Decisive loss to Calzaghe may signal end of line for Jones
It is a familiar scenario: A great fighter, a multi-champion, carries on well past his prime, entering the ring yet again at an age when surely he must be spent. But before the bout he sounds the same as ever, and you look at him when the robe comes off on fight night and he appears just as fit. The bell rings and he seemingly moves just the same, his gaze just as sharp and ready. And you start to believe -- he can pull it off one more time. Then in an instant, a punch maybe or just a feint and a flinch, and it's all gone like a drifting smoke. The old fighter is just that, an old fighter, and the man in the ring with him is faster, stronger, sharper and beating the crap out of him.
Usually, of course, the other fighter is some young up-and-comer, some brash upstart with no respect for his elders, just the easy assumption of youth's terrible privilege.
It was different last night in Madison Square Garden. Yes, 39-year-old Roy Jones Jr. had arrived seemingly in superlative shape, singing his own praises in vintage third-person oratory and shedding his bright-orange housedress of a robe to reveal (at 174½ pounds) that balloon-biceped, washboard-abbed superhero's body. And, yes, he'd come out with the same disdainful look and arm-swinging stance only to have it all go sadly wrong.
But last night the guy so brutally exposing Jones as a spent fighter was no young sensation. He was Joe Calzaghe, himself 36 years old and fighting for the 46th time as a pro. Suddenly it's not so reassuring to say, "If Roy were only 10 years younger ..." Because then, of course, Joe would be 10 years younger too -- and already a year into a decade-long, 21-bout reign as super middleweight champion of the world. Last night's fight was only the second in the U.S. for the undefeated Calzaghe, who was born and bred and still lives in Wales. (In his U.S. debut, last April in Las Vegas, he beat another superannuated future hall of famer, Bernard Hopkins.) American fans can only wonder what might have been had the Pride of Wales set sail earlier.
There was reason to believe that last night's bout would be competitive. The supremely gifted Jones (who in his 56-bout career had won eight world titles, from super middle up to heavyweight and back down to light heavy, and who in his prime was so superior to his opponents that he had to do things like play in a semipro basketball game on the afternoon of a fight just to make things interesting) had rebounded from three straight losses in 2004-'05 (two by resounding KO) with a trio of wins, including a drubbing of Felix Trinidad last January. Surely the fighter who had once carried 226 pounds of solid muscle would retain enough strength to handle the far less imposing Calzaghe, a natural 168-pounder who, for all his impressive wins, has never been a fearsome puncher.
In the first round it appeared Jones might have indeed pushed back time. He was moving crisply and picking off the southpaw Calzaghe's winging shots. Just over two minutes into the round, to the dismay of the Calzaghe fans (who dominated the Garden's crowd of 14,512, waving Welsh flags and sending cheers for the Welshman rolling down from the top tier) Jones dropped Calzaghe with a thudding one-two. Calzaghe got up, apparently unhurt save for a gash on the bridge of his nose, but it seemed he was in for a tougher night than anticipated.
It was an illusion Calzaghe quickly dispelled. "When I get hurt or caught like I did in the first round, I always come back stronger," he would say afterward. Fighting at his usual furious pace, he made Jones look slow and, yes, old. Calzaghe may not be a huge puncher, but he throws -- and lands -- four- and five-punch combinations that sting and discourage. And he does it for three minutes each round. And his loosey-goosey, hands-down, hip-waggling style was particularly impressive against Jones. He was, in effect, out-Jonesing Jones. It was as though all those hapless opponents from Roy's prime whom he'd sneeringly juked and pot-shotted into submission had found their avenger in this sharp-featured Welshman who was strafing him and taunting him. Jones didn't win a round on any judge's card after the first. In the seventh Calzaghe landed a straight left that sliced open a cut by Jones's left eye, and for the rest of the night Jones fought with the blood streaming down his face. At the end of the 10th round, it seemed Jones, bloodied, befuddled and reduced to one-punch-at-a-time attempts to catch Calzaghe, might call it a night. But he came out for the 11th and went on to finish the fight, as Calzaghe eased off just a bit.
Afterwards, Jones said he wasn't sure whether it had been his last fight. "I'll have to talk to my team, and if I feel good, I'll continue to fight," he said. Alas, it seems pretty clear there's no "feel good" left in the Roy Jones story. If this were the usual swan song of a champion, we'd all be poised now to see whether the kid who so callously rang down the curtain could go on to a career as great as the man he'd just retired. In this case, though, he already has.
Calzaghe addressed the question of his own retirement after the bout, saying, "I am going to sit down with my family, take some time and think about it."
They say that in boxing it never ends pretty. But if it should happen that both of last night's champions hang it up now, the old adage would be only half true.