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Jones out to prove his greatness

Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York Date: Saturday 8 November
Coverage: Live on Setanta Sports 1 from 2300 GMT. Commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live (start time to be confirmed), and BBC Radio Wales from 0100 GMT (Sunday AM), live text commentary on BBC Sport website.

Joe Calzahe and Roy Jones

By Ben Dirs
BBC Sport in New York

It is a basic law of sport - and life - that the more gifted an individual is, the more people that individual lets down when he or she fails to live up to expectations.

Which might explain why, despite dazzling on the world stage for the best part of two decades and winning world titles at four different weights, there are those that question Roy Jones Jr's greatness.

At his peak, Jones was beautiful: the fastest hands and feet since an early Muhammad Ali, the knockout power of Tommy Hearns, more angles than Pythagoras, the reflexes of featherweight legend Willie Pep - so quick, you couldn't hit him with a handful of sugar.

Even old-timers had to admit, in terms of natural talent, he was up there with the very best they'd seen.

You could watch me fight anybody, you knew I was going to do something spectacular

Roy Jones Jr
He made superb fighters like Bernard Hopkins and James Toney look ordinary. He wasn't just head and shoulders above the rest, he soared so high, he could barely make out the competition beneath him.

In 34 fights, no-one came close, until he was hustled and bustled by Montell Griffin before being disqualified for hitting Griffin twice while he was down.

It was a blip. Re-energised, Jones knocked Griffin out in a single round to claim the WBA light-heavyweight crown.

Three world titles at three different weights in 36 fights. It was time for Jones to cement his genius.

In the words of Budd Schulberg, who had seen them all from Jack Dempsey on, Jones was "Hamlet with a mouthpiece" - to be or not to be one of the greatest? That was Jones' choice.

Schulberg, and others besides, were to be disappointed. Instead of stretching his talents, Jones slipped into cruise control, honouring meaningless mandatory defences of his various titles rather than mixing it with live opponents.

Yes, Jones fought in a weak era. But he never fought Joe Calzaghe, or the dangerous Polish-German Darius Michalczewski, or indeed a rematch with Hopkins, who always claimed to be willing.

Jones yawned in opponents' faces - literally - he talked endlessly about stepping up to challenge Evander Holyfield at heavyweight, he played basketball on the eve of fights, he cut hip-hop records. He was bored. And the public grew bored with him, although Jones sees things differently.

"I was having a good time, I was beautiful, I was more than just a fighter - and that was my point," the 39-year-old told BBC Sport.

"So I had my reasons for doing what I was doing and what anyone else thinks about it, I really don't care.

Roy Jones Jr in 2000
Jones has fought 56 fights, losing only four
"I made it so delightful that you could watch me fight anybody, you didn't have to watch me fight another name fighter, because you knew I was going to do something spectacular.

"Not only was I liable to beat the hell out of whoever I was fighting, I was going to look good doing it and give people something to talk about.

"What other fighters did people want to see? Other than Mike Tyson, who was biting people's ears off, there wasn't another fighter who did something out of the norm.

"So was I seriously not taking it serious, or was I taking it a little more serious than people thought I was taking it?"

But most boxing fans didn't want Jones to be anything other than a fighter. His pay-per-view numbers weren't spectacular and when he fought Lou Del Valle in 1998, he did so at the 3,000 capacity Madison Square Garden Theater. And it wasn't even full.

The boxing press, with whom Jones had a fractious relationship, began to question his greatness. Those fabled light-heavies of yesteryear - Ezzard Charles, Billy Conn and Bob Foster - hadn't been so profligate with their talent, they noted.

They'd respected the sport, respected the public and taken risks, something Jones seemed unwilling to do, both in his choice of opponents and with his tactics inside the ring.

However, following another one-sided victory over Sheffield's Clinton Woods (who, it should be noted, went on to win a world title, as other Jones opponents in this period did) in 2002, Jones' paymasters HBO had seen enough, and in 2003 he challenged John Ruiz for the lumbering heavyweight's WBA crown.

Despite giving away 33lb in weight and four inches in height, Jones outclassed Ruiz over 12 rounds to become the first former middleweight world champion to win a heavyweight title since Britain's Bob Fitzsimmons dethroned James J Corbett in 1897.

The boxing writers were forced to re-evaluate. Jones hadn't just beaten Ruiz, he'd pulverised him, reduced him to a bloody mess. It should have been Jones' crowning achievement. But, like so many before him, Jones decided to carry on.

I made it so delightful that you could watch me fight anybody

Roy Jones Jr
"I won the heavyweight title then came back to win the light-heavyweight title," said Jones, a cockfighting and fishing enthusiast from the small town of Pensacola, Florida.

"If I didn't win the heavyweight title then go back down to win the light-heavyweight title, then I didn't do what Bob Fitzsimmons did."

Eight months later, Jones challenged Antonio Tarver for his WBC light-heavyweight belt and nicked a contentious majority decision.

But six months later in the return, Jones finally met his match, knocked bandy by a Tarver left hook in the second round.

For some it was like spotting a false brush-stroke on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel: "Maybe this Michelangelo chap wasn't as good as we all thought he was?"

But just as Michelangelo might have pointed out he was trying to create a masterpiece while lying on his back, Jones also had a valid excuse.

Jones explains: "You have to look at it like this. 'Superman' had to gain a lot of weight to fight at heavyweight. I had to take off a lot of weight to go back down. That was all muscle.

"It took me a while to get back to where I felt good again. When I added all of that muscle and then had to lose it, I don't think people were paying attention."

David Telesco, Roy Jones Jr
Jones beat David Telesco in New York in September 2000
However, Jones suffered an even more chilling knockout against Jamaica's Glen Johnson four months later before being outpointed by Tarver in a decider in 2005.

Joe Calzaghe, who fights Jones Jr on Saturday evening in New York, issued a damning verdict. "I hope Roy decides to retire. I'm not at all interested in facing someone who's been beaten in his last three fights."

But Calzaghe had forgotten that Jones had rebounded from adversity before. In Seoul in 1988, he had been on the receiving end of one of the worst judging decisions in Olympic history. It was easy to forget, it was such a long time ago.

And so Jones, employing a new, high guard - a tacit admission his reflexes weren't what they had been - reeled off three straight wins, the last against a shop-worn Felix Trinidad in January.

He claims to have no regrets ("I'm already satisfied with my achievements. I'll hang them up when I feel like I can't do it any more"), but then why else would he still be fighting?

Saturday's bout against Calzaghe at Madison Square Garden is his chance to rubber-stamp his greatness. "My bag of tricks is back open," says Jones. "I've got a lot of catching up to do."

see also
Calzaghe ready to cement legacy
05 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Jones braced for prime Calzaghe
03 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Calzaghe given Jones Jr warning
29 Oct 08 |  Boxing
Brits at the Garden
03 Nov 08 |  Boxing
Boxing & Madison Square Garden
04 Nov 08 |  Boxing

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