Check Your Head

With fans to his left and right, the old champ came striding down the aisle—his fight crew to the front of him and security personally trailing behind.
The moment surrounding Roy Jones Jr. recaptured the classic lines which once described Jack Dempsey’s entrance into the ring:
“Hail! The conquering hero comes, surrounded by a bunch of bums.”
Alas, the old champ had come in briskly, but in the end trudged out wearily.
Nearly every sports writer at Memphis’ brand new, $250-million FedEx Forum back on Sept. 25 had expected Roy Jones Jr.’s relatively unknown opponent, Glen Johnson, to end the night on his back.
But it was Johnson, who entered the ring known as a Jamaican fighter with above-average ability, that left as the man—possibly giving cause for Jones to end his brilliant boxing career.
(Jones, who had lost to Antonio Tarver this past May, was using the Johnson bout to gain his confidence for an expected third fight with the guy who was holding “his belts”).
But in the ninth round of their somewhat anticipated IBF light heavyweight title fight, after applying a bull-rush tactic to throw Jones off balance, Johnson used his jab to set up a wicked overhand right, which caught Jones below his ear and left him sprawling to the canvas.
The 35-year-old came crashing down, and after his cranium bounced off the mat, which caused his muscles to clench from the shock, he was counted out by referee Bill Clancy.
With his arms placed to his sides and his eyes sealed shut, Jones looked as if he was in a casket. He lay there—disturbingly lifeless—for a frightfully long four minutes.
His trainers eventually filled a towel with ice and slid it under Jones’ head, but he had trouble opening his eyes, And when he did open them, he stared at the stunning beauty of the colourful halogen lights above.
He gingerly got vertical, slowly exited through the same entrance he had walked through to get to the ring, painstakingly boarded a waiting Memphis Emergency Service ambulance, and headed directly to the city’s Regional Medical Center, in what felt like a funeral procession for Jones.
But let’s not have this defeat be the lasting memory of a man who gave the boxing public nothing but the best. If the record were to stop right now, which it should, it would show that Jones has won 49 of 52 fights, with 38 of those wins coming by knockout.
The public’s opinion of this prize fighter, who for years was regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter and was voted as “Fighter of the Decade” for the ’90s by the Boxing Writer’s Association, is one of either hatred and resignation, or love and appreciation.
He started his career in Pensacola, Fla. (where he still lives with his three children, fiancée, and 1,341 animals) at the innocent age of 10. Weighing only 69 pounds at the time, Jones faced an 85-pound, 14-year-old fighter in a boxing event at Pensacola Beach and knocked the kid silly.
Fast forward to the ’88 Summer Olympics in Seoul. There, Jones lost a highly-disputed decision to a South Korean fighter in the gold-medal final—and a subsequent investigation led to some of the judges admitting they had accepted bribes from Korean officials to vote against him.
“One thing I learned from the ’88 Olympics—it’s not a question if they can screw you over, it’s a question of if they will,” Jones, who didn’t accept the Olympic silver medal, said on his website.
“It’s not the gold medal they took away from me. The medal doesn’t mean anything,” he added. “It’s that they said I lost. That experience is well and alive in my mind.”
Fighting with a decisiveness not seen since “Sugar Ray” Leonard, and a cockiness not heard since Muhammad Ali, Jones quickly began to climb the boxing ranks—and emerged as the sport’s top fighter.
He started out as a middleweight—and won the IBF title against Bernard Hopkins. Moved up to super middleweight—and won the IBF title against then undefeated James Toney.
Moved up to light heavyweight—and won the WBC title against Mike McCallum. Then moved up to heavyweight—and captured the WBA title against John Ruiz.
In less than 10 years, Jones gained titles in four different weight classes and suffered only one controversial defeat to Montell Griffin in ’97 due to a late hit disqualification.
But he quickly avenged that loss with a first-round knockout in the rematch.
“When I started, I knocked out about 17 of ’em in a row, but I hurt people,” said Jones. “That’s not a good way to be. I could [expletive] somebody up. I’m that strong.
“If I started showing people how mean I really am, somebody would wind up dead.
“If I fought like I was looking for a place in history, it would ruin me as a person,” he added. “I don’t think history is worth selling my soul. God wouldn’t want me to be the type of rooster that kills another rooster.
“So I’m going to chill, and stay the nice guy that I am.”
Jones, who owns the multi-media firm Body Head Entertainment, had lengthy scenes in the “Matrix” movies, and has recorded two rap albums, may not be well-educated, but he is well-versed.
He is smart, witty, sharp, entertaining, religious, confrontational, gifted, abrasive, calculating, opinionated, demeaning, critical, loyal, patient, and above all, respected.
“In the ring, I’m a monster. I’m not evil. I’m God’s monster, but I am a monster,” Jones stressed. “To me, when I go out there, I’m not the same Mr. Nice Guy. Leave your kids and children at home.
“What I do, I do because that’s what God blessed me to do,” he added. “If a man doesn’t have something in life worth dying for, it ain’t worth living.”
Fortunately, his legend inevitably will grow, but for now, people only will be focused on Jones’ recent failures—not his exquisite past. He should depart from the sweet science, but he should be allowed to depart as he came.
“You can knock me down, but you’d better put me cold asleep because when I get up, I’m coming back.”
Hopefully that won’t be the case this time.
Suggestions? Comments? Greatest fighter ever? E-mail me at emoutsatsos@fortfrances.com

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