Do you remember the first time you watched Roy Jones? For me, it was sometime in 2004 or 2005, when he was in the midst of that career altering three fight losing streak. I was just a kid, just learning what boxing was all about. I had no idea at that time that Roy Jones Jr was among the greatest fighters to ever step into a boxing ring. To me, he was just a guy that was probably about to retire.
How wrong I was. Jones finally retired this week, ending his career with a one-sided shutdown of Scott Sigmon, some guy we’ll never talk about again. Sigmon is never going to be a household name. All he’ll have to show for his boxing career is a story about the time he fought Roy Jones, the definition of a pound-for-pound king.
When I got a little older, I started watching the Jones that existed in the 1990s. I watched his vengeful beating of Montell Griffin, and the subsequent interview where Jones gave us some insight into how he viewed the sport of boxing. He told Larry Merchant he didn’t want to have to do this, to embarrass Griffin. For Jones, boxing was an artistic expression. He’s said on multiple occasions that he hated to have to hurt anyone, because he simply wasn’t a mean guy. The 1997 version of Jones was capable of beating Montell Griffin however he wanted. A master of his own aesthetics, Jones felt this fight called for a definitive first round knockout. When Griffin was sent flying around the ring, the world knew what Jones was.
Many of us writers have spent a great deal of time waxing about the way Jones fought, and with ample reason. He was the embodiment of style, seemingly capable of doing anything he wanted. His lead left hook, which he often threw four or five times in a row, was lightning quick. His straight right hand was thrown with flair and carried with it the promise of more punishment. Jones was a master of style in a way that boxing has seldom seen.
Go watch prime Roy Jones and you’ll notice something that all the flash and speed may have made you forget about. Jones in his prime didn’t waste much motion. Renowned for his physical fitness, Jones maintained a crazy work-rate throughout fights through a sneakily economical style that meant he never did anything without a point. My personal favourite Jones move was when he would completely freeze in front of his opponent. Just when it seemed he found a rhythm, he would disrupt it by ceasing all motion for a moment, before firing off thudding combinations. His sense of timing in a boxing ring was entirely foreign to most men.
Some boxers work endlessly to achieve technical perfection. When you have the gifts that Jones did, perfection was boring. Spending a lifetime in the ring, Jones developed a style that is impossible to imitate. He performed a series of private, un-learnable moves that proclaimed: “Yeah, I’m the guy. No one is mas macho. No one can do what I do.” He transcended conventional wisdom about boxing.
There were low points, and he fought far longer than he should have. He was never quite the same after he came back down from heavyweight. I prayed after each fight that my hero would hang up his gloves for good, but now that he’s gone for real I feel bereft. Roy Jones will hopefully be a staple of HBO broadcasts for years to come, because boxing needs him. He is a vital part of this sport, and we are all better for having watched him.