He throws his chin out and opens his arms. He pauses. His opponent mimics. He does it again but unleashes a jumping left hook, catching his opponent off guard and off balance, stumbling back on his heels. He follows with a couple more punches until the only thing keeping his opponent from being on his back is the corner of the ring.
It’s a move like a right lead. A fighter has to be extremely confident to even try it, because if it fails, the fighter is likely on his back. It takes hubris to throw a right hand without setting it up with a jab, and it takes guts and ingenuity to put your chin on a silver platter for another boxer. They’re unorthodox moves that tell the other fighter he’s outmatched because boxers aren’t supposed to be able to get away with those moves. They’re taught to resist the notion to even try them. Jones later says the move is something he learned from studying the fighting roosters on his farm.
It’s easy to scoff at the sequence as a superior fighter taking advantage of one who’s obviously inferior. Except, at the time, Roy Jones, Jr., was the underdog against James Toney, whom many argued was the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. The confidence, and gall, to leave your chin unprotected against a world class boxer can’t be measured.
He goes on to win the decision in a landslide. It would be the last fight he enters in his prime as an underdog.
For the better part of the next decade, he literally boxes circles against the anyone put in front of him.
But, there is the one blemish.
In March of 1997, Jones is in the ring against Montell Griffin and its actually a fight. The early rounds are close, but even a biased observer like me is scoring them for Griffin. Slowly, Jones closes the gap and takes over on points. In the ninth round, Jones lands a clean shot, wobbling Griffin and as he tries to get the knockout, Griffin takes a knee. Unfortunately, Jones lands two more punches and gets disqualified.
Later that August, they have their rematch. Unlike most of his other fights, Jones is jumping around and high-fiving the people in his corner. He exudes energy. Griffin looks nervous during introductions.
When the bell rings, Jones begins with a barrage of hooks. The second to land drives Griffin backwards and as he falls the ropes push his back up. The referee correctly rules it a knockdown. Two minutes later, Jones lands another left hook and the audience cheers as Griffin struggles to get up. He eventually gets to his feet before falling again to the canvas.
It’s his last fight of my adolescence.
I leave for college at the end of that summer and watch his lopsided fights through my four years in college. It coincides with him referring to himself in the third person. By the time I graduate, he’s considered the best fighter in the world, but one who has largely gone unchallenged. The one boxer (Dariusz Michalczewski) the pundits wish for him to fight won’t come to The United States of America for the bout, and Jones still has issues with fighting outside the country after being robbed of a gold medal during the 1988 Summer Olympics.
In early 2003, he moves up to heavyweight and dominates John Ruiz for one of the titles. In the fall, he sheds weight to regain the light heavyweight title from Antonio Tarver in a fight where he has to dig deep and win the later rounds to get a majority decision.
That’s the last fight I want to remember.