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It was not so much a fight as a ceremony at the Civic Center in Pensacola, Fla., last Saturday night. There was ceremony in the naval honor guard and in the twice-performed national anthem (once by a recorded orchestra, followed by a singer a cappella), and there was a ceremonial victim in Ricky Randall, said to be 30, fighting out of New Orleans, who had been told about the match only 2� weeks earlier. "I've been waiting for this chance all my life," Randall said gallantly. But everyone in Pensacola knew what this show was really about.
It was about hometown hero Roy Jones Jr., who was making his professional debut. He had had seven long months in which to dull the edge of his frustration following one of the most disgraceful Olympic boxing decisions in history. In the finals in Seoul last fall, Jones had thoroughly outboxed Park SiHun, his Korean opponent in the light middleweight division, but Park was awarded the gold medal. Conceding the judges' folly, the International Amateur Boxing Association named Jones the outstanding competitor in the Games.
While his Olympic teammates embarked on pro careers (page 47), Jones brooded and pondered his future. When it finally began, on Saturday, Randall was the unlucky guy who happened to be in the way. "Naturally, I don't want Roy to meet no world-beater in his first fight," Roy Jones Sr., the Olympian's father, had said. But the way young Jones—he's 20—demolished Randall in less than two rounds showed that he was already equal to tougher opposition.
To be sure, there were ragged edges and signs of overeagerness in the first round. They reflected the hyped-up way Jones had responded to the crowd before the opening bell, jiving to rap music in his elegant, multihued shorts, and praying, a tad ostentatiously, in his corner of the ring. But wild as some of Jones's punches were, enough found their mark to floor Randall twice in the first round. In the second, as Jones became more controlled, he dropped Randall with a straight right and a left hook, and the referee stopped the punishment with 14 seconds left in the round.
Jones's timing, hand speed and ability to counterpunch were impressive, but it wasn't simply boxing talent that brought the TV scouts to Pensacola. Apparently, that cruel Olympic injustice lingers in the American psyche. "Even my mother's heard of Roy Jones," said one network man.
Lately, though, it seemed as if Jones might be in danger of missing his moment. As the months dragged on, with Jones undecided about his management, the boxing world seemed to be losing patience. Part of the problem had to do with the Jones family's somewhat graceless rejection of Sugar Ray Leonard and his adviser Mike Trainer. It had seemed a certainty that the Leonard-Trainer combination would manage Jones's career. There had been a special relationship, even before the Olympics, between Leonard and the young fighter. Leonard had even gone down to Pensacola to give his royal blessing by speaking at a charity dinner and visiting with Jones before he left for Seoul. But when Leonard and Trainer traveled to Florida after the Olympics, they ran into a rock named Roy Jones Sr. "The young man is terribly talented," Trainer said last week. "But you have to have some kind of control if you represent a fighter."
It turned out that Jones's father was, for all purposes, managing him; the fighter would make no decision about his career without Jones Sr.'s assent. "We thought we knew both father and son, but it turned out we didn't," said Trainer. "Roy Sr. hung around us, and we were nice to both of them. But he [the father] kind of picked everybody's brains, then figured he could do it himself. The longer we talked, the less interested we became. And on the plane home Ray and I decided we didn't want to become involved in this."
There were other suitors. Offers came from Josephine Abercrombie's Houston Boxing Association, from Emanuel Steward of the Kronk gym in Detroit, from Butch Lewis and from Don King. Of the major figures in the sport, only Bob Arum stood aloof. "After all the things Leonard had done for them, I just assumed they'd go with him," Arum says. "How could they do any better? It shows what ingrates you're dealing with."
Two days before the fight, in the ramshackle Escambia County Boys' Club boxing gym on DeSoto Street in Pensacola, the man who snubbed boxing's most powerful mandarins defended himself loudly. "Hey," said Jones Sr., "who made all these guys authorities on boxing? Mike Trainer, them guys, ventured into it as a speculation, a money thing. Don't people who've been in boxing all their lives have better credentials in the sport?" Jones Sr. boxed professionally in the 1970s.
Jones Jr. was also at the gym for a last workout before his pro debut. Though he was quiet and monosyllabic, the way a lot of boxers are before a fight, this was not the semistunned Roy of last fall. His winter of discontent had passed. "I had to fight my way through it," he said. "Learn to be strong. My strength just came back very slowly to me."