Roy Jones Jr. – On His Own
By Thomas Gerbasi/Boxing Scene
It was an inevitable end, but knowing how it all would come crashing down didn’t make Roy Jones Jr.’s 10th round knockout loss to Denis Lebedev last Saturday any easier to watch.
A right hand started it, looping and thudding. It was the kind of shot the former pound-for-pound king never would have gotten caught with in his prime. In fact, he probably would have laughed at his foe’s temerity for even throwing it before leaning out of the way and ripping off a retaliatory combination as punishment.
This one landed flush though, sending Jones upper body lurching forward. An uppercut followed, but as if in slow motion, the bent over former champion instinctively moved his gloves to cover his head. Lebedev dropped his hands and looked at referee Steve Smoger to stop the fight. When Smoger hesitated, the Russian did what he was taught to do, and a final right finally prompted a stoppage as Jones slowly fell to the canvas.
The official end to the fight came at 2:50 of the 10th round, but it really ended back in 2004, when back-to-back knockout losses against Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson shattered Jones’ mystique, his jaw, and his invincibility.
Then, he blamed it on his cut from heavyweight – where he made history by defeating John Ruiz for the WBA title (his fourth divisional crown) – back to light heavyweight, and if that was the culprit, his grasp for glory cost him what should have been a sterling twilight to his career.
But boxing doesn’t have sterling twilights. It has Rocky Marciano sending Joe Louis flying out of a ring, Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick battering Muhammad Ali, and Sugar Ray Leonard getting shut down by Terry Norris. For every Bernard Hopkins, who, at 46, made history by beating Jean Pascal for the world light heavyweight title on the same day his old rival fell face first to the canvas in Moscow, there are hundreds of depressing ends for once great fighters who didn’t know when to leave.
And that’s the ironic point about Jones. As a once per era talent, Jones was accused over the years of ducking his most serious opposition or not testing himself against the best consistently. In other words, he was seen by many as having great natural ability, but not the heart of a true fighter. Sadly, after two crushing knockout defeats that should have led him into retirement, he has shown that in his chest beats the heart of a warrior, as he turned into someone who goes into battle knowing the odds against him, yet still walks forward.
For all his bluster, Jones is one of the smartest boxers in the sport, and he knows what the perception of him these days is and he knows what he faces every time he steps between the ropes. Yet he still does it. There are rumors of IRS troubles plaguing him, but there have to be options other than becoming a high-profile stepping stone for fighters he would have toyed with in his prime.
Apparently not for the 42 year old, who gave a brief insight into his mindset shortly after the Johnson loss, as he sat with a group of reporters inside Madison Square Garden before he provided commentary on HBO’s Felix Trinidad vs. Ricardo Mayorga bout.
“I raise game chickens, and the way I was taught, they go out and fight to the death,” he said. “To beat me, every fight I lose I want to lose just like that (against Johnson). I don’t want to lose on my feet because that would have meant I could have did more. If you’re gonna beat me, damn near kill me. Go out like a champ – go all the way out.”
The main topic that night in New York City was whether Jones would ever fight again. At the time, he was 35, had already cemented his place in the Boxing Hall of Fame, and was considered one of the game’s All-Time greats. There was nothing left to prove. He even seemed to hint at a walk away from the sport, but he knew the truth.
“Y’all know how fighters are,” said Jones. “We don’t become fighters by having that type of mindset (to quit). So that’s why I’d be acting prematurely to tell you that I’m gonna quit. I already know that that word – I can’t find it that easily.”
He hasn’t found it yet, either. The best he could muster to the Associated Press after the Lebedev bout was “I’m going to think about it.”
There really isn’t much to ponder. Following back-to-back wins over tailor-made foes Omar Sheika and Jeff Lacy in 2009, Jones has lost three in a row, two by knockout. His slate since his history-making win over Ruiz is 6-7, and at 42, all the physical gifts that made him special are gone.
All that’s left is his heart, and a fighter with nothing left but heart is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Of course, you could make the case that Jones’ team should protect him from himself or that commissions shouldn’t license him, but in reality, he could find a place to sanction him to fight, and he could find other people to handle his affairs or man his corner. Bottom line, this is a decision Jones and Jones alone has to make, and one he knows he has to.
Will he make the right one? History says no, but Jones knows his history. He knows about his former amateur rival Gerald McClellan, whose life was permanently changed after his tragic bout with Nigel Benn in 1995. Jones was one of the rare people in the boxing business to send aid for the former middleweight champion, and when I asked him why years ago, he responded, “I know that nobody cared and I’ve explained to young fighters that you have to realize that every time you step up there, you’re on your own. Right now, nobody else even cares pretty much about how Gerald is doing from the boxing world. And there are people that are tied with this sport that could go out and do different things to help him. But not many people do. There are things that people can do, but they don’t care. You look at him and it makes you realize, well, what would they do for you? You go put your life on the line and get hurt up, what will they do for you? You go look at Gerald and you see that they don’t do nothing, pretty much.”
Roy Jones Jr. is on his own now, just like he’s been the 62 times he stepped into a professional boxing ring. But this fight – to retire or not to retire - may be the most important.