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Alone at the Top
If Roy Jones Jr. finishes his career as boxing's best fighter, pound for pound, he will have done so without any help whatsoever. Think about it: Unlike other of the sport's great stars, Jones has no rival. There is no Frazier to his Ali, no Duran to his Leonard, and probably no Trinidad to his De La Hoya. Jones, alone among all the marquee players, is strictly a solo act.
Last Saturday, fighting in the self-imposed obscurity of Biloxi, Miss., Jones, who hails from nearby Pensacola, Fla., again performed boxing's version of a monologue. He demolished Reggie Johnson over 12 rounds to win a decision that could not have been more one-sided if Johnson had failed to show. With Jones, now 40-1 (with 33 KOs), flashing his supernatural hand speed, it was at once entertaining and undramatic. It was, in other words, a typical Roy Jones fight.
It was a bout that ought to have generated a little more excitement and suspense than it did, but Jones's career is such that even when he meets a fellow champion to unify the light heavyweight title, the competition is irrelevant to his performance. Did the people want to see Roy Jones? Yes, they did. They sold out the 10,000-seat arena, and HBO believed enough in his appeal to contribute to a purse of about $5 million. But did anybody care whom he fought? Not at all. Poor Johnson, who held the IBF championship, was a 15-to-1 underdog. He was as important to the promotion as the availability of on-site parking.
Not since 1994, when Jones challenged the undefeated James Toney, has he had a fight that presumed any risk. Like all the rest that followed the vanquished Toney as Jones mowed through three weight classes, Johnson was just one more foil, less hapless than most, but no less helpless.
Jones knocked him down in the first and third rounds, displaying hands so quick that even Johnson became discouraged. The swiftness of Jones's leather is spectacle enough, even though it is clear that he employs that speed less for the demolition of opponents than for his own amusement. Still, when Jones establishes his dominance as quickly as he did last Saturday, nothing is left for the opponent to hope for but survival.
That Johnson survived had less to do with his own skills—which are not negligible—than with Jones's dispassionate approach to boxing these days. "I've got nothing to prove," he said afterward. Not even the boos, which followed him in later rounds when he failed to exploit openings or otherwise pursue the advantage of his talent, bothered him. "I probably could have knocked him out if I had pressed," he said, "but why do something stupid when I'm winning every round. That's not smart, it's not businesslike, it's not Roy Jones-like."
So Jones coasts, grows bored and fails to generate excitement beyond the wonderment of his physical gifts, the witnessing of which, he suggests, is "like getting to watch Secretariat." Not even the subplot of Johnson's involvement in Jones's infamous rift with Roy Sr.—father and son split partly because Roy Sr. wanted to train Johnson, a potential rival, alongside his son—seemed compelling enough to supply drama to the event. Although Jones says he loves boxing, he also says he takes these fights only to give his running buddies, such as junior lightweight stablemate Derrick Gainer (a winner on Saturday's undercard), a platform.
At times Jones talks of ne challenges, like moving up to fight one of the smaller heavyweights, or even dropping down to fight welterweight superstar Oscar De La Hoya. Either situation might expose him to just the kind of danger that fans love to feel and allow a more generous evaluation of his career.
For now, however, as Jones has outdistanced all competition, he must be considered as a kind of stand-up act, a guy who works alone. Of course, to be fair, you must ask yourself, Is there anyone else you would rather watch?