TBE? Don’t forget Roy Jones Jr

Ted Bodenrader
08/02/2018 10:54am

Floyd Mayweather has often proclaimed himself 'The Best Ever'. Anyone disputing that would have to consider Roy Jones Jr as a contender. Ted Bodenrader gives five reasons why...

This article was originally published in Boxing Monthly magazine in December 2015...

At a time when Floyd Mayweather, the self-proclaimed TBE (The Best Ever), is flirting with a retirement that seems somewhat TBA (to be announced), we pause for a millisecond to tune in elsewhere, precisely HBO (Home Box Office).

Harold Lederman, he who judges fights for the sport’s marquee network, was being fitted for a ringside tux just hours before welterweight Tim Bradley was being draped in WBO championship hardware.

Although the veteran analyst unofficially declared Bradley the comfortable leader (before kayoing Brandon Rios) during the 7 November telecast, his final decision regarding the TBE frontrunner was even more clear-cut.

“Sugar Ray Robinson was the greatest fighter who ever lived,” Lederman said from Las Vegas. “There are no number twos or threes. It’s just him. Floyd Mayweather would have to fight another 150 times just to catch up to him.”

While Mayweather’s recent dismantling of Manny Pacquiao generated such TBE chatter, perhaps Lederman need only look to the chap on his right, the analyst donning the HBO headset, to find a more worthy challenge to Robinson’s unofficial TBE status.

Some would recommend a wool straitjacket for whomever suggested Roy Jones, Jr, owner of eight professional defeats, four times by way of stoppage, as superior to Mayweather and his unblemished 49-0 campaign.

Yet, neither Lederman nor this humble scribe are among those overlooking Jones as perhaps the finest prizefighter of the past quarter century, if not longer.

“Oh, I think Roy absolutely belongs in this discussion [of TBE], without question,” Lederman said. “I remember him as this great middleweight, super middleweight, and light-heavyweight who couldn’t be touched. He was so dominant during that time, it was unbelievable.”

Hence, while the 46-year-old boxing icon prepared for his latest ring test (also TBA), we validate Jones’ TBE worthiness with this unabashed five-point combination.

May 15, 2004 marked the final page of a remarkable 15-year story, as Jones’ invincibility was foiled by the one-punch impact of Antonio Tarver. The dark chapter of his career that ensued, including KO drubbings to the unheralded Danny Green and Denis Lebedev, is more like an epilogue you needn’t visit, an anticlimactic ending to the wondrous tale that preceded it.

After all, TBE candidates are traditionally assessed for their performances within their respective primes. Rarely are hiccups against Trevor Berbick or Leon Spinks mentioned when synopsising Muhammad Ali’s illustrious career. Roberto Duran tasted failure 16 times in his lengthy career, yet his TBE presence is solidified by storied victories over Sugar Ray Leonard and Davey Moore (among others). Even Robinson himself felt the agony 19 times throughout his plethora of prizefights.

“Some people would say Roy tarnished his legacy a little in the past 10 years,” Lederman said. “But at that point, he’d already made his mark in this game.”

Jones’ career-changing collapse to Tarver came at the fading age of 35, three years older than was Marvin Hagler when the Marvelous One permanently retired.

It was a forgivable defeat, considering Jones had accomplished a feat that hadn’t been achieved in over a century of recorded fisticuffs (more on that in a bit).

It’s more than a cheesy line from a romantic tearjerker. Throughout decades of pugilism, iconic fighters were not only defined by their ring prowess, but also by their signature counterparts.

After all, Ali had his Frazier, Louis had his Schmeling, Rocky had his Jersey Joe, Duran had his Leonard, Hagler had his Hearns, and so forth. Criteria for a TBE frontrunner requires that you must meet, and beat, your perfect match.

Roy Jones’ “you-complete-me” moment occurred in November 1994. The date was the undefeated 168-pound sensation James Toney, the fight dubbed as a Hagler-Leonard of the ’90s, a pair of pound-for-pound elitists at the top of their respective games (Las Vegas oddsmakers declared it a pick ’em). After 36 minutes of jaw-dropping dominance, Jones was no longer muttered in the top pound-for-pound echelon. Pundits were pondering his place among the greatest of all time.

A decade after dream matches like Chavez-Whitaker and De La Hoya-Trinidad commenced without hitches, Mayweather’s “you-complete-me” foe finally surfaced in the form of Manny Pacquiao in 2008. By the time Mayweather agreed to ink the deal earlier this year, Pacquiao’s poise had diminished (losing twice in his last five fights) and the significance of the superfight was severely reduced.

Meantime, Jones’ detractors swiftly point to one gaping hole in his impeccable portfolio — Dariusz Michalczewski. Although the rugged Polish-born German light-heavyweight loomed as the sole obstacle to Jones’ command of the 175-pound division, promotional talks stalled and the bout never materialised.

“Roy got robbed in the Olympics in Korea,” Lederman said of Jones’ controversial loss to the hosting country’s Park Si-Hun. “After that, he felt he couldn’t get a fair shake overseas. If Michalczewski had come to the United States to fight, Roy would have fought him, no problem.”

From his ringside seat, Lederman bore first-hand witness to some of Jones’ eye-popping spectacles, like the night he mowed down Glen Kelly with one hand behind his back (literally) and how he hammered Bryant Brannon with a rapid-fire, seven-hook combination.

“Roy could entertain like no one else,” Lederman said. “I can’t recall seeing another fighter with that kind of showmanship. Ever.”

And then there was the way he took down Virgil Hill, who’d previously never tasted the canvas in his career, with one body shot. Three-time world champion Reggie Johnson was made to look like an amateur in a lopsided, two-knockdown affair, a shutout on all three scorecards. And, of course, sixth-round TKO victim Vinny Pazienza failed (for the first time in CompuBox history) to land a single punch on Jones in his futile fourth round. Let’s not forget when Jones, galvanised by a disqualification loss to Montell Griffin in 1997, needed less than one round to secure rematch redemption in the most spectacular fashion.

“That combination of blinding speed, power, and defence was something we’d never seen before in a prize ring,” Lederman said. “He was so often a sight to behold.”

Although Mayweather had crowds marvelling at his dismantling of the late Diego Corrales and the late Arturo Gatti, he’s more synonymous with a safety-first approach that’s too often frazzled — and not dazzled — money-spending fight fans.

Any bettor knows that the most lucrative gains result from the largest ventures. We’d first seen the gambler in Jones when he performed his two-sport act on 15 June 1996, a point guard for the Jacksonville Barracudas basketball team by day, an Eric Lucas-whupping machine by night.

He upped the ante when he went all in against John Ruiz, a deceptively dangerous heavyweight beltholder who hardly laid a glove on the bulked-up Jones during their WBA title bout. It marked the first time in a century such a feat had been achieved, as Jones, who launched his career as a 154-pounder, essentially trekked 50 pounds and five weight classes to delight fans with a historical achievement (becoming the first middleweight champ since the 19th century to win a heavyweight crown).

That night in March 2003 marked the final act of Jones’ lengthy run of pound-for-pound supremacy, as the dramatic weight loss that ensued undoubtedly sparked his sudden downfall. The one-punch defeat to Tarver paved the way for subsequent losses to Glen Johnson, Joe Calzaghe and Bernard Hopkins.

However, critics point out the long string of earlier triumphs over underwhelming contenders like Richard Hall, Richard Frazier and Otis Grant as an added detriment to his TBE aspirations.

“I’m not buying it,” Lederman said. “Roy cleaned out the [super middleweight and light-heavyweight] divisions. He fought everybody. He fought all his mandatories.”

Although Mayweather’s portfolio includes triumphs over Zab Judah, Miguel Cotto and Canelo Alvarez, his cautionary, pitter-patter defensiveness sometimes mirrored his approach at the negotiation table.

Jones’ 2001 stab at vocal prestige was the utterly forgettable single, Y’All Must’ve Forgot. However, his 15-year reign of unrivalled excellence should be cemented in boxing history.

He was a revolutionary stylist. Few fighters have been emulated more in modern times. Jones relied on laser-fast right-hand leads and triple-left-hook combinations to mow down countless adversaries. Mimicking the animals from the Florida farm on which he was raised, Jones introduced his trademark ring posture, cradling a low left hand while feinting and slipping around his befuddled opponents.

“I loved the way he would drop his left hand, stick out his jaw and dare you to hit him,” Lederman recalled. “And the amazing part is that nobody could!”

While Mayweather’s lack of innovation often had us asking: “What if?”, Jones’ unprecedented ring splendour had us frequently inquiring: “What next?” And while Jones is often overlooked for his accomplishments, Mayweather has become universally lauded for what he didn’t do (lose).

“There have been too many Roy Jones wannabes who’ve come along,” Lederman said, “but none of them have even come close to the real thing.”