In this corner with Russ Anber: An insider’s view of Tyson vs Jones Jr.

In his latest column for Boxing Social, boxing’s master of all trades Russ Anber reflects on his friendship with Roy Jones Jr., and reveals that he has been asked to be part of Jones’ team for his September 12 showdown with ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson…

More than 10 years before I worked in the opposite corner against him (with Otis Grant), I, like most people, was a huge Roy Jones fan. Since reconnecting with him in 2014, we’ve become great friends. I’d do anything for Roy. That’s how much I value our friendship.

My connection with Roy goes back to his amateur days. I was a fan of his back then, when he emerged out of Pensacola, Florida, and dazzled the world at the 1988 Olympics with his speed and talent.

As a matter of fact, it was at those Olympic Games where, as well as working with the Canadian team including gold medal winner Lennox Lewis, I also made my TV debut as an analyst for the CBC calling the Olympic fights. Roy’s light-middleweight final against Park-Si-Hun was one of the fights that, so to speak, made my name as a broadcaster and put me in the spotlight.

Roy completely dominated the South Korean and, as you know, was robbed by the judges. I called it live on air before the decision was even announced. They were taking an unusually long time in announcing the decision and I remember standing on my chair in our commentary position in the press area of the Chamshill Arena, hands on my hips in disgust, and screaming into my microphone, live on the air, to my broadcast partner Doug Saunders, “They’re gonna rob Roy Jones! They’re gonna rob Roy Jones! And, sure enough, they did.

That horrific decision, one of the worst ever in Olympic history, would ultimately be the end of amateur boxing as we knew it. After uncovering countless examples of corruption and wrongdoing, the IOC ordered AIBA clean up their act or boxing would be banned from the Olympic Games.

After he turned pro, I remained a fan of Roy too, like virtually everyone else. His talents, his speed, his unorthodoxy made him the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world for over a decade. When my guy Otis Grant got the opportunity to face Roy in 1998 we took the fight without hesitation. The same as it is today, everyone in boxing wants to fight the cash cow, the big name, and that’s who Roy was.

I was then in a position where I had to try and develop a strategy with Otis to beat Roy Jones. It wasn’t easy as you can imagine! At the time, Roy was in his prime and nobody had exposed any kind of chink in his armour. So it wasn’t like there was a blueprint to follow! Here was a guy who had annihilated everyone he had fought. Never mind losing a fight, he’d barely lost a round in his career!

It was a really tough fight. We did what we could. We tried to work behind the jab. When Otis had gone into camp, we figured the most important thing was to not get hit. A lot of the emphasis was on Roy not smashing us around the ring. And, you know what, Otis showed some great defence and I think he probably made Roy miss more shots and blocked more of Roy’s punches than pretty much any of Roy’s previous opponents had done.

But when Otis was dropped again in the tenth, I had seen enough. We’d lost virtually every round, I’d given Otis every chance and going 10 rounds with a peak Roy Jones is a moral victory at worst! I didn’t want to see Otis subjected to any more punishment than he needed to be. We had 10 rounds, nothing we tried to do had worked well enough so it was time to call the fight.

It was an honour to just share the ring with Roy, who I consider one of the greatest fighters ever.

People who don’t rank Roy as one of the greatest of all time are doing it based on what happened later in his career – the stoppage losses to Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson and so on. Those fights tarnished his career somewhat, but when I think of Roy I think of that 10-year reign as the world’s pound-for-pound best fighter. That Roy Jones you could have put in with any fighter who ever lived from middleweight to light-heavy and there wouldn’t be many guys you’d pick to beat Roy at this best.

Yes, Roy was unorthodox, he broke a lot of rules in the ring, but at the time when he had the physical capacity to do so, when he had that explosiveness and that athleticism, he was able to get away with breaking the rules.

Anyway, fast forward to 2014 and Jean Pascal’s training camp for his fight against Lucian Bute. Jean brought Roy in as a consultant and that’s where our friendship began. We all lived in the same house together and it was a pleasure to get to know Roy. We hung out together, we talked boxing together, we played pool together. Along with Liam ‘Beefy’ Smith, Roy is the best pool player I have ever faced from the boxing world.

One day, and I don’t know why Jean said this, but one day he said: ‘Roy, you should let Russ wrap your hands’. Roy said ‘okay’. After I wrapped his hands, the first thing he said to was, ‘Man, if I’d had you wrapping my hands for my whole career I wouldn’t have had the problems I’ve had!’ So Roy liked the way I wrapped his hands, he liked my gloves and, little by little, we became great friends.

We’ve done a lot of travelling together. We went to Macao together when he trained Jessie Vargas for his fight against Antonio DeMarco. For that fight, Roy brought me in as the hand wrapper and cut man. Jessie got cut early in the fight, I got it right away and stemmed the bleeding and one of the first things Jessie Vargas did at the press conference was credit me for that, which was very kind of him.

So we’ve grown now to become great friends. Of course, Roy has his much talked about exhibition fight coming up against Mike Tyson on September 12. He’s asked me to wrap his hands for that and I’m hoping to be there, subject to being able to travel and so on due to the current Coronavirus restrictions. I’m waiting to see what happens.

To me, Roy vs Mike Tyson almost feels like the Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro movie Grudge Match coming to life. It’s crazy that there is such interest in these guys who are in their 50s wanting to fight each other.

But there’s a crucial thing to bear in mind here. In the old days when an old fighter used to come back, they would put him in against a young gun and usually the young gun would end up winning and that would be the end of the old fighter.

That’s not the case here. Roy and Mike aren’t coming back to fight a young gun, they’re coming back to fight another “older guy”! The playing field has been levelled. So I’m not opposed to the fight at all. I would be disgusted if a promoter talked about bringing Roy Jones back and putting him up against Artur Beterbiev or something. That would bother me.

This doesn’t bother me at all; in fact, I’m excited by it and I just hope I can be there!

Russ Anber was speaking to Luke G. Williams.

Russ is the founder/CEO of Rival Boxing, as well as a highly respected trainer (of both pros and amateurs), a gym owner, a cut-man, an entrepreneur, a broadcaster and one of the best hand wrappers in the boxing business. Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Artur Beterbiev and Callum Smith are among the many top boxers Russ currently works with.