BN: How significant was what happened at Seoul ’88 in shaping your career?

RJ: It was very significant, because if that didn’t happen to me the rest may not have happened. But what happened, happened. It drove me for a long time. It drove me a whole lot, because being that I had gotten robbed, it pushed me to a place that I didn’t want to go – that I wouldn’t have gone if it was me by myself. You feel me?

I came to peace with it when I became heavyweight champion of the world [by beating John Ruiz in 2003]. When I became heavyweight champion of the world I made history, so I was good

…I probably never got to peace.

BN: How much do you owe your father Roy Snr for your success? 

RJ: A lot. He taught me about great foundations, so I owe him a lot. Those great foundations carried me a long way, so I owe a lot to him.

BN: What’s your relationship with him like today?

RJ: Not too good today. We don’t have a relationship today. It made me a lot different [as a father] and me and my [six] kids are a lot closer [than me and my father were] because of what I went through. It made me better because I knew what to do and what not to do with my own.

[But] what is meant for you is probably going to be, so if God’s got that plan for you, you’re going to get it.

BN: How much of your success was because of his successor as your trainer, Alton Merkerson?  

RJ: A lot too. A whole lot, because his military background gave him a form of discipline, which is what I needed to succeed in my pro career. He didn’t know what I knew, boxing-wise, but he had discipline. All I needed was discipline. It wasn’t the boxing skills – it was more the discipline.

BN: When you were turning professional you had wanted wanted to work with the great Emanuel Steward…

RJ: It wouldn’t have worked, because he had too many fighters already and I needed my own team. I would not have been the same if I was a Kronk fighter. [Maybe] it would have gone pretty good, but he had too many other fighters around him at that point.

BN: How do you reflect on the fact that you for so long resisted working with the world’s leading promoters?

RJ: Well, it was the best thing for me, because I needed my own space; my own team. I was in solitary – I wanted someone who was going to devote their time to me. Me, only me and nothing else. I wanted somebody who was going to devote their time to me and my team. The main two [promoters, Bob Arum and Don King] – they had too much going on already. It was so me and my team [Jones Jnr was instead guided by Stanley and Fred Levin] could become a player.

I grew up around game roosters and pitbull dogs, and they were two warriors – and that was what God wanted me to be. He knew my end goal.

BN: Who was the best you fought?

RJ: James “Lights Out” Toney [at middleweight in 1994]. He was 44-0 [and 2] when I fought him; undefeated; the best shoulder-roll fighter that I’ve ever seen. He had power. He had speed. He had defence. He had everything. He could knock you out from round one to round 12, so, he’s definitely the best fighter I ever fought. He’s in the hall of fame now.

Just, strategy [was the key to beating him with such ease]. You got to have strategy, to beat that.

As a shoulder-roll fighter in my opinion he is and always will be a better fighter than Floyd Mayweather.

He can knock you out in any round. Any fight he fights is going to be an exciting fight because he knock you out from round one to round 12, and he has combinations; he has speed; he does it all. And he ain’t going to worry about playing it safe; he believed in his defence so he ain’t got to worry about playing it safe.

BN: What was your best win?

RJ: That’s hard to say. The night I won the heavyweight title, because I made history. Nobody [in 106 years, since Bob Fitzsimmons] never turned pro at middleweight and became the heavyweight champ.

BN: What night were you at your very best?

RJ: That I don’t know. It’s very hard to say. I felt really good against everybody I fought – James Toney; Richard Hall… Above 35 [years of age], would definitely have been the night I fought Jeff Lacy [in 2009], but below 35, I don’t know. I felt better in that fight than I had felt in a long time. I was 40, but I felt really good that night.

BN: What, with the benefit of hindsight, would you do differently?

RJ: I would have taken two years off after I lost all that weight and beat [Antonio] Tarver the first time [in 2003]. After I went to heavyweight and came all the way back down, my body needed a two-year break. [Maybe] retire after the first Tarver win, because I’d sacrificed my body – my body went through so much. I won the heavyweight title, came back, I recaptured the light-heavyweight title, and my body needed a break. I had been pushing my body hard – for years on top of years – and after that weight gain, and then weight loss, my body needed a break and I didn’t give it to it, so my body failed because I didn’t give it to it.

Roy Jones Jnr at Manchester Central Convention Complex on January 19, 2023 (Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

BN: How important was it for you to avenge your first defeat, via disqualification, by Montell Griffin?

RJ: It was highly important because it was my first loss and I never had plans on losing. It was very difficult, especially after being robbed of a gold medal in Seoul, Korea. [Former opponent] Vinny Pazienza hit Dana Rosenblatt and the referee [Tony Orlando] after the referee told him to stop – he didn’t get disqualified. Riddick Bowe hit Jesse Ferguson several times while he was down and not get disqualified. But when I do it accidentally – knowing the heart I got, that I don’t wanna hurt nobody – I get disqualified [Tony Perez was the referee]. It hurt me bad, because I never planned on losing.

BN: The culture around boxing sometimes places an unhealthy obsession on fighters remaining undefeated. Do you think you’d be even more admired than you already are if you’d retired without losing another fight?

RJ: Of course. If I’d retired after the first win against Tarver I’d go down in history as the greatest fighter to ever fight. I retire after that first Tarver fight – I’m undefeated, they’re still talking about me being the greatest fighter in the history of the game. But if I’m that same person, then I’ve still done that. I just didn’t let my body recover. So if I’m still, at that point, the best fighter ever, why am I still not the greatest fighter ever? Because I’m still the same person who did all that.

They don’t say Michael Jordan ain’t the best basketball player ‘cause he’s lost a few games. He wasn’t the same when he got 40 years old, or 35 years old – they’re still going to say he’s the greatest player ever. They don’t say Joe Montana ain’t one of the best quarterbacks ever, because he’s lost a game or two here and there. They don’t say Tom Brady ain’t the best quarterback ever because he didn’t win the Super Bowl in his last season. So why can’t I still be what I am? If I can get the accolades because of what I did in my prime – but because I went beyond my prime I can’t get the accolades? Bullcrap. But, you know…

What happened, happened. What I can’t change, why waste time thinking about it? The fact of the matter is I’m still the same person that did all that. Why am I not the greatest fighter? Because I put my body through tremendous terror just to go to tremendous heights? Because my body went through that at the time, that means I’m not the greatest fighter that ever lived? Bullcrap. I gotta be.

BN: Why do you still fight on?

RJ: I really don’t. I retired. I’m concentrating on being a trainer now, but if a fight comes along and that looks like it ain’t unhealthy for me, and I love to entertain – I’m in the gym doing stuff anyway – why not?

I ain’t fighting no more, but I loved it. I loved it. It’s hard to walk away from because of what I did, and I loved to challenge myself. Even at 54 – to be able to go eight rounds at 54 [as I did earlier this year, against Anthony Pettis]. That weekend I said [to one of my fighters], “Listen, you’re 31 years old – I just did eight rounds at 54, and you’re telling me I got more energy than you? No I don’t. So don’t give me that, let’s go”. It gave me even more to work with. Now, as an example, I did an eight-round fight at 54 years old and you telling me you’re tired? No, I don’t want to hear that.

BN: Where do you rank among the very finest of all time?

RJ: I gotta be right up there with [Muhammad] Ali. Nobody had the style, charisma or class that I had. I would only put Ali above me – and that’s always. He’ll always be there, because without him I would never have got to become who I was. But out there nobody else had the charisma; the style; the defence; the offence; the movement; the banging; the body shots; the head shots. Nobody else had that total package, ever in the sport of boxing, like I did. Nobody. I don’t care – nobody had the combinations. Nobody had the total package.

You’ve got to look right now – that’s why my YouTube videos are the highest. My YouTube videos are the most exciting. Nobody ever brought the full package to the capacity that Roy Jones did in his prime. I ain’t got to say it. Go look at YouTube. Go show me somebody that meshed [all of that together] – you ain’t gonna find nobody.

[Ali is] the greatest of all time because of what he went through inside and outside of the ring. Without what he did inside and outside of the ring – he always was, and still is gonna be, my inspiration underneath God. God inspired me because he gave me life, but Ali is my second inspiration after God.

BN: Who’s the best fighter you’ve seen in the years since your victory over Antonio Tarver?

RJ: It’s hard to say, because there were a lot. The best fighters out there since the Roy Jones Jnr period is a little of a mix. You put Tyson Fury, [Vasyl] Lomachenko and Terence Crawford together, you got it. They’re the top three since me, because they’ll fight anybody – they ain’t scared of fighting nobody. They fight the best of the best. Really, you can put [Manny] Pacquiao in that too, because Pacquiao fought them all.

BN: Do you think we’ll ever again see a fighter win titles at middleweight and heavyweight?

RJ: I don’t know. I’m not God. I can never tell you. God created me so God can create better than me so I can never know. I don’t know whether we will or not.

It’s very difficult to do, and it’s very difficult to come back down afterwards and recapture the light-heavyweight title as well. That’s why my body took such a hit doing it. People telling me I’m not the best pound-for-pound fighter ever don’t appreciate what I did, you understand? If you appreciate what I did you’d know without question that I’ve got to be the best pound-for-pound fighter ever, but they don’t give it to me because they don’t care that I did it. They give it to a man [Mayweather] who ain’t taken no chances; who campaigned his whole career undefeated because he ain’t really taken no chances. They all say, “That has to be the best fighter ever because the 0”. That can’t be the case, you understand me? The 0 – you’re telling me that’s the best fighter ever? No way.

I’m going to say Michael Jordan ain’t the best basketball player ever because he lost games? No. He’s still the best basketball player ever. In football, you gonna say the best quarterback ever ain’t the best ‘cause he ain’t the number one on the yards list? No, that’s not the case. LeBron James is the highest scoring NBA player, but do that make him the best NBA player of all time? No.

You don’t judge the losses. You judge any fighter – who was better? You go back to my prime – nobody. Simple.

BN: Are you at peace in 2023?

RJ: Yes, I’m at peace.

BN: Given the dangers of your profession and the fact that you had 76 fights, do you ever worry about your health?

RJ: No, I don’t worry about my health. If I was fighting and taking chances – but I’m not doing that.

Of course I do [monitor my condition]. Always.

BN: What else do you hope to achieve?

RJ: To coach a world champion. Not yet [close to doing so], but I will be. It’s a process and it takes time.