The Big Question: How great was Roy Jones Jr?

Boxing Monthly
07/02/2018 3:52pm

As Roy Jones Jr prepares for his 75th and 'final' pro fight, the Boxing Monthly online team assess his legacy and the extent of his greatness...

‘Y'all must have forgot!’ Between the Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather eras, Roy Jones Jr. reigned supreme. Had Jones retired after schooling WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz in 2003, he would probably have been considered one of the all-time greats of world boxing. His stock was that high. Unfortunately, when retirement should have beckoned at 34, an ill-advised move back down to 175lbs clouded a legacy. Jones’ career went into a dramatic freefall with just five wins in his next 12 fights including a series of chilling knockout defeats. He remains a sure-fire hall of famer, but also a poignant reminder of when boxers fight on too long. - Mark Butcher

The best we saw of Jones was at super middle. Wins against a peak James Toney and Bernard Hopkins (at middle) would never be eclipsed. Despite his dominance and P4P status during that golden period, finding the right calibre of opponent became a problem. He lost motivation and we'd hear about how he loved to shoot hoops hours before fights. A real character, he did things his own way from his Pensacola base and could never be accused of being a boxing establishmentarian. I like to remember that version of Jones, the dazzling footwork, blistering hand speed with the big personality to match. Unfortunately for him and for the boxing fan, in his pomp, those career-defining match-ups just never materialised. He was the Loma of his day, you just couldn't see him being beaten. His record should have been up there with Calzaghe and Mayweather.  - Luca Rosi

An outrageous athlete, Jones often given a pass for his failed PED test against Richard Hall (although that is increasingly the new norm these days). If that incident doesn't affect your evaluation of him then he's probably the best super middleweight since the division's inception and a top ten light heavyweight all time. That, and his willingness to take on the likes of Hopkins and Toney when those fights mattered, would rank him alongside the likes of Pacquiao, Whitaker and Mayweather when discussing the best fighters of the past 30 years. - Andrew Harrison

Although Jones tarnished his legacy with an increasingly depressing string of stoppage losses as a diminished fighter, I try to remember just how good he was. Outrageous athleticism, jolting power, unconventional angles, slick footwork - it all added up an exhilarating whole. The fact he dealt with two hall of famers and ring generals in Toney and Hopkins with relative ease highlight just how good he was. It's just a shame he didn't turn to rapping full time after the Ruiz win - James Oddy

I was at the Garden ten years ago to watch Joe Calzaghe’s final fight and still recall how much it struck me that while clapping beaten opponent Jones Jr from the ring - blood streaming down his face and years past his prime - the old man clearly still loved feeding from the energy of the crowd. One man next to me shouted “Superman!” at Jones before the ex-champ provided the fist bump and famous smile the fan had craved. It’s barely believable that the old warhorse is still boxing ten years later and I doubt this will be the last one. Jones Jr at his best was an athletic marvel able to toy with world class rivals. His KO of Virgil Hill stands as one of the most impressive body punch KOs of all time and first round thrashing of Montell Griffin represents - perhaps alongside Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling - the perfect execution of swift and brutal revenge. It had the feeling of a scripted show rather than sporting event when Jones was in his pomp. As the athletic gifts slowed, Jones Jr’s matchmaking became horrifically ill-judged and a succession of punchers brutally separated him from consciousness and cast a shadow over his glorious career. Some suggest we shouldn’t count past-prime performances when assessing a boxing career, but I don’t agree with that; it’s part of their body of work. After Jones beat Vinny Pazienza in 1995, he revealed he’d discovered that night that boxing was a young man’s game. Twenty three years later, we must hope the lesson is finally learned and Jones finally bows out with faculties intact and what is left of his legacy - still an all time great - in place. - Chris Williamson

After beating Ruiz in 2003, with a record of 48-1, Roy Jones Jr was poised to retire as a legend: the greatest fighter of the 1990s (apologies to Ricardo Lopez), a four-weight world champion, Superman incarnate when boxing world-class opposition, with skills and reflexes which seemed inhuman and impossible (watching replays was almost like watching certain scenes from the Matrix movie). The only negative on his career at this point was the lack of a fight versus Dariusz Michalczewski, who seemed to be the only fighter in the correct weight range who had any chance against him. Jones even made a comment along the lines of: "I want to fight Mike Tyson, then I'm done with boxing!" However from 2004 onwards we have seen Jones become the modern-day epitome of "Please, just retire!". How the heck can he have 9 losses on his record!?! To watch him go 5-7 in his twelve fights after the Tarver victory was so sad, and yes it has affected his overall legacy somewhat. However, when anyone talks about P4P, prime for prime, I think Roy Jones Jr will stay in the discussions for as long as boxing is around, because when he was at his peak, no-one could get close to that chin... He is the greatest 12 stone fighter we've ever seen and in his prime there's not another world champion from the division who I think would have beaten him. He was just amazing in his prime (at three different weights), and would have given any fighter in history a run for their money, probably beating 99.9 per cent of them. - Colin Harris

Roy Jones Jr is my hero. Like many people, I would collect fights on VHS cassettes but the only tapes which remain in my collection are the Roy Jones Jr career set. One day I'll get around to transferring them to DVD but there is really no need. I watched the fights so often that I can recite the commentary from his early career fights in front of white handkerchief waving fans in his home town of Pensacola. Nobody did it like Jones. I was lucky enough to see him fight three times. I was one of the people who witnessed him fight Richard Frazier and I saw Joe Calzaghe beat a finished Roy at Madison Square Garden. But I was also there when Jones beat John Ruiz. I sneaked into the weigh-in in an upstairs room at Caesars Place and managed to sneak down to ringside from my seat in the back row of the Thomas and Mack. Afterwards, I shook Jones' hand as he left the ring. Jones was even more perfect that night than usual. Yes, he should have retired soon afterwards (I personally feel he should have faced Evander Holyfield in a farewell fight) but that doesn't diminish the fighter he was. - John Evans

Unfortunately I never got to see Roy Jones Jr live on television or in attendance. I didn't really get into boxing heavily until he moved up to light heavyweight. So, thanks to old tapes which became DVDs, which became YouTube it is always a privilege to go back and watch what I missed out on. He was a once in a generation fighter, a man who did things that you had to press rewind to see again. A phenomenal talent who like the great bands of our time went on too long. No-one would have predicted he would have been still fighting 27 and a bit years after the lesson he gave James Toney. How good was he? The superlatives get used again and again about Roy Jones Jr. because they are justified. And we'll still be using them when we talk about him in 10, 20, 30 years time. The greatest hits are always remembered. - Shaun Brown

Of course Jones Jr fought on too long, but I don't think that significantly damages his legacy - after all, how often do people talk about Sugar Ray Robinson's losses to the likes of Archer, Ayon or Harrington? The main factor that harms Jones' legacy is his knockout defeat to Antonio Tarver as it occurred close enough to his peak - he was 35 at the time - to 'count against him'. Had he retired after the Ruiz loss then Jones would have had a case to be regarded as a top ten pound for pound pugilist of all time. Had he -post Ruiz - stayed at heavyweight and beaten a Lewis or Holyfield then maybe he could have displaced the great Sugar Ray Robinson... So much for hypotheticals - as things stand, I'd place Jones somewhere in the top 30 of all time, ahead of Mayweather, De La Hoya and Whitaker but probably behind Pacquiao. On a personal level, Jones' flamboyance and unique skill set make him the most breathtaking boxer I've seen in my lifetime. - Luke G. Williams

 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) on 8 February