Roy Jones Jr., the best Florida fighter in boxing history, finally retired on Feb. 8. The Pensacola native hyped his fight and eventual victory over Scott Sigmon in his hometown as the finale of a 29-year professional career.
Now fight fans can reflect and analyze Jones’ once-dominant standing that sadly eroded with every unnecessary ring appearance from his late 30s to late 40s. The immediate career snapshot likely describes Jones, who turned 49 last month, as someone who held on for way too long in search of one additional payday and legacy rebuild.
However, with the passage of time, the better images of Jones will emerge and dominate discussions. Instead of the past-his-prime Jones who traveled to Russia, Poland, Latvia and Australia for bouts, the educated boxing fan will remember the fighter who ruled the sport during middleweight, super-middleweight and light-heavyweight reigns from the mid-1990s to early 2000s.
His status as one of boxing’s best of the past 40 years was further cemented when Jones moved up to heavyweight and defeated champion John Ruiz in March 2003 to become the first middleweight champion to capture a heavyweight belt in more than a century.
“I don’t really care what people say because everybody has an opinion,” Jones said of his career in The Pensacola News Journal. “But it’s kind of simple — one guy turned professional as a junior-middleweight and became heavyweight champion of the world.”
If Jones had retired after his victory over Ruiz, he would not only be considered as the best in Florida, the 1990s or the past 40 years but perhaps mentioned alongside Sugar Ray Robinson on the short list of preeminent fighters in boxing history.
Instead, Jones vacated the heavyweight title, returned to light-heavyweight for a fight against fellow Floridian Antonio Tarver in November 2003. Jones looked sluggish, scoring a narrow majority decision victory. The performance set the tone for Jones’ fall from the elite the following year.
Tarver stopped Jones in two rounds in an immediate rematch in May 2004. Attempting to prove his knockout loss to Tarver was an aberration, Jones took a quick ring date with Miami resident Glen Johnson four months later. Whereas Tarver knocked out Jones with a timely placed shot, Johnson gradually wore down Jones and brutally knocked him out in nine rounds.
Another loss to Tarver in 2005 further distanced Jones from the glory he had built for nearly a decade. Jones no longer was mentioned among the pound-for- pound best he routinely dominated in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Nonetheless, Jones banked on his name and continued to land fight dates. And — with the exception of a victory over a similarly-aging Felix Trinidad in 2008 — Jones failed to win a noteworthy bout since he defeated Ruiz. Jones ended his career padding his record against the likes of Sigmon and fellow journeymen Bobby Gunn, Rodney Moore and Eric Vasquez.
“There was a lot to be proud of,” said Jones, who finished with a 66-9 record and 47 knockouts. “I walked the last walk. I got it done. You knew one day it had to come to an end.”
But for many who followed and appreciated Jones’ career, the end came too late.
AROUND THE RING
Late Saturday, Danny Garcia scored a ninth-round technical knockout victory over Brandon Rios in their welterweight bout in Las Vegas.
Garcia (34-1, 20 KOs) dropped Rios (34-4- 1) with a straight right to the chin. Although Rios reached his feet before the 10-count, he remained unbalanced from the punch’s effects and referee Kenny Bayless stopped the bout at 2:25 of the round.
For Garcia, the bout was his first since losing his World Boxing Council welterweight title against Keith Thurman in a unification bout 11 months ago.
“I felt the ring rust a little bit in the beginning,” Garcia said. ”He’s a good inside fighter and he was giving me some good uppercuts. I felt good. It was a good nine rounds.”
Thursday (11:30 p.m., ESPN2): Joseph Diaz vs. Victor Terrazas, 10, featherweights.
Friday (11:30 p.m., Telemundo-Ch. 51): Jonathan Gonzalez vs. Ricardo Rodriguez, 10, flyweights.
Saturday (9:30 p.m., HBO): Srisaket Sor Rungvisai vs. Juan Francisco Estrada, 12, for Rungvisai’s WBC super-flyweight title.