By Trigo H. Egbegi
NIGHT after night, I dream about the day I’d confront Roy Jones Jnr. to straighten out the issue once and for all. It doesn’t matter the location/venue – be it Mushin, Abuja, Yenagoa. Or Jones’ own backyard in Pensacola, Florida.
I’d compel him to provide the answer to my question as to what, exactly, he set out to accomplish when he first hit the professional ranks eight months after he was shafted in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, in what has since gone down as the greatest scandal to come the way of amateur boxing history.
Call it an absurd personal vendetta being cooked against a man who, by all standards, is more than deserving of special mention when the bible of boxing greats is compiled, right?
Or, a man who, placed side-by-side with the all-consuming Manny Pacquiao, might not be consigned to any distant back seat as a Pound-for-Pound candidate, on account of the media praise and worship that accompanied his glittering array or ring decorations while Jones was in his elements, right?
Wrong! My grudge is predicated, largely, by the attitude of a man who, for all the brilliance and accomplishment thereof, looks deliberately headed for the same direction which claimed the likes of basketball’s Bill Russel and soccer’s own Diego Maradona.
Roy Jones Jnr. is just one of the scores of boxing’s own super heroes who have, contended with the demons that suck the soul of the unlucky victim.
If you didn’t know, boxing is a ready and thriving habitat for demons that won’t just let the victims go – even if, and when, such victims wish to leave. It’s the same demon that are responsible for the addendum written into the otherwise matchless careers of Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Willie Pep. All three paid the price for over-playing the dating game with the sport.
In this way, many a great boxing champion has gone down in history unable to comprehend and savour the universal accolade heaped on him, having been stripped of the personality and glory he had worked so hard to build, decades earlier.
That’s not all. In the end, it is boxing that takes the flak as a callous and uncaring discipline not fit to be classified as a sport. For decades there has been the campaign to have it outlawed. Above all, it is the concerned disciples of the game that are left broken-hearted. Roy Jones Jnr. is a legend wasting and waiting to crash.
The way he’s personally piloting his career, I’m afraid, the cataclysm will be ultra-measure because of a growing propensity to take risks. The stoppage defeat three weeks ago of Roy Jones by the Russian Dennis Lebedev in a meaningless cruiserweight contest only goes to illustrate what becomes of most of our boxing heroes who linger in the game simply because there are no other options available.
Born to a fighter father (Roy Jones Snr. who was bold enough to cross paths when Marvelous Marvin Hagler was approaching his prime in 1977), Roy Jnr. graced boxing as a star from the fifth dimension. True enough, he dominated the game with a display of ease, elegance, speed and spontaneity rarely witnessed.
Athletically gifted, Roy Jones easily caught the eyes as a child prodigy who was good enough to make the US Olympic squad as an 18-year old, missing the Games middleweight gold in highly controversial circumstances. But it was as a young adult that he captured the IBF world middleweight and super middleweight titles, respectively, against the elite duo of Bernard Hopkins and James Toney in 1993 and 1994.
Roy Jones had such faith in his ability that he took risks considered out of the world. And he always succeeded, prompting him to set his sights on a possible confrontation with a still-useful Mike Tyson. He only stopped to pick up the WBC light heavyweight marbles in 1996 from the ageless Mike McCallum, to begin a shutout of the 175-pound class, save for a fluke disqualification loss to Montell Griffin, which he promptly reversed with a single-punch annihilation in the rematch.
The rest of Roy’s escapade in the light heavyweight division is now history, as he proceeded to unify the class and gain undisputed status.
Then, came the ultimate. In 2003, Jones’ propensity for risk eventually landed him on the doorsteps of John Ruiz, for the latter’s WBA heavyweight title. In what turned out to be the unthinkable, a bulked-up – but still ridiculously outweighed – Roy administered a king-sized beating on the Puerto Rican journeyman. He had emulated Mike Spinks in successfully invading the heavyweight category.
However, our hero did not reckon with the effects of tempering with the body chemistry which has since stood in the path of his once illustrious career. Jones soon realized he lacked the poundage to compete favourably with the goliaths parading the division, Lennox Lewis and the Klitschko brothers included. His heavyweight invasion turned out to be a one-shot deal.
On the other hand, he could not conjure the same chemistry that would return him to his more suitable light heavyweight class – ala Archie Moore. When eventually Jones did, it was an unconvincing decision win over Antonio Tarvers. Flat, weak and uncoordinated, he was shockingly bowled over to a knockout defeat in the rematch, in what became the starting point of a free fall that has all but consumed Roy Jones Jnr.
The damage extended to six back-to-back defeats in seven outings to such foes as Tarvers, Glen Johnson, Bernard Hopkins, Joe Calzaghe. Roy Jones Jnr. is yet another living example of boxing’s child prodigies and their short career spells.
It brings to memory the brilliant Wilfredo Benitez who was so promising he was illegally granted a pro license at age 15, to compete among adults. Benitez captured his first major scalp as a 17-year-old in March 1976 when out-pointing Antonio Cervantez for the WBA 140-pound title. Three years later, he took the WBC, welterweight tiara until relieved by Sugar Roy Leonard in a classic exhibition.