Roy Jones Jr.

I recently had the opportunity to watch tape of the vast majority of Roy Jones Jr.’s fights. Today, a few thoughts on a remarkable career.


The conventional wisdom on RJJ is that he was a superlatively physically gifted athlete of middling skill and talent, who was ruined when he put on around 25 pounds of muscle in order to challenge for John Ruiz’s heavyweight belt, and subsequently had to lose that weight to return to light heavyweight. I think this is mostly true, except for the significance attached the weight. I think Jones simply got a little older and a little slower around the time he made his run at HW. I also think that the conventional wisdom overlooks the fact that RJJ, for all his gifts, was one of the most boring fighters of the last 20 years.


In his prime, RJJ simply outclassed everyone he faced. He could get away with almost anything: carrying his hands low, strange, leaping lead right hands, or laying on the ropes for extended periods, then fighting off effortlessly. His opponents could be divided into those who had no chance to win, and those who didn’t even get a chance to fight.

Then, suddenly, Jones started to look rather ordinary. Tarver I was the first fight in which something was obviously amiss, and this was followed by two shocking KO losses to Tarver (II) and Johnson, and a somewhat-less-shocking loss in Tarver III. Most people attributed Jones’ newfound vulnerability to his trip to heavyweight, but I believe that the first signs of ordinariness can be seen in the Clinton Woods fight, which Jones won via a relatively quick (for him) TKO 6.

A boxer might be great because of his physical gifts (speed, strength, or stamina), or because of his his skills and talent. It can be difficult to determine in a fighter’s prime exactly why he’s successful, but time can help resolve the issue: Physical gifts always fade with age (sometimes more quickly, sometimes more slowly), while skill will remain largely the same, or even increase slightly. A sudden decrease in ability, particularly in the absence of any damaging or demoralizing ring wars, is indicative of a fighter whose ability was based predominantly on physical gifts, and we see a textbook example of this in the latter career of RJJ.

Safety First

There’s nothing wrong with having, or relying upon, preternatural physical gifts. Tremendously gifted fighters can also be tremendously entertaining (e.g., Arturo Gatti, whose gifts tended to run towards power and endurance). RJJ was not tremendously entertaining. Throughout the bulk of his career, he seemed to primarily concern himself with not getting hit. Even when matched against badly (but not wildly) outclassed opponents, Jones seemed reluctant to take any risk to end the fight quickly or dramatically.

That’s his prerogative, of course: Rough sport, and all that. And Jones seems to have navigated a long career without taking too much punishment — a handful of fights at the tail end of his career aside — while promoting himself (with Square Ring) and, presumably, holding on to a great deal of the income he generated. So, good for him. Most of his fights are still dreadfully tedious to watch, once you get done marveling at his ability. It’s not hard to see why so many of his fights seemed to take place at venues that were perhaps a little undersized for a man of his stature.

Might Have Been

I think it’s a real pity that a prime Jones never met a prime Joe Calzaghe. A fight at 168 wouldn’t have been realistic when Jones was moving up through that weight; he fought his last SMW match in October 1996, a year before Calzaghe defeated Eubank for the WBO title. However, if a fight could have been made at 175 in 2000 or 2001, it would have been a heck of a thing to see. Jones would have been near (if perhaps just past) his peak, and Calzaghe near (if perhaps just before) his. Their 2008 meeting really wasn’t the same thing at all.

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