“Rob, Roy is the closest I’ve seen to a perfect fighter since Ali before they blackballed him.” Those were the words my father wrote on a piece of paper after we attended our final fight card together on January 15, 2000 at New York’s historic Radio City Music Hall. My father, battling Stage 4 throat cancer that would end his life six months later at the age of 52, had lost his vocal chords due to the deadly disease. However, on the night in question, all you needed to see was the gleam in his eyes watching Roy Jones that night perform a one-sided 12-round masterpiece against a solid but overmatched David Telesco. Those eyes told just how amazing a fighter Jones was, the fourth greatest Light Heavyweight of all-time.
After a flawless and incredible two year run at 168 pounds, which I chronicled in an earlier article, Jones fought the legendary Jamaican Mike McCallum on November 22, 1996 for the WBC Light Heavyweight title. Because of Jones’s immense respect for McCallum, he held back in this fight, as the “Body Snatcher” was 40 years old and past his prime. Jones was content to box from the outside and comfortably win a 12 round decision as a sign of his respect and love for McCallum’s achievements in boxing. It was akin to Sugar Ray Robinson’s August 27, 1943 win over a way-past-his-prime Henry Armstrong, as Ray also held back and decided to outbox the legendary Armstrong. It would be Jones’s next fight that would open up old wounds for him.
The single worst decision that ever occurred on any level in boxing, amateur or pro, happened at the 1988 Seoul Olympics when Jones was robbed of the Light Middleweight gold medal after beating up the South Korean representative Park Si-Hun for every second of the entire three rounds. So-Hun inexplicably won the decision. This nightmare repeated itself the night of March 21, 1997 in Jones’s first title defense against Montell Griffin. Jones inadvertently hit Griffin with a combination after Griffin took a knee. Immediately, Griffin appeared to put on the acting performance of a lifetime, as he appeared to feign unconsciousness, which resulted in Jones being disqualified and losing his title to Griffin. It would be an understatement to say Roy was furious at how he lost his title and undefeated pro record. It would motivate him to put on one of the most destructive knockouts in boxing history.
Jones received an immediate rematch against Griffin on August 7, 1997. Just seconds into the fight, Jones landed three left hook bombs, the third of which knocked Griffin into the ropes, resulting in referee Arthur Mercante ruling a knockdown. Jones then, not unlike a tiger out for blood, kept firing his signature left hook until he landed another leaping left hook that completely concussed Griffin. Griffin tried getting up twice from that punch but stumbled before being counted out. Jones’ second reign at 175 pounds would commence. It was the beginning of a seven-year reign that was probably the most dominating title reign in the history of the division.
His next fight on April 25, 1998 occurred against the former two-time Light Heavyweight Champion Virgil Hill. Hill, while not a devastating puncher, was one of the purest boxers in the history of the division and possessor of possibly the greatest left jab in the division’s history as well. The first three rounds saw Jones deftly land several right hand counters over Hill’s jab. Then in round four, Jones landed a right hand to Hill’s rib cage that made Hill drop like he was stabbed. After valiantly getting up at the count of nine, Hill was in no condition to continue. It was another highlight knockout by Roy.
I took my father to see Roy’s next fight at Madison Square Garden on July 18, 1998 against Lou Del Valle to unify Jones’s WBC and Del Valle’s WBA title. Del Valle was a tough Puerto Rican southpaw who grew up in the infamous Queensbridge New York City Houses. For the first seven rounds, Jones toyed with Del Valle, as he landed at will and played to the NYC crown. Late in the eight round, Del Valle landed a left cross that dropped Jones for the first time in his career. My father and I couldn’t believe it. Jones was human after all. After recovering from the knockdown, Jones safely outboxed Del Valle the rest of the night to win via unanimous decision and unified the titles. That night my father stated that the only way to beat Jones was to engage in a firefight with him because that night my father discovered that Jones was chinny. It was Jones’ speed, reflexes and power that didn’t allow for his chin to get tested. It wouldn’t be until six years later, after Jones had lost a step, that my father’s revelation that night would come to fruition.
Jones unified the 175-pound title by defeating the IBF champion Reggie Johnson on June 5, 1999. Johnson was an excellent boxer but had no answers for the machine that was Roy. So called boxing experts were criticizing Roy for not fighting the WBO champion Dariusz Michalczewski. The fact is, Michalczewski was unwilling to fight Jones in America and after what happened to Jones in Seoul, Jones was not going to Europe to fight Michalczewski in his adopted Germany. If the fight had ever taken place, Jones would’ve given the German transplant a brutal beating. For all intents and purposes, Roy was the Undisputed Champion of the World after defeating Johnson.
The night of the Telesco fight was funny because every time Roy landed his signature leaping left hook or booming right cross, my father would grab my arm and point to the ring. Since Pop couldn’t speak, he kept grabbing my arm and pointing to the ring as a way of expressing his amazement at what Roy was doing in the ring. Looking back I realize just how much fun he had that night despite the fact that we all knew he was dying.
Roy’s reign finally came to an end in the most shocking way imaginable. On May 15, 2004, Jones was attempting to successfully defend his 175-pound title for the 13th time in almost seven years and the second consecutive time against Antonio Tarver. Tarver gave Jones his toughest fight of his career six months earlier; a fight Jones won by majority decision. In the rematch, midway through the second round, Jones walked into a spectacular left cross that put him to sleep. I thought of my father that night. Tarver, like Del Valle, was a southpaw. Both men landed the same type of punch that dropped Jones, a left cross. It was Tarver’s that put Jones’ lights out and ended his reign as the fourth greatest Light Heavyweight of all-time.
Roy should’ve retired right then and there. Instead, he continued to fight for almost 15 more years. Four months after getting knocked out by Tarver, he looked completely listless in getting brutally knocked out by Glen Johnson. Roy would get completely dominated by Tarver a year later in their rubber match, and on November 8, 2008, despite knocking him down in the first round, would suffer a severe 12-round beating by the great Welshman Joe Calzhage. These losses are the reasons why Jones’s ranking as an all-time great at both 175 and pound for pound are not higher: he fought way past his prime. Between 1993-2003, Roy Jones was the greatest fighter I ever saw in my lifetime. A near picture perfect fighter. And a man who made my father smile in amazement while battling a terminal illness.