Jones-Hopkins rematch highlights boxing’s ills

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LAS VEGAS – Imagine this: The public flat-out demands to see a fight made between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, the two best in the world, yet it wasn’t made and probably never will be.

Nobody I know of, including diehard fight fans and colleagues in the media who always enjoy a trip to Las Vegas, has much interest in seeing Roy Jones Jr. fight Bernard Hopkins. Yet, on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Jones and Hopkins will reprise their 1993 not-so-classic bout.

Roy Jones Jr. works out at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

This is the kind of thing that could only happen in boxing.

Of course, I’ve long since given up on expecting the powers that be to do what’s right for the sport.

What they’re going to do, first, last and always, is what is best for themselves.

Usually, that’s dictated by money, though that’s not so much the case this time around. Jones may wind up fighting for next to nothing. He signed a contract in which he’s taking an upside on the pay-per-view.

The first $3.5 million that’s made after expenses will go to Hopkins and Golden Boy. Then, Jones gets the next $3.5 million. After that, it’s a split.

There’s a very good possibility, though, that Jones will make nothing, or next to nothing. From what I’ve heard, ticket sales are tepid at best. I have no doubt there will be bodies in the arena, but how many of those actually pay full price for their tickets is highly questionable. Promoters have frequently in the past allowed the casino to sell tickets to its employees for the cost of the tax of the ticket. That way, there are bodies in the arena and it’s not a total embarrassment. Nobody but the boxers, the promoters and their accountants are wise to it.

The bout’s available on pay-per-view, but are you going to pay $49.95 to see it, particularly after watching the Final Four basketball games earlier on Saturday?

Usually, when boxing people decide what’s best for themselves, it has to do with money. In this situation, though, that’s not the case.

This is ego, pure and simple. Hopkins is 45, but couldn’t bring himself to retire until he got the opportunity to avenge that 1993 defeat.

Of course, that fight came as Jones was in his prime and beginning to carve a reputation as one of the most gifted men ever to set foot in the ring. Hopkins was still learning at that point and hadn’t developed into the fearsome fighter he would become.

Bernard Hopkins works out on Tuesday.
(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In the few years following their first fight, Hopkins caught up to and passed Jones in terms of overall fighting ability. Jones was a phenomenal athlete, but he never refined his skills and his technique the way Hopkins did.

But while Hopkins was actually the better man, Jones was getting acclaim as the sport’s best fighter. It’s unfathomable how competitive Hopkins is, and he let that gnaw at him for years.

A year after the fight, he wanted a rematch. Five years later, he called for one. Ten years later, he asked again.

No, no and no, said Jones.

Hopkins, of course, seethed, and he worked fanatically to make himself better. But the better he got, the less Jones wanted to do with him.

Hopkins made 20 consecutive defenses of the middleweight title, won the undisputed championship and then moved up to light heavyweight and became the man in that class.

He’s still an elite fighter and would likely be favored against any light heavyweight in the world.

He could have opted to fight unbeaten Chad Dawson, but Hopkins wasn’t interested in proving to the boxing world the identity of the best light heavyweight. He had a score to settle, so he stalked Jones even as Jones became little more than an also-ran.

When he finally had nowhere else to go, Jones agreed to fight Hopkins. They’ve worked as hard to promote the fight as they ever have. They’ve done tours and news conferences and conference calls. They’ve held open workouts and autograph sessions and made countless public appearances.

Jones is an engaging guy when he wants to be, or, when he needs to be. He was anything but that when he was in his prime, when he routinely blew off interviews, showed up hours late for news conferences and was so arrogant he finally got himself booted off a cushy gig as the boxing analyst at HBO.

Jones isn’t a particularly good fighter any more. No less an authority than Oscar De La Hoya, the promoter of Saturday’s fight, said so.

In a blog on The Ring website in August as Jones was preparing for a fight against Jeff Lacy, De La Hoya decried Jones’ continued participation in the sport.

“I think Roy is still fighting because of his ego, from what I’ve heard,” De La Hoya wrote. “He really feels he can get back on top. And in this sport, you never know. I think the chances are very slim for Roy to get back to where he was 10 years ago, though. It’s sad. You have those cases we read about all the time of great fighters who end up with nothing. I’m not saying Roy is heading down that path. There are signs, though, that indicate he might be going in that direction.

“As you keep fighting, you lose. Still, you say, ‘I can win the next one, I can still become champion.’ And your body keeps breaking down; you lose all the speed and power you had. Your abilities break down and then you’re left with nothing. We don’t want to see that. Roy was one the greatest athletes of our time. We want the best for him.”

The best for Jones, obviously, is to have retired long ago. In December, he was knocked out in the first round by Danny Green. Jones rationalized that loss because he got up before the count of 10 and was on his feet when the referee stopped the bout.

So, Hopkins will exact his revenge on Saturday and boxing will emerge from this embarrassment.

Hopefully, some day, the promoters will make it policy to make the fights the fans want to see and pass on the ones they don’t.

That day is not here yet, sadly, so on Saturday, they bring you not Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao but Bernard Hopkins against Roy Jones Jr.

In 1995, in 1998, in 2000 and in 2003, Hopkins versus Jones II would have been a big deal.

Now, not so much.

The fight probably won’t do anywhere near 100,000 in pay-per-view sales. Jones may wind up getting knocked out and leaving Nevada with nothing to show for it.

Millions of people have left the state with crushed dreams and empty pockets over the years. And in that regard, Jones will have something in common with the working man who came to Las Vegas with a dream.

On Sunday morning, Roy Jones Jr. will awaken to a shattered dream and will leave town as just another dejected Las Vegas loser.

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Mar 31, 2010