Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chasing Shadows

By Peter Silkov

When Roy Jones looks into the mirror today what does he see, does he see himself at 44 years of age or does he still see himself as he was at 25 and in his prime? It is said that athletes die twice. Their athletic selves give way to time far sooner than their mortal selves’. This is perhaps witnessed no more cruelly than in the sport of boxing, where the participants physicality is at its purest and most basic; where the passing of time can be exposed so brutally and painfully.  Most of us struggle in some way to come to terms with our youth ebbing into middle age and beyond, the thinning or greying of hair, and thickening of the waist.  Can it be surprising that an athlete who is used to performing physically at a level which can only be dreamed of by the average man on the street, would find it even harder to accept the onset of time and the stripping away of the special attributes which marked him out from his fellow men.  The very foundations of who he is as a person.  Perhaps we should not be so surprised that boxers so often toil-on in their careers long after their reflexes have started to dim and their speed, punch, and resistance fade away into fanciful memory.
     About ten years ago Roy Jones Jr. stood where Floyd Mayweather, Jr now stands. Considered by most in the boxing game as “pound for pound” the best fighter in the world, regardless of weight.  Jones possessed superlative speed of hands and reflexes that allowed him to disdain anything resembling a conventional defense and enabled him to openly mock the offensive attempts of his unlucky opponents.  Jones won his first world title at middleweight in 1993, beating James Toney, he soon moved up, taking the IBF Super Middleweight crown a year later.  A title he held until 1996.  Jones wasn’t to everyone’s taste.  Some accused him of picking his challengers too carefully and his reluctance to fight outside of America was also frowned upon by some.  Yet, few could deny that Jones was establishing himself as the outstanding boxer of his generation.
During this period in the mid-90s there were a number of possible attractive showdowns against the holders of the division’s other 'world title' belts, including fighters like Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Steve Collins. Unfortunately, none of these prospective showdowns materialized. Of the three fighters, Jones came closest to facing Collins, the Irishman who had beat both Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn twice each, in four fights.  Collins made public calls for a showdown with Jones and even went to the extent of traveling over to America and gate crashing one of Roy’s post-fight celebrations to try to provoke Jones into facing him.  Jones joined in the fight talk and grinned when Collins accused him of ducking him, but for whatever reasons, the fight didn’t happen. Collins went on to retire while still holding the WBO Supermiddleweight title, saying at the time that he would only fight again if the opponent was Roy Jones.  The year was 1997.
      As the years passed Jones, Jr. moved up to Lightheavyweight, where he again put together a string of impressive often one-sided defenses; if against sometimes less than outstanding opposition.  Placing opposition aside there was no denying Jones superlative talents in the ring.  A mixture of speed and power which allowed him to perform in that poetic league occupied by a chosen few such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali.  In 2003 Jones moved all the way up to the Heavyweight division, to out-box the 226 pound John Ruiz for the 'WBA' portion of the title.  Despite facing such a bigger man, and giving away over 31 pounds in weight, Jones made it look almost easy against the strong, but awkward and slow Ruiz.  Despite his victory making him a legitimate player in the division and opening up the opportunity of big fights with the likes of Holifield, Tyson and Lewis; this was to be Jone’s only foray into the Heavyweight division. He chose instead to move straight back down to Lightheavyweight. In his next defense of his Light-heavyweight crown, he would face tall and powerful Antonio Tarver. Jones looked suddenly strangely mortal as he struggled to a controversial point’s win, which many felt should have gone to Tarver. In the rematch months later, those whispers of vulnerability and encroaching athletic mortality, became a sudden scream for Roy Jones after he was shockingly “koed” in the second
round by Tarver.  His aura of invincibility suddenly and irreversibly shattered. Nothing has ever been the same for Jones since his loss to Tarver. 
     Once considered untouchable within the ring, Jones fights, have in the last 10 years, have become a tightrope walk between…victory and disaster. His loss to Tarver was followed by a 9th round “ko” defeat to Glenn Johnson in a fight for Johnson’s Light-heavyweight crown.  There followed shortly after another loss to Tarver, this time a one-sided points defeat in which he seemed afraid of getting hit and spent much of the fight in a defensive shell upon the ropes.  Since these defeats to Tarver and Johnson, Jones, once the receiver of a multitude of plaudits for his pugilistic gifts (whom writers once reached within their deepest resources to find fitting words to describe his skills) has been endowed with another description. A description dreaded by all boxers at any stage of their careers, “chinny.”  Jones now carries with him an air of vulnerability, which has increased with each passing year.  The once razor-like reflexes that he once used to tease and befuddle his opponents, have become dwindling tools to try and avoid being hit upon his increasingly vulnerable chin.  Speed and reflexes are the first things a boxer loses as the years crowd in on him.  For a boxer like Jones, who relied upon an unorthodox speed and reflex based style, such a decline has had a devastating effect.  Like so many before him Jones has carried on.  He has mixed wins over moderate and limited opposition. He has managed brief flashes of former brilliance along the way, with defeats whenever he has stepped back up into higher class. Some of those defeats have been by worryingly violent knockouts.  Jones gets by now with the remnants of what he once overflowed with and the guile of 20-plus years of fighting.  Now he is getting ready to fight Steve Collins in what could charitably be called a fight which has come 17 years too late.
     Some have labeled the proposed fight as a 'freak show'.  When the stories of both men are looked at closely, this does seem to be one of those fights where you worry about the future health of both participants.  If Roy Jones has reached the point in his career where every punch he takes risks disaster to both his reputation and his welfare, what of Collins? Steve Collins has not fought professionally for 17 years and retired, after a punishing career, amid rumors of a collapse during sparring.  48-year-old heads do not absorb punches the same as 28-year-old heads, or ever for that matter, 38-year-old heads.  Ricky Hatton recently found out how hard it is to return to the ring after a mere 3 years away, despite whipping himself into fighting shape and being a modest 34 years of age.  What shape can Collins get himself into at 48, and after 17 years of 'easy' living?  Even in his current reduced state, Roy Jones has the advantage that he has still remained active in the ring and in 'fighting' shape, despite his increasing vulnerability. He still knows what it is to take a competitive punch inside the ring, something that Collins has not done for almost two decades and which can never be replicated 100% in sparring.  Then there are the reasons why Collins retired in the first place. 
     This is a fight where both men stand to lose perhaps far more than they can win against each other.  If Collins were to beat Roy then most will say that Roy was even more shot than it was thought.  If Roy beats Steve then people will just say that Collins hadn’t fought in 17 years.  If the money is right, then the fight will probably go ahead. If the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) doesn’t give Collins his license back, as the recent Chisora vs Haye fight showed, if there is enough money at stake, then rules are made to be broken, gone around, and ignored. Why would people want to watch such a fight?  Unfortunately for the same reason so many turn their heads towards a car crash. The hard core boxing fan, the purists of the sport do not want this fight to happen. They would like Collins to stay retired and Jones to finally retire.  Again, unfortunately, boxing today is not aimed at the boxing purist, it is instead increasingly aimed at the sensation seeker, the Friday or Saturday night fan who then forgets all about the sport by Monday.  The only possible silver lining of this fight is the rumour that Jones wants it to be his last fight, hence him seeking out an easy, but high paying 'freak fight' such as this.  However if he were to win what would the temptations be for Roy to try his luck again, perhaps another ‘freak fight’ or even another final shot at a ‘title’ again as he tries to recapture what he had years ago and continues to chase those ever elusive shadows. 
Visit for my insights and news in the world of boxing!

Copyright © 2013 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved.

No comments:

Post a Comment