Roy Jones Jr., no matter his involvement in blood sports, does not happen to think the ring is a killing field. Gamecocks fighting to the death, that's one thing; their blind courage has been instructive to him. But no fighter should be punished beyond what is needed to allow judges to render a decision. Gratuitous cruelty is unnecessary and, as far as his tastes go, repugnant. Boxing is just a game to Jones, and besides, the overwhelming margin of talent he brings to each match is cruelty enough.
This sensibility was demonstrated earlier in the year when, in a kind of ringside cameo at a pay-per-view fight, he stood up at the apron and demanded that a terrible mismatch between Gabriel Ruelas and underdog Jimmy Garcia be stopped. "I wished I had the authority," he said later. Don't we all. Nearly two rounds later Garcia slumped mortally wounded in his corner; he died 13 days later.
Jones's sensibility was demonstrated again when he refused, initially anyway, Vinny Pazienza's challenge to his IBF super middleweight title. It was as pointless a fight as has ever been presented to him. Worse, it was dangerous. Besides being way too limited a boxer for Jones, Pazienza is too gritty. They still show pictures of Pazienza shadowboxing with a 10-pound metal halo bolted to his skull after he broke several vertebrae in a car accident four years ago. Obviously Pazienza was not a fighter who would fear for his own safety; Jones would have to do that for him.
Eventually, of course, Pazienza goaded Jones into the fight. Jones was wary. The $3 million purse was irrelevant—he had just signed a six-year, $60 million contract with HBO, giving him more money than an NBA rookie—and the challenge was negligible. But Pazienza, whose recent victories over aged Roberto Dur�n reaffirmed his drawing power, was persistent. Still, promoters could not close the deal until they agreed to give Jones's good buddy Derrick (Smoke) Gainer a shot at Harold Warren's NABF featherweight title on the undercard. "If it wasn't for that," Jones said, "I don't take the risk."
That risk being permanent damage to Pazienza, which created a problem in Jones's prefight preparation. What could Jones, acknowledged along with Pernell Whitaker to be the best fighter, pound for pound, in the world, do to protect an opponent, or should he even try? "Because of the nature of the game," he decided days before last Saturday's fight in Atlantic City, "you aren't entitled to take it easy on a guy. Now, of course, I can do that. I have the skills. If a guy is bleeding, I'll tell the ref to get the guy out of my face, I can't stand the sight of him."
Failing that appeal, he would have to execute Plan B: get rid of the guy as quickly and harmlessly as possible.
So there was Pazienza, a former two-time champion who is often derided as a club fighter even though there's lots more to him than that, making intermittent charges at Jones, winging away at the taller man (5'11" to his 5'7"). He was rebuffed horribly by Jones's left jab, a punch he seldom uses. Possibly it was Jones's own sharp exhalations that produced the whistling sound. Maybe it was just his left hand cutting the air.
Again and again Jones jabbed. In the fourth round he double-jabbed Pazienza, whose face was bulging at the eye sockets and purpling under the cheeks. Blood came from his nose. Jones quadruple-jabbed him, the whistling announcing the terrible hydraulics of destruction. In that round—which can be viewed in retrospect as a kind of exhibition, a quick demonstration of what he might do if he didn't take seriously the responsibility of his own superiority—Jones received exactly zero punches. Pazienza was so busy fending off jabs that he could attempt no more than five punches the entire round.
Still Pazienza roared in. He is not a mindless fighter, but he understood the odds against him—about 12 to 1—and realized some sacrifice would be involved. In the sixth round, a desperate point in the fight, Jones flicked a left hook that knocked Pazienza backward, then he offered a quick two-punch combination that left Pazienza on his knees, grasping the rope with his right hand. Then Jones administered two right hands, the second to Pazienza's temple, and the referee counted again. Jones's co-manager, Stan Levin, later said there were tears in Jones's eyes, he was so furious that referee Tony Orlando had motioned the fighters together after that second knockdown. A look at the tape will at least show Jones holding his arms out after the knockdown, as if to beg the ref to stop it. Then—was it only milliseconds later?—it was over. Jones ripped a left uppercut into Pazienza's face, and then a flurry of punches culminating in a left hand that drove him to the canvas. It was his only recourse.
In other words, it has come to this: Jones is so good, so above everybody else in this game, that he must not only be boxing's most attractive entertainment, he must also be its conscience as well. He must watch out for his opponents even as he demolishes them. And in his demolition he must walk the fine line between spectacle and manslaughter. He must deliver the goods, give the reps from Nike who were in attendance at the fight the impression that he is of another world and the kind of guy who can sell shoes. Yet he has to project some sense of citizenship too. It was strange, watching him work Pazienza over. It was exciting to see such a violent performance, and yet it didn't seem at all bloodthirsty. Pazienza, you were certain, was in good hands.