When I began writing about boxing in 2006, I started an account on MySpace.com to network my articles to the rest of the boxing community. Just 16 at the time, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world to be MySpace “friends” with pro boxers who also had accounts.
One of the first boxers I decided to add to my friend list was Roy Jones Jr., my childhood hero. Seeing Jones on MySpace made me the happiest boxing fan in the world. The fact that “RJ,” a five-division world champion and international celebrity, was on a social networking site proved to me that he was, even at the age of 37, still young. And a young Jones was a Jones capable of capturing his old glory.
Jones has always maintained the image of a cocky, invincible athlete whose natural gifts overcome any challenges put in his way. Such confidence is what has always made him so special.
In 2002 and 2004, Jones released two rap albums, each containing songs about his own athletic prowess. During the weigh-in of his first fight with Antonio Tarver in 2003, Jones, who was struggling to make the 175-pound limit, emphatically yelled, “It's over!” in reference to the fight, after barely making the weight. And of course, Jones' flamboyant ring entrances and in-fight taunting made him the fighter everyone loved to hate.
So as the 37-year-old Jones logged onto his MySpace account while 14-year-old girls up the street were doing the same thing, I logged onto mine knowing that my hero still had enough gas left in the youth tank to again become champion, despite the fact that Jones had lost three straight fights. Cockiness and youth made Jones great; as long as he had those qualities, I believed, there would be nothing stopping him from regaining what made him great.
But that was three years ago. And those three years have zapped what's left of Jones' young edge.
Jones is now 40, and it's been 19 years since he turned professional. The reflexes that made him so special are shot; the hand speed he used to thrash his opponents, largely deteriorated. Jones no longer enters the ring to his own rap music, nor does he talk the same trash he did when he was in his prime. He's not even fun for critics to hate anymore.
In the summer of 2006, Jones looked solid in a 12-round shutout over Prince Badi Ajamu, and his claim that he had recovered from the significant weight loss between his fights with John Ruiz and Antonio Tarver was believable.
A year ago, Jones had won three straight, including a lopsided win over Puerto Rican legend Felix Trinidad. Although he looked less than spectacular in that fight, Jones showed glimpses of his prime form, especially in terms of hand speed.
But against Joe Calzaghe last November, Jones looked nothing like his old self. He was hit regularly, and he barely threw any punches. In the final rounds of the fight, Calzaghe taunted Jones like Jones did to his opponents when he was still young. Jones was beaten, battered, busted-up. He was embarrassed, and after such a one-sided loss, it's now obvious that whatever lifted Roy to world titles in four weight classes is now gone.
Yet Jones will carry on with his career on March 21 when he faces long-faded journeyman Omar Sheika at 175 pounds in Jones' hometown of Pensacola. Jones will fight with the intention of sharpening his skills so he can somehow regain the natural talent that made him so special. There will no doubt be fans yelling in his ear that he's still the man, and Jones, always his own biggest supporter, will likely believe them.
The other day, I looked at Jones' MySpace profile for the first time in about a year. Not much has changed since 2006; his page still plays his own rap music, his profile headliner is “I ain't done yet!”, and there are still pictures of none other than himself as the background. But instead of inspiring me like it did in 2006, Jones' profile now saddens me. It's a testament to who Jones was, not who he is.
Jones needs to hang up the gloves while he still has smarts and money. He's talented in so many fields outside of boxing, including broadcasting, acting, and rapping, so he's crazy to continue risking his health by swapping leather for cash.
Jones wants to turn back the clock to become his old self. But fighting a washed-up Omar Sheika is something the old Jones would have never done.