Roy Jones Jr., no matter his involvement in blood sports, does
not happen to think the ring is a killing field. Gamecocks
fighting to the death, that's one thing; their blind courage has
been instructive to him. But no fighter should be punished
beyond what is needed to allow judges to render a decision.
Gratuitous cruelty is unnecessary and, as far as his tastes go,
repugnant. Boxing is just a game to Jones, and besides, the
overwhelming margin of talent he brings to each match is cruelty
This sensibility was demonstrated earlier in the year when, in a
kind of ringside cameo at a pay-per-view fight, he stood up at
the apron and demanded that a terrible mismatch between Gabriel
Ruelas and underdog Jimmy Garcia be stopped. "I wished I had the
authority," he said later. Don't we all. Nearly two rounds later
Garcia slumped mortally wounded in his corner; he died 13 days
Jones's sensibility was demonstrated again when he refused,
initially anyway, Vinny Pazienza's challenge to his IBF super
middleweight title. It was as pointless a fight as has ever been
presented to him. Worse, it was dangerous. Besides being way too
limited a boxer for Jones, Pazienza is too gritty. They still
show pictures of Pazienza shadowboxing with a 10-pound metal
halo bolted to his skull after he broke several vertebrae in a
car accident four years ago. Obviously Pazienza was not a
fighter who would fear for his own safety; Jones would have to
do that for him.
Eventually, of course, Pazienza goaded Jones into the fight.
Jones was wary. The $3 million purse was irrelevant -- he had
just signed a six-year, $60 million contract with HBO, giving
him more money than an NBA rookie -- and the challenge was
negligible. But Pazienza, whose recent victories over aged
Roberto Duran reaffirmed his drawing power, was persistent.
Still, promoters could not close the deal until they agreed to
give Jones's good buddy Derrick (Smoke) Gainer a shot at Harold
Warren's NABF featherweight title on the undercard. "If it
wasn't for that," Jones said, "I don't take the risk."
That risk being permanent damage to Pazienza, which created a
problem in Jones's prefight preparation. What could Jones,
acknowledged along with Pernell Whitaker to be the best
fighter, pound for pound, in the world, do to protect an
opponent, or should he even try? "Because of the nature of the
game," he decided days before last Saturday's fight in Atlantic
City, "you aren't entitled to take it easy on a guy. Now, of
course, I can do that. I have the skills. If a guy is bleeding,
I'll tell the ref to get the guy out of my face, I can't stand
the sight of him."
Failing that appeal, he would have to execute Plan B: get rid of
the guy as quickly and harmlessly as possible.
So there was Pazienza, a former two-time champion who is often
derided as a club fighter even though there's lots more to him
than that, making intermittent charges at Jones, winging away at
the taller man (5'11" to his 5'7"). He was rebuffed horribly by
Jones's left jab, a punch he seldom uses. Possibly it was
Jones's own sharp exhalations that produced the whistling sound.
Maybe it was just his left hand cutting the air.
Again and again Jones jabbed. In the fourth round he
double-jabbed Pazienza, whose face was bulging at the eye
sockets and purpling under the cheeks. Blood came from his nose.
Jones quadruple-jabbed him, the whistling announcing the
terrible hydraulics of destruction. In that round -- which can
be viewed in retrospect as a kind of exhibition, a quick
demonstration of what he might do if he didn't take seriously
the responsibility of his own superiority -- Jones received
exactly zero punches. Pazienza was so busy fending off jabs that
he could attempt no more than five punches the entire round.
Still Pazienza roared in. He is not a mindless fighter, but he
understood the odds against him -- about 12 to 1 -- and realized
some sacrifice would be involved. In the sixth round, a
desperate point in the fight, Jones flicked a left hook that
knocked Pazienza backward, then he offered a quick two-punch
combination that left Pazienza on his knees, grasping the rope
with his right hand. Then Jones administered two right hands,
the second to Pazienza's temple, and the referee counted again.
Jones's co-manager, Stan Levin, later said there were tears in
Jones's eyes, he was so furious that referee Tony Orlando had
motioned the fighters together after that second knockdown. A
look at the tape will at least show Jones holding his arms out
after the knockdown, as if to beg the ref to stop it. Then --
was it only milliseconds later? -- it was over. Jones ripped a
left uppercut into Pazienza's face, and then a flurry of punches
culminating in a left hand that drove him to the canvas. It was
his only recourse.
In other words, it has come to this: Jones is so good, so above
everybody else in this game, that he must not only be boxing's
most attractive entertainment, he must also be its conscience as
well. He must watch out for his opponents even as he demolishes
them. And in his demolition he must walk the fine line between
spectacle and manslaughter. He must deliver the goods, give the
reps from Nike who were in attendance at the fight the
impression that he is of another world and the kind of guy who
can sell shoes. Yet he has to project some sense of citizenship
too. It was strange, watching him work Pazienza over. It was
exciting to see such a violent performance, and yet it didn't
seem at all bloodthirsty. Pazienza, you were certain, was in
Jones, just 26, is now 29-0 with 25 KOs and as formidable a
fighter as boxing has. But who steps up next? Who now helps
define Jones's extraordinary talent, a breathtaking combination
of speed and power that is topped off with creative flair (he
keeps comparing himself with Michael Jordan)? Who now becomes
fodder for Jones's career?
Well, there's no one at super middleweight. Nigel Benn is an
exciting 168-pound champ, but he is handled by Don King, which
makes negotiations problematic. Jones and his managers have
taken stabs at making a fight for Jones with one of King's
heavyweights, but those have been deflected. All that Jones has
are the mandatory defenses of his title, which the no-lose terms
of his contract will encourage him to endure for HBO's money.
Then again, what does it matter whom he fights? What Jones does
is a kind of one-man show, anyway, his opponents the straight
men, the obliging foils, the necessary accomplices. They don't
serve any real purpose except to reflect his own abilities. They
are just negotiating points to leverage his friends into title
bouts (Gainer won, by the way).
"All I can do," he says, explaining his interest in what is
becoming a solitary pursuit for him, "is train for the best
fighter I could possibly face -- myself."
And if nobody gets hurt, we'll all have a good night.