In March 2003, the boxing world bore witness to a momentous occasion. Roy Jones Jr, then 34 years old and seemingly at the pinnacle of his career, was poised to etch his name into the annals of boxing history. Widely regarded as one of the best fighters of his generation and possibly one of the greatest of all time, Jones had just accomplished something extraordinary. He had secured the WBA heavyweight championship of the world, a remarkable feat achieved by defeating John Ruiz via a dominant points decision. This victory marked his ascent to becoming a four-weight world champion, a testament to his versatility and skill in the ring.
However, as is often the case in the unforgiving world of boxing, Jones's meteoric rise would soon be followed by a precipitous fall. The sport has an uncanny ability to age young fighters prematurely, and Jones was no exception. By the end of that very year, the signs of decline had already begun to manifest, even if many of us were reluctant to accept it. Excuses were offered, and for a while, Jones himself clung to them. But in due course, he, too, acknowledged his inevitable fate.
A mere eight months after his historic win over Ruiz, Jones embarked on the arduous journey of shedding weight to return to the light-heavyweight division. The toll this process took on his body was evident as he struggled to retain his WBC world light-heavyweight title in a closely contested bout against Antonio Tarver. Many believed Jones had lost that fight, although he managed to eke out a victory via a points decision. In 2004, in a highly anticipated rematch with Tarver, he suffered a shocking second-round knockout, a stark departure from his previous dominance. His subsequent return to the ring in 2004 saw him facing Glen Johnson, who delivered a brutal knockout in nine one-sided rounds, further cementing Jones's dramatic decline.
Jones made one last attempt at a comeback in 2005, facing Tarver for the third time. In stark contrast to their earlier bouts, Jones's goal was no longer victory but survival, a poignant reflection of his faded glory. The third fight with Tarver, in different ways, proved as somber as the second.
History suggests that Jones should have retired from the sport after his triumph over Ruiz, a night that added luster to his legacy. The fights that followed, including eight losses, shouldn't significantly tarnish his standing, although a failed drug test in 2000 may cast a partial shadow. However, the image of Jones being knocked out by Tarver and Johnson, as well as similar defeats to lesser opponents, remains indelibly etched in the collective memory. These bouts served as stark reminders of a fighter whose once-extraordinary skills inexplicably deserted him.
At his peak, Jones possessed the ability to defeat formidable opponents like Bernard Hopkins and James Toney. However, his descent painted a vastly different picture. It wasn't until 2018, approaching his 50th year, that he marked the conclusion of his career with a lackluster points victory over Scott Sigmon in Florida. Even then, boxing enthusiasts were subjected to a perilous exhibition match against Mike Tyson in 2020, a spectacle neither fighter seemed capable of resisting.
In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Jones became a victim of the corruption that marred the competition. He was infamously denied a gold medal in a bout that ranks among the sport's most egregious miscarriages of justice. Jones had clearly dominated his Olympic final against South Korea's Park Si-Hun, and even Si-Hun himself knew he didn't deserve the win. The controversy surrounding the decision haunted Si-Hun, who never stepped into the ring again. Jones, a mere 19-year-old, navigated the treacherous waters of a tainted sport, an experience that could have shattered a lesser fighter.
Jones transitioned to the professional ranks and effortlessly racked up 34 consecutive victories while securing world titles in three different weight classes. However, a disqualification loss to Montell Griffin marked the first blemish on his record. In a devastating rematch five months later, Jones obliterated Griffin in the first round, reaffirming his dominance.
Despite his dazzling performances, many of Jones's fights and opponents failed to inspire or pose significant challenges. In this regard, the fight against Ruiz was pivotal for Jones. Legends like Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, and Thomas Hearns had each other as formidable rivals. Unfortunately, Jones never had the opportunity to test his skills against an equal. As a result, we may never truly know just how great Roy Jones was.
Following his victory over Ruiz, Jones's career took a tumultuous turn. Three consecutive losses after his close encounter with Tarver in their initial bout were followed by several unremarkable wins. Joe Calzaghe retired after defeating Jones, and even Bernard Hopkins got his revenge. In 2015, Enzo Maccarinelli knocked Jones out in just four rounds in Russia, a victory that carried little significance.
Jones persisted in the sport even after the devastating loss to Maccarinelli, accumulating wins of minimal importance. He officially called it quits after 75 fights, culminating with the victory over Sigmon in 2018. However, there have been subsequent fights in various capacities, best left forgotten.
It is essential never to judge a fighter in decline, focusing instead on their prime. Nevertheless, by continuing to compete despite the evident decline, Jones inadvertently allowed the memories of his peak to fade with each painful and unnecessary ring entrance. The failed drug test in 2000 from his world light-heavyweight title defense against Richard Hall adds an undeniable stain to his achievements, one that cannot be easily washed away.
Jones, the former undisputed world light-heavyweight champion, might just be the greatest fighter ever in that weight class and would have likely bested many great middleweights. His prime was marked by extraordinary brilliance and seemingly untouchable skills. Regrettably, we had to witness the lingering decline of a once-legendary fighter, a sobering reminder that every story has both a beginning and an end.