From Middleweight To Heavyweight – The Story of Roy Jones Jr
While many still wish they could just delete the last quarter of his BoxRec page, Roy Jones Jr was a fighter who never once lost his love for the sport.
Still regarded by many to be one of the greatest talents to lace up a pair of gloves, for over a decade Jones ruled over boxing as the undisputed pound-for-pound king. Highlighted as the only middleweight to be crowned heavyweight king in over a 100 years, this is the story of a man simply known as Superman.
An Olympic Robbery
Like most iconic legacies, Jones’ journey to boxing superstardom began on the Olympic stage. Traveling to Seoul in 1988, a 19-year-old Jones Jr had already gained a stellar reputation among the amateur ranks his native Florida.
Along with winning the United States National Junior Olympics in 1984, Jones claimed back to back National Golden Gloves at two different weight divisions and rightfully stood as Team USA’s hottest prospect.
However, while the likes of Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya’s stories started with them standing atop of the Olympic podium with a gold medal around their neck, Jones’ final contest as an amateur was filled with far more controversy. Cue the biggest travesty in the history of the Olympic Games.
As many had predicted, Jones proved to be head and shoulders above anyone that crossed his path. In fact, head and shoulders is probably underplaying it. The glittering teenager did not only fail to break a sweat as he cruised to the finals, the American did not even drop a single round.
In his first contest, it took Jones just two-minuets to dispose of M’tendere Makalamba, with the referee calling the contest to a halt, along with his silky skills, Jones showed he had TNT in both hands. Next up was Czechoslovakia’s Michal Franek, despite remarkably surviving a systematic beating, Jones picked up a unanimous 5-0 decision.
Jones skipped around the ring pinging punches into Yevgeni Zaytsev’s face in the quarter-finals on his way to another 5-0 win, and was tested by Britain’s Richie Woodhall in the semi-final but largely untroubled and was given another unanimous decision by the judges.
Jones was faster, stronger, bigger and more importantly, more talented than anyone competing in the light middleweight division. Simply put, Jones was a monster.
While Jones had shone on his way to the final, the same can not be said for his opponent. Park Si-hun, the South Korean home favorite had barely managed to come through the opening rounds, many observers ringside still to this day claim that Park had lost every fight on route to the final.
On the last day of boxing at the Olympic Games, Jones put on the dominant display that people were becoming accustomed to. In a completely one-sided affair, Jones’ overwhelming style saw him land 86 punches to Park’s 32 and the NBC’s Count-A-Punch recorder scored the rounds 20-3, 30-15 and 36-14 in Jones’s favour.
His complete dominance was clear to see, that was expected for three judges sat ringside. Bob Kasule of Uganda, Uruguay’s Alberto Durán and Hiouad Larbi of Morocco gave Park the fight and the tarnished gold medal.
In an official investigation years later it was revealed that Korean officials had given the judges an envelope stuffed with money. While he insists that he has come to peace with the decision, Jones to this day has never had his silver medal replaced with a gold one.
The night Roy Jones Jr was robbed of his gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics
They're still screwing boxers today pic.twitter.com/845EUYdEnJ
— EditinKing Boxing 🥊 (@EditinKing) August 23, 2016
Climbing Through The Weights
Coming off the back of the Olympics, although he hadn’t gained a name for quite the reason he had hoped for, Jones and America were eagerly awaiting his debut among the paid ranks.
For Jones, the glittering prospect started from where he finished off as an amateur. Making his debut in May 1989, the Pensacola native announced himself by knocking out 20 of the 21 opponents put in front of him.
After shooting up the middleweight rankings in such a destructive manner, there was no doubting that a 24-year-old Jones was ready to challenge for his first world title. On May 22nd, 1993, a smidge over four years as a professional, Jones was called to face fellow future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins for the vacant IBF 160Ibs belt.
Although many would have thought that a showdown between two of boxing’s future undisputed champions would have been a frontrunner for Fight of the Year, with both men fighting for their first world title, it was a rare lackluster night for Jones. In Round 1, they combined to throw 61 jabs, and only two landed.
While it may not be remembered for the nights action, it is remembered as the first night in a battle of trashing talking that spanned 17 years. It may not have been one of his finest performances, but Jones marched onto a unanimous points decision of 116-112 and after just 22 fights, ‘Superman’ was crowned world champion and the world was grooming him as a pound-for-pound contender.
Making a handful of defenses at 160Ibs, Jones stood head and shoulders above anyone he could be paired with and was ready to hunt bigger prey.
After picking up the IBF middleweight title that James Toney had vacated 16 months prior, Jones followed the RING Magazine’s 1991 Fighter of the Year up to super middleweight and immediately had his sights set on Tovey’s IBF 168Ibs crown.
With a record of 46-0 and universally regarded to be one of, if not the greatest fighter on the planet, Jones found himself in an unusual position, he was the underdog. In a pay-per-view blockbuster, unlike the Hopkins fight the year before, Jones dazzled under the bright lights of Las Vegas.
Taking control of the fight from the opening bell, Jones’ athleticism and footwork saw him simply dance around a bemused Toney before sending him crashing to the canvas in the third round. With Jones cruising to a landslide unanimous points victory, his dominance had not gone unnoticed, RING Magazine called Jones’ victory over Toney the most dominant performance in any big fight in the past 20 years. At 27-0, ‘RJ’ had now won world titles at two separate weight divisions and like Toney, Jones was now crowned as the Fighter of the Year.
Roy Jones Jr toys with James Toney before knocking him down… pic.twitter.com/MeGDdD73P9
— Boxing Memes 🥊 (@Boxing_Memes) March 25, 2016
Over the next two years, Jones run rough shot over the super middleweight division. Knocking out former world champions such as Antoine Byrd, Vinny Pazienza and Eric Lucas, once again, he had outgrown another division and it was time for a change of scenery.
After successfully coming past Mike McCallum and capturing the WBC’s interim title in his first fight at light heavyweight, it was to be Jones’ next opponent that first tested his resolve.
For Jones, after he was never able to avenge his injustice at the Olympics nine years before, the American was desperate to put right his first professional defeat. In March 1997, Jones had been leading in his first showdown with Montell Griffin on two of the judges’ scorecards before foolishly hitting Griffin twice when he was on the canvas. Although he was awarded the contest originally, New Jersey boxing chairman Larry Hazzard reversed the decision and disqualified Jones.
With an immediate rematch sanctioned five months later, Jones made no mistake in his rematch with Griffin, this time, ‘Superman’ was a man intent on proving a point. Sending Griffin to the canvas after just 20 seconds of the opening round, this looked like a new Jones, a more gritty fighter. After two more minutes of brutal punishment, Jones sent a staggered Griffin to the canvas once again but this time he would not be getting back to his feet.
From Middleweight To Heavyweight
Jones just made it all look so easy. As he had done at middleweight and then at super middleweight, he had completely blown through the 175Ibs division and stood a top of the mountain holding the IBF, WBC and WBA light heavyweight titles.
Although Jones was almost universally regarded to be the elite of the elite, there was still a small minority that questioned the caliber of his opponents, even though his seven opponents from 2000 through 2002 had a combined 173-5 record at the time they fought Jones.
Never the less, after barely dropping a round let alone losing a contest at light heavyweight, Jones announced that he was stepping up to the land of the giants in an attempt to etch his name in boxing folk law.
On March 1st, 2003, Jones once again returned to Las Vegas for what will always be remembered as his most iconic evening. Stepping up to heavyweight to face off with reigning WBA champion John Ruiz, a fighter who defeated Evander Holyfield two years earlier, Jones was attempting to become the first middleweight world champion to lift a heavyweight title in over a century.
For Jones, although he underwent a strict muscle-building program, he still gave away 27 pounds to Ruiz, and some believed as soon as Jones absorbed heavyweight body blows, he’d be done. Instead, Jones used his superior boxing ability to control the tempo of the fight. With Ruiz’s nose bleeding and clearly frustrated, Jones cruised towards an historic unanimous points decision.
If Jones had retired after his victory over Ruiz, he would not only be considered as the best in Florida, the 1990s or the past 40 years but perhaps mentioned alongside Sugar Ray Robinson on the short list of preeminent fighters in boxing history.
— Aris Pina (@PunchZoneAris) March 1, 2017
The Overdue Retirement
For Jones, just two fights after being crowned heavyweight champion and arguably the greatest fighter in American history, his reign as pound-for-pound king came to a crashing halt.
After immediately dropping back down to light heavyweight to defend his WBA and WBC 175Ibs against Antonio Tarver, Jones looked exhausted after six rounds and only his boxing brain saw him pull out a razor-thin majority decision. Jones blamed that making the 175Ibs limit after fighting at heavyweight had drained his body more than he expected.
However, in the immediate rematch, Jones’ brain couldn’t get him through his next contest and the world witnessed one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. Back in Las Vegas, the stage of most of Jones’ defining nights, ‘Superman’ looked more than human and in just the second round, Tarver caught the now former pound-for-pound king with a devastating left hook and the referee had seen enough.
For Jones, the American icon never returned to the ring the same fighter. The loss was the sudden start of Jones’ final act. He would be knocked out by Glen Johnson later in 2005 and lose the rubber match to Tarver, putting the remainder of this career in comeback mode.
Did he suffer some devastating defeats? Absolutely, but should do tarnish such an historic legacy? Absolutely not. Between 1993 to 2003, nobody can doubt that ‘Superman’ reigned supreme as boxing’s poster boy.
Jones ended his career with a 66-9 record with 47 knockouts. He may not be the greatest of all-time, but he certainly has made a lasting impression on the sport of boxing with a career that spanned three decades and is littered with spectacular highlights.