Homeward bound: Roy Jones Jr interview
Luke G. Williams
Roy Jones Jr talks to Boxing Monthly's Luke G. Williams about heading home to Pensacola, Florida for his final fight, the moment that changed his life and the highlights of his amazing career...
Time may have dulled his reflexes and reduced his once breathtaking pugilistic skills to a shadow of their former self, but Roy Jones Jr remains as fast talking and confident as ever as he approaches the 75th and apparently final professional boxing bout of his career – scheduled for his hometown of Pensacola, Florida on 8 February.
“To end it all where it started feels real good,” the 49-year-old tells Boxing Monthly by telephone from Las Vegas ahead of his showdown with Scott Sigmon (30-11-1).
Casting his mind back to his pro debut against Ricky Randall – also in Pensacola way back in 1989 – Jones adds nostalgically: “My first fight… I remember everyone was so excited. There was such high anticipation of the beginning of a beautiful career, a career that had a lot of prominence, a lot of emotion attached to it.
“It was the first time that the city [of Pensacola] could really rally around something that was gonna be from that city. To be able to represent that city and everything it did, it was a beautiful start, a beautiful marriage, a beautiful relationship between an athlete and his city.”
Jones’ references to beauty carry a particular resonance, as for nearly 15 years the aesthetic brilliance of his pugilistic genius saw him carve out a dazzling and unparalleled pro career.
World titles were garnered at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and even heavyweight, as Jones dominated the fight scene of the 1990s and early ‘00s.
After a majority points victory against Antonio Tarver in 2003, Jones’ professional ledger stood at an almost perfect 49-1 – the sole blemish a contentious disqualification loss to Montell Griffin which the Floridian unforgettably avenged in a two-knockdown, one-round rematch.
Regarded by many as boxing’s pound for pound king for the best part of a decade, Jones’ shocking two-round rematch loss to Tarver in 2004 precipitated a rapid decline in his fortunes.
Now 65-9 with five KO losses on his record, Jones has – by common consent – fought on far too long, but retains his customary sharpness of both mind and mouth – as well as an unshakeable faith in his abilities and justifiable pride in his fistic accomplishments.
“I don’t really care how I’m remembered,” he insists. “But we have the Worldwide Web now, we have Youtube and all that and now and for the longest time people are gonna be able to say: ‘if you want to see the sickest boxing highlights ever, you have to look up Roy Jones Jr!’
“That does it for me! That’s good enough! That’s it! Because those are facts! That’s something you can’t make up! Ain’t nobody who can re-duplicate it or change it … you can’t go Photoshop it! No! It is what it is! You can say whatever you wanna say but if you wanna see the sickest highlights from boxing ever you’ve got to go watch Roy Jones Jr. It’s simple! Can you even pretend there’s ever been people close to as good as that?”
When asked to assess Floyd Mayweather’s self styled status as ‘TBE’ (‘The Best Ever’), Jones gives an answer worthy of an international diplomat.
“It’s not really a discussion. He is the TBE … at making money. That is the truth, he’s the best ever at making money as he made more money than anyone in any event ever, So you’ve got to know what he TBE at – that’s promoting himself and making money. That’s a very true statement.”
Mayweather, of course, negotiated with the leading Mixed Martial Arts organisation the Ultimate Fighting Championship in order to facilitate the final fight of his career against UFC superstar Conor McGregor.
Jones’ showdown with Sigmon also has a UFC connection - it was announced a few days ago that the contest will be broadcast on UFC Fight Pass – the organisation’s hugely popular streaming platform.
UFC president Dana White – fresh from his role in the massive commercial success that was Mayweather vs McGregor – has spoken widely of his desire to also enter into boxing promotion, and the Jones-Sigmon bout represents a further move in that direction.
“Me and Dana have been friends for a long time, since before the UFC even got started,” Jones explains of his link-up with the UFC. “We’ve been talking back and forth about the UFC Fight Pass going into boxing and finally, by the grace of God, it came together and everything fell right in line.
“I’m super excited about it. It’s the first time real boxing is on the UFC Fight Pass and I’m like woah, I get to be the first to do something else!
“That’s a beautiful thing on my way out! It’s a beautiful gift from God, and something I’m very appreciative to the UFC for. I’ve always been a big fan of the UFC and I look forward to a wonderful night.”
Jones has also long been linked with a showdown against the UFC’s Brazilian superstar and former middleweight champion Anderson Silva. He admits that he still hankers after that contest, and that should it be finally brokered his retirement might prove short-lived.
“That would bring me out of retirement!” he says. “It’s such a big event. It’s one we’ve wanted to do since even before the McGregor-Mayweather fight happened. We were the first to really start that [cross-code idea] up.
“If we had the opportunity to fulfil that I think that would make us both happy, I think that would probably be the highlight of both our careers. Then we’d both be able to walk off into the sunset and enjoy ourselves and be happy that we’d had the chance to do what we wanted to do in our respective sports.
“So if that came about, because it’s been on the back burner for so long, of course I would make an exception for that particular fight but that’s about it!”
Turning from the future to the past, Jones then speaks to Boxing Monthly about some of the key fights of his illustrious career, beginning with his first world title fight – a May 1993 victory against Bernard Hopkins on the undercard of Bowe vs Ferguson, which saw Jones lift the IBF title after he outboxed and out-thought the wily Philadelphian.
“It was a good fight,” Jones recalls. “The thing about that fight was I just wanted to make sure I stayed smart and I stayed focused because one of the first goals in my life was to turn professional and become a world champion. There was a lot of pressure on my back because that was my opportunity and I had [only] one hand [Jones fought with an injured right hand] but I still needed to become world champion.”
If the Hopkins fight announced Jones’ arrival on the world stage, then it was his one-sided thrashing of pound for pound contender James Toney in 1994 that solidified his claim to be regarded as the premier boxing talent of the decade.
“That fight was different,” Jones admits. “I’d already become world champion, he was the opponent I needed to become the big guy on the block. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. Toney was the man.
“You’ve got to beat the man so people know there’s a new sheriff in town. If there’s [to be] a new man in town, a new boss, this couldn’t just be a ‘win’, I had to dominate the best fighter out there, the guy they were all calling the best fighter pound for pound. I had to dominate him to show that I am pound for pound the best. And that’s what happened.”
Of his controversial disqualification loss to Montell Griffin in 1997, Jones confesses: “The first fight was really bad for me. You know, Floyd [Mayweather] never lost - a real boxer wants to fight and never wants to lose. When you’ve not lost you’ll fight to your last breath to not lose and when you’re undefeated you never know what the feeling is [to lose].
“So they took that from me in my first fight with Griffin - that’s what hurt the most - the fact they took my undefeated record away.
“The second fight [which Jones won by first round KO] I had to come back and prove that in my eyes I’d already won the first fight. I came out to fight the last round all over again. To show that I was really the better fighter. And I think I kind of proved that.
“It wasn’t nothing personal. I didn’t blame the guy – it wasn’t his choice, he didn’t disqualify me. He just did what he was supposed to do. I don’t hold no grudge or anything like that. That’s life you know.”
Jones’ memories of his audacious WBA heavyweight title victory against John Ruiz in 2003 also prove vivid. “John Ruiz had no clue who he was fighting or what he was facing,” he says.
“[Winning a heavyweight title] was something I had never thought about doing. I’d never thought as an amateur that I would one day fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. So that was something God gave me that was way, way up beyond what I asked for, or what I thought I’d be in line to do.
“When I got to that fight I knew he had no clue how focused or how determined I was. He didn’t know that he was playing with a guy more determined than he was. When he got in the ring he found out the hard way.”
As our interview draws to a close, I ask Jones to pinpoint the most significant moment of his career. His response is immediate, but also somewhat surprising.
“When I was 14 years old I was disqualified from a junior Olympic tournament – the reason was because I couldn’t make weight,” he recalls.
“That was the first time in my career that I ever realised how much I meant [to people], how much of a load I was carrying on my shoulders. People were so disappointed that I didn’t make weight. I had no clue that I had a reputation to uphold not only for me but for other people.
“That was the turning point of my life.”
I can’t help but feel somewhat honoured to have been privy to what Orson Welles might have termed ‘Roy Jones’ Rosebud moment’ and suddenly I feel a little emotional. “Some of them may have forgot Roy, but many of us will never forget,” I tell him, in a somewhat ham-fisted reference to his iconic 2001 rap track ‘Y’All Must've Forgot’.
“Thank you my brother, I appreciate that,” Jones replies.
And then he is gone, heading home to Pensacola where it all began, all those years ago.
Roy Jones Jr's final fight (plus undercard of boxing / MMA contests) will stream live on UFC FIGHT PASS (download APP or desktop at ufcfightpass.com).