Roy Jones Jr: What If?
By Henry Walter
When the world light-heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr bulked up to heavyweight and defeated John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight title he elevated himself to the status of all time great in the eyes of most boxing critics.
Boxing News’ editor Claude Abrams even proclaimed him to be the greatest boxer who had ever lived.
The boxing world was delighted to see Jones amongst the heavyweights back in 2003. Widely considered the best pound for pound boxer in the world at that time, Jones was, at 34, still unbelievably fast and was armed with one of the best skillsets ever seen in boxing.
Several huge heavyweight fights were muted. Heavyweight legend Evander Holyfield hadn’t looked particularly impressive in his recent outings but was still a huge name in the division. A fight with Jones seemed a distinct possibility.
Yet, an even bigger fight stood on the horizon. Roy Jones Jr vs Iron Mike Tyson.
Tyson, despite being far removed from his best years, still carried formidable power and had recently returned to winning ways after his decisive loss to heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis the year before. He was, even at 37, still arguably the biggest and most profitable name in boxing. A fight between the two would have been huge. Jones was purportedly offered $40 million dollars to step into the ring with Tyson around this time.
The fight never happened. Jones was challenged at the post Ruiz fight press conference, by long-time number one light-heavyweight contender Antonio Tarver and we all know the rest.
Yet what if Jones had ignored Tarver’s pleas for a fight? What if instead of dropping back down to face Tarver at light-heavyweight he had instead stayed at heavyweight to face Tyson and maybe Holyfield?
One mouth-watering scenario that exists in the minds of many a boxing fan is that Jones could have won both those fights then ridden off into the sunset with the status of the greatest boxer of all time. Is that realistic? Could that have actually happened?
It is possible but I do not believe that scenario could ever have happened. The Jones that dominated John Ruiz was unarguably one of the greatest fighters ever.
That Jones still seemed very much at his best. Yet something happened after the Ruiz fight. The Jones that fought Tarver next time out looked a shadow of himself, slower, easier to hit and without the venom in his punches. So what changed?
Most attribute Jones’ sudden decline with the fact that he had to drop twenty-five pounds to get back down to the light-heavyweight limit, and Jones certainly alluded to issues making 175 again.
However, Jones weighed in for the Ruiz fight at 193 pounds officially (unofficially he claimed to actually be 199 pounds and this is backed up by documentary footage from the time).
Several times during his career he admitted that his normal walking around weight was around 200 pounds when not in camp for his light-heavyweight fights. So he was used to taking off between 20 and 25 pounds in the run up to his light-heavyweight title defences.
He could have been hindered to an extent by the fact that, under the expert guidance of top nutritionist Mackie Shilstone, he had deliberately put on some extra muscle for his heavyweight debut. Yet, it seems unlikely that this would have had the huge effect on his performance that people claim it did as he wasn’t taking off any extra weight than usual.
Age is another factor. There was eight months between the Ruiz and Tarver fights and boxers can seemingly get old almost overnight. Athletic performance can sometimes dramatically decrease quite suddenly as a person ages.
Jones was 35 when he fought Tarver, a very advanced age for an athlete who relied so much on speed and reflexes. Another uglier factor to consider is that, in between the Ruiz and Tarver fights, Jones’ positive steroid test, from his 2000 fight with Richard Hall, came to light.
Could the Jones of 2004 have beaten Tyson despite no longer being at his peak?
Probably. Tyson was far from his best by that point himself and would go on to lose his next two fights by KO. If the big money fight with Jones had been made at that point my pick would be Jones.
Jones, in my opinion, would also have beaten the Holyfield of that time. Jones was unarguably faded but was perhaps less faded then the aforementioned duo.
Yet the lovely scenario of Jones retiring with this near flawless boxing reputation would never have happened for two reasons. The first being that failed steroid test that Jones never satisfyingly addressed, first blaming the result on a nasal spray before changing his mind and claiming he accidently ingested it when taking a nutritional supplement called Ripped Fuel.
Unless he properly disputed these cheating allegations and made a huge effort to both address and dismiss them, they would always have hung over his career and hugely damage his claim to be the greatest boxer ever.
The second reason is that Jones would almost certainly not have retired after beating Tyson and Holyfield. Like most boxing greats he was addicted to both the sport and the limelight. He didn’t retire until he was 49 years old and he boxed on way past his best.
I can’t see any reason why this would change if he had stayed at light-heavy in 2004. If anything, the fact that he carried on, despite being KO’d multiple times, makes it seem even more likely that he would have been unable to walk away whilst still winning and getting the accolades from beating such big names.
The what if that people boxing fans love to imagine and discuss endlessly in internet forums was never a realistic prospect.