Roy’s “Phase One” Begins with Hanshaw
By Doug Fischer from Max Boxing
Every boxer at every level of the sport has them – needs them – whether it’s earning a trainer’s praise or the respect of one’s peers, or winning a trophy, a gold medal, a world title, or just making enough money to put food on the table.
But what about those few boxers who have seemingly done and won everything the sport has to offer? What about those celebrated gladiators who won fame and fortunes, as well as multiple world titles, as contract fighters for premium cable networks?
Believe it or not, those guys need goals even more than the average pugs. They don’t need the money, but being fighters at heart they don’t want to walk away, either. For these chosen few it’s either fight or get fat; fight or be forgotten.
The goal for Fernando Vargas is to go out with a victory. For Evander Holyfield it’s to win the heavyweight title (or at least a portion of it) one last time.
The goal for Roy Jones, who takes on unbeaten Anthony Hanshaw tomorrow night in Biloxi, Mississippi (available on iN DEMAND PPV), is less tangible than those of Vargas and Holyfield.
Jones’s goal is not just to earn another ‘W’ or more hardware to add to his collection of championship belts. The former four-division champ says he wants to regain the mythical title of Pound-for-Pound best. That’s the dream that drives the 38-year-old veteran who knows he’s a first-ballot hall of famer to continue to fight.
Having held the very subjunctive status of “pound-for-pound king” for the better part of nine years (on and off, depending on who you ask, between late ‘94 when he dominated James Toney to mid ’04 when he was knocked out by Antonio Tarver), Jones realizes that the recognition doesn’t occur overnight.
That’s OK. He says that Hanshaw, the second opponent of a comeback that began last July after he suffered three consecutive losses in ’04 and ’05, is “phase one” of his road back to being no. 1 in the minds of boxing fans.
Jones is too proud to admit it, but he misses the fans. He misses being in the spotlight, and I bothers him that he isn’t going to be the focus of the majority of the boxing world tomorrow night when three attractive welterweight showdowns will be broadcast by his former network, HBO, (and numerous other title fights and significant bouts take place around the globe).
However, he’s doing his part to make tomorrow’s fight with Hanshaw, a 29-year-old super middleweight contender with a 21-0-1 (14) record, the biggest event that it can be in the Biloxi area.
Back when Jones was champ and the pound-for-pound king, he sequestered himself from the media, the public, and even the cameras of HBO, which whom he had a very lucrative contract with, whenever he trained. He thought he was doing the world a favor if he took 30 minutes out to conduct a conference call for the press.
But for the Hanshaw fight, Jones has made himself available to most media requests. He has probably done more one-on-one interviews with boxing writers and sports radio hosts in the past four weeks than he did in the last four years of his light heavyweight title reign.
Last week Jones did something that was inconceivable five years ago – he conducted a public sparring session in front of 500 onlookers outside of the IP Casino Resort where his fight will take place.
“Something like that used to be out of the question,” Jones told MaxBoxing. “Back then if a fighter wasn’t familiar with my style it took him a long time to figure me out. So I wasn’t about to allow anyone study me and my style by letting people and video cameras into my training camps.
“But now, everyone pretty much knows my style. I’m 38 years old now. I got 54 fights. I got nothing to hide, so I might as well bring it to the people.”
Jones said he enjoyed going rounds with Mexican Olympian Alfred Angulo and Nigerian prospect Akinyemi Laleye in front of the public.
“I never would have done that years ago,” he said, “but boxing is fun for me now.
“When I see fans come out for me or hear them ask about me on radio shows it shows me what a blessing from God my career has been.”
He’s hoping tomorrow’s fight will be a bit of a blessing for the Biloxi waterfront and resort area which was hit very hard by Hurricane Katrina two years ago.
“It means a lot for Biloxi,” Jones said. “Hurricane Katrina took a lot from this area. Holding a big fight here lets people know that it’s coming back. It makes people stop and pay attention to the area. ‘Roy Jones is fighting here and he’s not just fighting anyone, he’s fighting a young, undefeated cat, so he’s giving us a real fight’. It gets people to come on out and it lets the world know that Biloxi is back.”
Jones wants to let the boxing world know that he’s back with tomorrow’s fight.
Last year’s unanimous decision over journeyman Prince Badi Ajamu, in Idaho of all places, was just to prove to himself that he still had the legs to go 12 rounds and the reflexes to out-box a limited opponent.
Against Hanshaw, Jones says he wants to do more than go the distance and win. He wants to impress.
“Against Hanshaw I’ve got to make a statement right from the get-go because he likes to get the fight started right away,” Jones said. “Hanshaw wants to keep the pressure on you, so he has to be dealt with early because if you let him get confident you’ll have a problem. I know what I’ve got in front of me. I’ve been watching him for about one and half years. I know that he was a high-profile amateur boxer and I know that he’s very aggressive as a pro.”
Jones used to eat guys with Hanshaw’s style for breakfast.
Remember when he shutout Jorge Castro in his first step-up fight as a middleweight prospect? Remember when he toyed with and then blasted out Antoine Byrd and Bryant Bannon after he matured into the most physically gifted super middleweight the world has ever seen?
“I still like fighting guys with that style,” he said.
However, these days, people who care about Jones worry when he fights pressure fighters.
The chilling image of Jones stretched out for minutes after being brutally dropped in the ninth round of his fight with Glen Johnson is the reason for this concern. It was also the beginning of an eventual split between Jones and HBO, the cable network that enjoyed an exclusive relationship with the Pensacola native from his first title win (vs. Bernard Hopkins) in ’93 to his rubbermatch loss to Tarver in ’05.
The folks at HBO urged Jones to retire for his own good, and even offered him a gig as a co-commentator beside broadcast mainstays Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley as incentive to hang his gloves up.
When Jones was in his prime, HBO practically allowed him pick his own opponents (and they made him rich in the process), but the fighter didn’t view the network’s pressure to get him to quit as an act of compassion. Jones saw it as “lack of faith” and accepted it like a slap across the face.
“I always thought they had my best interests in mind but the way they handled my third fight with Tarver showed me otherwise,” Jones said. “They said they were worried about my health and well being, but if they really cared about me they would have let me take a tune-up fight before the [Tarver] fight.
“I had been off for a whole year, I wanted a tune-up fight before that fight, but they wouldn’t allow it.
“They supposedly cared about me, but what they basically tried to do with me was what the New York boxing commission tried to do with Evander Holyfield when they took away his license after one fight with Larry Donald.
“Come on, you can’t do that. Donald was the wrong style for Holyfield. Donald might have done the same thing to Evander when he was in his prime. Now you see Holyfield in with the right kind of styles and he looks good.
“Same thing with me, you can’t make me retire because I lost to two fighters. How many fights has Arturo Gatti lost and how many times have they [HBO] let him come back? How come Gatti keeps getting fights and they give him tune-ups, too? So that right there showed me something about them.”
Of course, Jones views boxers like Gianluca Branco, Thomas Damgaard, and Gatti’s opponent tomorrow night, Alfonso Gomez, as a “tune-ups” but guys like these often turn into grueling struggles for the popular New Jersey-based fighter. Jones used to dominate second-tier fighters like that with ridiculous ease. In many ways, Jones was a victim of his own talent. The public was so used to seeing him shutout solid fighters for so long that it was almost shocking to see him struggle (the way Gatti always does) against Tarver in their first bout.
Jones, who had previously gained 20 to 25 pounds in order to take on John Ruiz in early ’03, lost the muscle mass in order to fight Tarver at light heavyweight later that year, a move that took a heavy physical toll on his body. For most boxing observers that fight was Jones’s last hurrah as a world-class fighter.
For Jones’s diehard fans it was the biggest mistake of his career, one that cost him his claim to being one of the all-time greats. They theorize that if Jones had stayed at heavyweight and defended the WBA title he easily lifted from Ruiz against a still-respected Evander Holyfield in early ’04 (a fight that was being discussed) their man could have retired with many members of the sports media lauding him as the G.O.A.T.
It was not to be and Jones says he has no regrets.
“Not at all,” he said. “I told Tarver and I told the media that I would fight him. So I did. That’s me. That’s how I am. In the middle of that training camp I could feel how the weight loss was effecting me, but I wasn’t about to pull out of the fight. I don’t do that.
“My training for Glen Johnson was disrupted by Hurricane Ivan. I also got sick during that camp, but I was not going to pull out. I was not going to postpone the bout because, once again, that’s not me.
“I don’t regret losing because it got me back on my game; it put me back on my game plan. I had put my training on cruise control. I stopped doing all the little things that I used to do while training. A perfect example is basketball. I used to always play basketball during my camps. I would play four and five times a week. It was part of my training. It was part of my competitive edge.
“Before the Tarver and Johnson fights, I wasn’t playing basketball as much. I wasn’t in the same physical condition.”
Jones says he wasn’t in the same psychological condition, either.
“It had gotten too easy,” he says. “I lost focus. I was mentally not there. I wasn’t playing basketball; I wasn’t paying attention to my music. I wasn’t being competitive in the other parts of my life.”
And if he isn’t being competitive, he isn’t being Roy Jones.
“In everything I do, I have to do it 100 percent,” he said. “I have to compete.”
Jones is fighting Hanshaw tomorrow, but in his mind, he’s competing with a couple of little guys he’ll never get in the ring with – Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquaio, the two fighters he sees as the best in the world, pound for pound, at the moment.
Like a lot of fans, he loves to watch Pacquiao fight, but being a boxer by nature he appreciates more of what Mayweather does in the ring.
“Manny is a real good fighter, but he’s more busy than skillful,” he said. “He’s the type of fighter that overwhelms other fighters with his heart and his conditioning, but even though he beat Marco Antonio Barrera, I don’t think he’s better than Barrera. I’d still say Barrera’s better, pound for pound, than Manny. To me Manny’s the busiest fighter in the world, but he’s not a thinking fighter and he’s not one to show boxing technique, and that’s not what being pound-for-pound is about.
“Pound-for-pound is not a popularity contest. It’s about being able to do it all in the ring – offensively AND defensively – at the highest level, and right now Floyd is the best at executing ring generalship.”
When asked if he would consider the winner of next Saturday’s showdown between Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright (two fighters that are in the top five or at least top 10 of most boxing writers’ pound-for-pound lists) to be no. 1, Jones was dismissive.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “First of all, there shouldn’t be any pound-for-pound lists. There’s no. 1 and then there’s everybody else. Second, you’ve never seen any one-punch knockouts with Hopkins and Wright. They never really knocked anybody out who was world class. When I said you got to be able to do it all, I meant DO IT ALL! And that includes punch.”
That is something the prime Roy Jones had that the current version of Floyd Mayweather lacks.
“Watch for it when I fight Hanshaw,” he said. “I’m getting back on top. I’m getting my skills together. You won’t see everything that I used to do, but you’ll see a little bit of it. Fans who tune in will see phase one for the return of Roy Jones.”
And if he’s successful tomorrow night?
“Then it’s on to phase two,” he said, “which is more skills and more of what fans used to see from me but against a higher profile opponent. Boxing needs a big fight right now. Maybe me and Felix Trinidad could be the one. But I’m not calling him out. I’m just saying that whoever’s next will be well known and will get fans excited.
“Listen, this goes out to any of the top fighters in the world from 168 pounds to heavyweight, if you think you great and you wanna make a date, let’s get it on.”