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At his peak, first-ballot Hall of Famer Roy Jones Jr. was invincible in the ring

·Combat columnist
·4 min read
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  • James Toney
    James Toney
    American former boxer and mixed martial artist

Don King couldn’t help himself. The loquacious promoter was building up Roy Jones Jr. prior to Jones’ challenge of John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight title in 2003.

Jones was attempting to become the first middleweight champion in a century to win a version of the heavyweight crown.

So at every public event, just before and as Jones arrived, King would break out into a chant.

“Superman Roy Jones!” he’d bellow. “Superman Roy Jones!”

Over the years, King has said many things that were, well, less than on the mark. But King never uttered words that were truer or as meaningful at the time as when he was routinely calling Jones "Superman."

Jones was a remarkable talent, perhaps one of the 10 most physically talented fighters who ever lived. His technique was different and he wasn’t as fundamentally sound as many of his peers, but no one had his reflexes or his understanding of the game.

He became a first-ballot Hall of Famer on Tuesday, when he was the headliner in an eight-person class that also included his longtime rival James Toney. In 1994, they met at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas for the IBF super middleweight title.

They were hailed as the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world at the time, but Jones had basically lapped the field the way that Secretariat had done in the 1973 Belmont.

Jones was Superman come to life, moving with herky-jerky motions and unorthodox punches with blazing speed and uncanny accuracy.

Many point to his win over Ruiz when he won the WBA heavyweight title as the defining moment of his career. But his two defining moments were really his middleweight title win over Bernard Hopkins in 1993 and his super middleweight title victory over Toney in 1994.

18 Nov 1994: ROY JONES JR. LANDS A LEFT TO THE HEAD OF JAMES TONEY TONIGHT DURING THEIR SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP BOUT AT THE MGM GRAND IN LAS VEGAS, NEVADA. JONES WENT ON TO WIN THE TITLE BY A UNANIMOUS DECISION.
Roy Jones Jr. won a unanimous decision over James Toney on Nov. 18, 1994, to capture the IBF super middleweight title. (Getty Images)

Hopkins and Toney were among the best and most well-schooled fighters who ever lived. In 24 rounds against them, Jones won 54 of 72 scored rounds. He took 75 percent of the rounds against two of the greatest fighters of all time. At his peak, no one else could come close to him.

He has wins over six fighters already in the Hall of Fame and that has a chance to expand in the future.

He overstayed his welcome, and it’s why he has nine losses in 75 fights. Of those nine losses — two to Antonio Tarver and one each to Joe Calzaghe, Enzo Maccarinelli, Hopkins, Denis Lebedev, Danny Green, Glen Johnson and Montell Griffin (by disqualification) — not one would have occurred had Jones been anywhere near his prime.

He fought Calzaghe, who ended his career at 46-0 and is arguably the greatest super middleweight ever, in 2008, five years after he’d beaten Ruiz and 20 years after he was jobbed in the Seoul Olympics. He wasn’t remotely himself, but he was two months shy of turning 40.

He wasn’t a truly big guy, but he had an utter belief in himself that defied all logic and allowed him to compete on more than even terms with men much larger. He played in a basketball game earlier in the day before he defended his super middleweight crown against Eric Lucas.

He defeated Virgil Hill, one of the great light heavyweights in modern times, with an amazing body shot.

Jones lost to Griffin in a fight in which his heart wasn’t into it. He hit Griffin when he was down and was disqualified. In the rematch, irritated by talk that finally boxing had found someone to be his equal, Jones blew out Griffin and stopped him in the first round. No longer did anyone think Griffin was remotely close to him.

Like far too many in this often brutal sport, he stuck around, a combination of ego and avarice pushing him. He wasn’t the same — and he knew it — but he loved this sport that had made him a superstar and he couldn’t walk away.

But the thing about undefeated records is that they don’t really matter in the long run. We remember the primes of the great fighters, the handful of six, eight, 10, 12 fights when they were at their absolutely peaks, and at his absolute peak, only a handful ever were better.

Superman Roy Jones, indeed.