As Roy Jones Jr celebrates his 53rd birthday Luke G. Williams ponders his legacy and delves into his personal archive to recall a 2018 audience with arguably the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of the last three decades…
Realising Roy Jones Jr is now 53 and preparing for International Boxing Hall of Fame Induction is rather akin to finding out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist – in other words an unwelcome cold, harsh blast of reality.
Truth be told, of course, had the incomparable Jones Jr retired when he it was advisable to do so – after besting John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight title in March 2003, perhaps, or squeaking past Antonio Tarver on points for the light-heavyweight title in November of the same year – then he would have been enshrined in Canastota for over a decade by now.
Unbelievably, though, he fought a further 24 times after being alarmingly iced in two by Tarver in their 2004 rematch – and sadly, not one of those 24 fights enhanced his legacy and several of them arguably diminished it.
But if fans who saw and loved Jones Jr at the wondrous peak of his powers harbour a sense of regret about the gradual process by which ‘Superman’ demonstrated that he was all too mortal after all, then the man himself – upbeat and proud – appears confident in his legacy, as well as determined to forge a new one.
“It takes a group of people to build a community not just one person,” Jones Jr commented recently. “It took a lot of people to build my career to what I became. I thank God mostly for it. We’re trying to build the future champions of tomorrow. I feel like now that I’m in the Hall of Fame as a boxer, my next goal is to become a Hall of Fame trainer. Peace be to you all.”
I sensed a similar calm and sense of peace when I interviewed Jones Jr back in 2018, ahead of the 75th and final professional contest of his career against Scott Sigmon – a fight which, like his professional debut against Ricky Randall way back in 1989, took place in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida.
“To be finishing [my career] where I started feels really good,” he told me in his familiar, fast-talking style. “Before my first [professional] fight everyone was so excited. There was high expectation at the beginning of what turned out to be a beautiful career, a career that had a lot of promise, a career that had a lot of emotion attached to it.
“It was the first time the city [of Pensacola] could really rally around someone from that city. To be able to represent that city was a beautiful start to my career, a beautiful marriage, a beautiful relationship between an athlete and a city.”
Jones Jr turned pro amid huge expectation, having won worldwide acclaim – and sympathy – at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul after the flagrant injustice of his points defeat against Park Si-Hun in the light-middleweight final. The Florida native left South Korea with a silver medal but also the Val Barker Trophy for the Best Boxer of the Games, and amateur boxing has never again quite recaptured its pre-1988 innocence or charm.
Surprisingly, however, when I asked Jones Jr to reference the key point in his career he didn’t plump for this devastating moment, or for his world title heroics against the likes of Ruiz, James Toney or Bernard Hopkins, but instead recounted a story from his teenage years.
“When I was 14 years old I was disqualified from a junior Olympic tournament because I couldn’t make weight,” Jones Jr explained. “That was the first time in my career I realised how much of a load I was carrying on my shoulders. Everyone was so disappointed that I couldn’t make the weight. Before that I had no clue so many people would be so concerned and cared for me so much. I had no idea before then that I had a reputation to uphold not only for me but for other people. That was a turning point in my life.”
Jones Jr certainly did build a reputation, and he is clearly confident it is a legacy that will endure. Y’all must have forgot? Most certainly not.
“We’ve got the worldwide web now, Youtube and all that,” he said. “I know that now and for the longest time people are going to be saying: ‘if you want to see the sickest boxing highlights ever you have to look up Roy Jones Jr.
“That’s enough for me. You can’t Photoshop that, you can say what you want, but if you want to look at the sickest boxing highlights ever you’ve got to look up Roy Jones Jr. It’s that simple! Can you find anyone who even came close?”