"Look how this rooster walks in his cage," Little Roy says. He's pointing to one of his 400 roosters and chickens as it strides back and forth inside its cage. "See that? It's his cage. He owns it. It's his world. Every other male has to respect that. I spent all my life in my dad's cage. I could never be 100 percent of who I am until I left it. But because of him, nothing bothers me. I'll never face anything stronger and harder than what I already have.
"I'd rather you kill me than lose my title. Just like these roosters. It's a very lonesome feeling. Your wife may leave you in this world. Your kids may leave you. Even your parents may leave you. I know what my roosters feel. All you really have is yourself." A man with that understanding, and with Little Roy's gifts, could own the cage for a long time. He's never out of shape. He still plays several hours of basketball a day, whether he's in training or not. He ran three miles the morning after the Toney fight. At midnight on each New Year's Eve he's dripping sweat in the gym, re-proving his dedication to himself. What would it take to undo such a man? Every great boxer is a tightly wound ball of compulsion and circumstance, always with that one dangling thread, if one peers closely enough, that can bring the whole thing apart. Where is that thread in a man for whom every bout now isn't simply a prizefight but an ongoing war for selfhood, another trial to play out before the eyes of the judge watching his television at home, looking for every chink? Could it be that the only thing that would undo Roy Jones Jr. now would be...his father's hug?
He was signed by HBO recently to what could be the largest TV deal of any nonheavyweight in history, under which he will fight sVinny Pazienza in Atlantic City on June 24. But who's on the horizon to test his greatness, to do what Leonard and Durán, Hearns and Hagler did for each other, to make him a household name? Except...unless....
"You know where this is heading, don't you?" says Fred Levin. "Tyson."
Roy shrugs. "I could beat him," he says. "I couldn't beat a large heavyweight like Riddick Bowe, but Tyson's only five-eleven. I could reach him. I could carry 185 pounds. I want to do something no one thinks I can do. That's what a champion does. A warrior is someone who'll fight to the dying end—that's what my father is. But a champion is someone who'll find a way to adapt to any situation and win. That's what I am.
"I wouldn't fight Tyson for the celebrity of it. I don't need that. They can shine the light so bright on your face, you can't even see what you're standin' on, and then one day the light goes off and you look down and see you were standin' on nothin'. Sure, I'll do some showboatin' in the ring—I'm the only true performer in the ring today. But not outside of it. People assume every boxer wants to live the fast life. That's an escape, not a life. I want a person-to-person life."
And so he keeps conceding distance to Big Roy in hopes that they can once more be father and son, if not trainer and boxer. He salutes Big Roy on TV after virtually every match, but still his father won't attend a fight. He gave Big Roy an $8,000 diamond-studded championship ring on Christmas Eve 1994, which Big Roy accepted but keeps in the house. At the urging of a friend, Little Roy agreed to call his dad and wish him a happy Father's Day last year, but what he got in return was "Thank you" and click. Each time Little Roy visits his parents' house, Big Roy suddenly remembers something he forgot to do in the barn or becomes obsessed by the ticks on one of his puppies' fur.
Everyone keeps telling Big Roy that he needs to make peace with his son. "Once you break the plate at my table," Big Roy tells them, "you can never eat there again." He won't discuss his son with reporters. "Just write whatever Roy says," he tells them. "Write whatever you want." Only to his three daughters will he let down his guard. "I love my son," he tells them. "I gave my life to him."
And then one day, on his mother's birthday in April 1995, Little Roy tries again. He has just purchased a new house on 81 acres of forest, and he can't help it: He wants to show it to his dad. He parks in front of the garage where his father still trains boxers. He glances warily at Big Roy. "Like to show you my new place," he says.
"Busy," grunts Big Roy.