WHEN Sugar Ray Robinson landed his greatest punch, it turned the granite-tough Gene Fullmer into rubble. When Sugar Ray Leonard showboated most memorably it was against Marvin Hagler (or Roberto Duran, take your pick). When Muhammad Ali gained revenge it was over Joe Frazier. For Roy Jones Jnr, though, such moments came against the likes of Glen Kelly (knocked out by a single shot just seconds after Roy had both hands behind his back), Richard Hall (battered into submission while Jones wound up his own lightning versions of a bolo punch) and Montell Griffin (iced in a round just five months after frustrating Jnr into disqualification defeat).

At his peak, Jones was a sublime fighting machine, one who evoked memories of the greatest of all time, and one many considered could go on to surpass his idols. When Robinson, Ali and Leonard quit, each did do so knowing there was nothing left to achieve. But with Jones – arguably as naturally talented as that trio – lingering ‘what if’ questions threaten to stain his legacy forever.

Which isn’t completely fair. He blazed onto the professional scene on the back of an infamous bad decision that robbed him of gold against Park Si-Hun at the 1988 Olympics. In his third pro outing he halted future world title challenger Ron Amundsen, he went 16-0 after knocking former welterweight titlist Jorge Vaca in a round, and then found time to spank world-class Jorge Castro, Percy Harris, Glenn Thomas and Glenn Wolfe before he claimed his first major title – IBF middleweight – with a clear decision over Bernard Hopkins in 1993.

He then dominated the awkward Thulani Malinga in a tune-up, thrashed the usually durable Thomas Tate in two, before moving up in weight and challenging IBF super-middleweight champ James Toney. “Lights Out” would perennially claim he was weight-drained for the showdown but he’d shown no signs of fatigue in the fights leading up to the biggest of his life. Jones dominated his rival on points and though it lacked thrills, it oozed class. Roy the legend had arrived… READ MORE

The tough Vinny Pazineza, Tony Thornton, Merqui Sosa and Eric Lucas (whom Jones beat after spending the hours leading to the fight playing in a basketball game) were all dispensed before that controversial loss to Montell Griffin in 1997. Appearing distracted and unmotivated Jones was caught by more punches than in any of his previous encounters. But he was certainly getting on top at the bout’s conclusion when Griffin nosedived after taking a clout while kneeling down. Jones was furious to lose his unbeaten record and the rematch was set.

The opening bell sounded and Jones – a hurtful banger when in the mood – staggered Griffin with his first punch before belting him halfway across the ring with his third. It was clear that revenge would be served, and served quickly. Griffin, a solid fighter at his peak, had no answer to the contemptuous whirlwind ripping through the Mashantucket ring. An outrageous lead left hook exploded off Griffin and he collapsed, before pitching forward like a newborn duckling. Griffin’s eyes were still rolling when Jones leapt onto the ropes, pumped his muscles and bellowed a scream of retribution… READ MORE

In victory, he had claimed a third world belt in a third weight class, the WBC light-heavyweight title. Woken by his stumble in the first Griffin bout, Jones’ would wear an invincible cloak for the next five years.

Accomplished former champion, and future Hall of Famer, Virgil Hill was halted by a sickening body blow in four rounds, Lou Del Valle surrendered his WBA belt over 12, Otis Grant was halted in 10, and Jones added the IBF shade of gold with a comprehensive decision over Reggie Johnson. Roy was beating them with ease.

In 2002 he trounced Britain’s durable future world champ Clinton Woods in six before bypassing cruiserweight and challenging WBA heavyweight leader, John Ruiz, the following year [below]. Many experts predicted the 33-pound weight difference would be too great an advantage for the bigger man but Jones was masterful, using his speed and stunning accuracy to befuddle the champion and come away with a lopsided decision win. Divisional title number four was his, and he had become the first man since Bob Fitzsimmons to win titles at middleweight and heavyweight.

Suddenly, though, something went wrong inside Roy Jones. His freakishly affective machine began to malfunction; his 34 years were conspiring against him. The boxing world refused to believe it when, after rejecting offers to remain at heavyweight, he dropped down to 175lbs and struggled past Antonio Tarver over 12. Looking back, the fact he beat his gifted opponent should be recorded as one of his best victories – it is the only time in his career he faced adversity and won.

roy jones jnr
Jones topples Ruiz

But in the 2004 rematch he was blown away in two rounds, and then his fall from grace was complete five months later when Glen Johnson brutally stopped him in nine. For those who had seen Jones at his best only a year before, the descent was shocking. Suddenly, those tassled feet were out of time, his lead left hook an erratic missile, and his reflexes an unreliable.

But Jones carried on, and more aware of his legacy than ever before, he desperately tried to roll back the years. Occasionally, against an old Felix Trinidad and a ringworn Jeff Lacy, the public were reminded of his beauty but ugly losses to Joe Calzaghe, Danny Green, Hopkins in a rematch, and Denis Lebedev, shaped Roy’s new image as he chugged into a new decade.

Like Robinson, Ali and Leonard, the Floridian didn’t know when to say goodbye and although he didn’t match his predecessor’s achievements, he too should be remembered for being the best of his era.

Happy Birthday, Roy.

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