Roy Jones Jr. has no doubt about who is, pound-for-pound, the world's best prizefighter. "Roy Jones Jr.," he says emphatically. This Saturday in Washington, D.C., Jones will let his fists do the talking in his first major title bout, a matchup with Bernard Hopkins for the vacant IBF middleweight crown.
Jones, 24, comes equipped with a 21-0 record and a comicbook persona. He has a mallet-shaped head, sculpted biceps and eyes cold as a snake's, all of which he uses to sinister effect. He oozed malice when he faced Glenn (Big Bad) Wolfe in February in Las Vegas. Jones boiled as he climbed through the ropes, he continued to boil at the opening bell and relaxed his scowl only after he had made quick, bloody work of Wolfe, stopping him in the first round. Jones's blows thudded into Wolfe's body like artillery shells landing amidships. "I might be in a tight where I know I can win easily by outboxing the guy," Jones said following the bout, "but people like action, so you have to give them some. I give them what they like."
The destruction of Wolfe, who had gone the distance in all 31 of his previous fights, was just another rejoinder to Jones's most disappointing loss, to South Korea's Park Si Hun in the 156-pound final at the 1988 Summer Olympics, in Seoul. Jones battered Park but could not put him away, and inexplicably, three of the five judges scored the bout for Park. Afterward Park himself raised Jones's hand and said, "I lost the fight." A chastened Jones resolved never again to leave the outcome of a fight to the whims of judges. Since turning pro, he has stopped all but one of his opponents.
Saturday's title bout is at least a year overdue. Until recently, all that stood between Jones and a champion's belt was his manager, who also happened to be his father. Unfortunately Roy Sr., a Pensacola, Fla., farmer who once went three rounds with Marvin Hagler, was hopelessly overmatched.
Spurning offers from established managers like Emanuel Steward and Lou Duva, he fed his son a series of ragged fighters. While Roy Jr. fattened his record against a series of second-raters, his Seoul brothers were boxing regularly on TV. "I wasn't happy," Roy Jr. says. "It started affecting my sleep. I'd stay up nights thinking, Should I get out of this sport?"
Junior finally dumped Senior last August. "I told him that I wanted to pick my fights," says Roy Jr. "I guess he didn't like that. The only time we speak is if he answers the phone when I call my mother. At this point our relationship means a lot more to him than to me."
With Dad gone, Junior enlisted Alton Merkerson, one of the coaches of the '88 U.S. Olympic team. "When Roy came to me, he was fighting all over the place, like a human whirlwind," says Merkerson. "He's begun to slow down, to not waste punches, to be more patient. Roy's not only got the quickest hands in boxing, but the quickest mind."
Quick enough to repel a concerted attack by promoter Don King. King approached Jones last fall, seeking an opponent for Julian Jackson, a King client (and the WBC middleweight champion until he was knocked out by Gerald McClellan on May 8).
"King wanted to get me to commit to a deal, but I couldn't figure out what I was getting paid, or if I was getting paid. Nothing," says Jones. "He just goes on and on until you don't know where you are. He tries to leave everything scrambled and to get you to commit to a scrambled agreement. I told King, 'No, thanks.' I didn't need to beat Julian Jackson to prove how good I can be."
If Jones gets by Hopkins, he may go after McClellan or WBA champ Reggie Johnson. A less likely opponent is James Toney, who recently abdicated the IBF middleweight crown by moving up to the 168-pound class. Merkerson wants his fighter to stay at 160 for another year or so, but Jones says he doesn't care whom he fights next or in what division. "Anything those guys can do," he says, "I can do better."
Is there anyone out there who he thinks could test his abilities? "No," says Jones. "I already tested myself against Don King. He was the one that worried me."