy tale.”

And whose fairy tale will end on Saturday night?

Other pay-per-view bouts

Former welterweight world champion Zab Judah (36-6, 25 KOs) tangles with Ernest Johnson (18-2-1, 7 KOs) in a 10-round bout. It’s Judah’s first fight since losing to Joshua Clottey for the IBF world title last August.

New York’s Gato Figueroa (19-2, 13 KOs), who was recently signed by Roy Jones Jr. to a promotional contract, battles ring wizard Emanuel Augustus (38-29-6, 20 KOs) who is now trained by Roger Mayweather in Las Vegas. It should be an interesting match.

Brooklyn’s undefeated Dmitriy Salita (28-0-1, 16 KOs) faces little Derrick Campos (17-5, 10 KOs) who displayed knockout power when he nearly toppled Jorge Paez Jr. two years ago. They’ll be fighting for a regional title.