Man, last fall when the talks got serious, I was this close to thinking Roy Jones Jr.-Bernard Hopkins II this Saturday on pay-per-view stood a chance of being worthwhile, even if it was a decade late and Jones was well past his best days. Jones wasn’t as vital a force as Hopkins remained, but this faded version of Jones still presented the qualities that have given Hopkins serious trouble in recent years, namely speed and athleticism. And while the first fight was a boring pose-fest between two cautious boxers, there was a chance the sequel could be more action-packed because of the slower legs of two 40-somethings, the accumulated years of sincere hatred and the monetary bonus written into the contract for the man who scores a knockout. Plus, there was all that pent-up public demand for a do-over between two of the best fighters of their generation.
Then came December, when Jones shockingly got knocked out in one round by Danny Green, a good boxer who’s nonetheless not on Hopkins’ level. That should have been the end of Jones-Hopkins II, but realizing it might still be worth some good cash, all the sides went into spin mode. Jones bizarrely alleged cheating by Green; Hopkins complained that the ref stopped the fight too early; etc. I suppose all of it could be true, and I suppose the dynamic that originally half-enticed me still exists. But it all seems so unlikely.
All that remains of Jones, really, is that hand speed, somewhat reduced, and power, somewhat reduced. It’s still considerable — even at his age, his hands are lightning quick. His real problem is what happens when he gets hit. He no longer has the use of his legs to get away from punches, and his once-uncanny but badly diminished reflexes can’t help him there anymore. His primary defensive tactic is to cover up along the ropes and counter. And when he gets hit, it doesn’t always go well. Glen Johnson, Antonio Tarver, Green — all of them have knocked Jones out since a slide that began in 2004, and only Green had really impressive natural power.
Fortunately for Jones, everyone else he faced other than Joe Calzaghe (who also beat him) didn’t even have the capacity to hurt him. Felix Trinidad was fat and blown-up and not fit to fight a natural light heavyweight like Jones. Anthony Hanshaw and Prince Badi Ajamu didn’t possess meaningful punching power or know-how. Omar Sheika was super-shot, and Jeff Lacy was such damaged goods that he his vaunted power had evaporated by the time he fought Jones last year. The last win Jones owns over a top-notch/ranked opponent was fully seven years ago, the first Tarver fight. Every time he’s fought a ranked (or even close to ranked) opponent since then, he’s lost and lost badly. It’s remarkable that Jones has been able to sell his career as viable to anyone for as long as he has. This is coming from someone who has at times about half-bought it.
Hopkins, while four years older than Jones at age 45, hasn’t had that kind of drop off. He looked rusty against Enrique Ornelas in December in the early rounds, but as the bout wore on he began to fight like the Hopkins we all knew. He’s still crafty as hell on offense and defense, still pretty fast, and still very difficult to hurt even if you get to him. He’s still a pound-for-pound top boxer.
His strength of schedule prior to his year-long layoff — albeit mostly against opponents moving up in weight — includes some of the best fighters in the world, pound-for-pound, at the time he fought them. Kelly Pavlik (thorough thrashing); Calzaghe (narrow loss); Winky Wright (hard-fought but convincing win); Tarver (thorough thrashing); Jermain Taylor (two narrow losses). That takes Hopkins back to 2005, a roster of combatants conquered and competitive showings even in losses that puts Jones’ to shame. All three narrow losses came to opponents gifted with athleticism, though, it must be noted.
It’s not that I give Jones zero chance of winning, but that chance is very, very remote. It still would have been unlikely even if he hadn’t been knocked out by Green, but it got significantly harder to believe after that. I don’t buy the spin. The allegations of improperly wrapped gloves days after the fact strikes me as sour grapes, and the suggestion that the fight shouldn’t have been stopped strikes me as ignoring that Jones wasn’t fighting back. But really, the only thing you can hinge a potential Jones win on is that Jones still has speed, and that the athleticism of Calzaghe and Taylor gave Hopkins fits. But Calzaghe and Taylor also were much, much better fighters when Hopkins fought them than Jones is now — Calzaghe showed that with his demolition job on Jones — and Hopkins still only barely lost.
That leaves the question of how Hopkins wins. I think the KO bonus, plus his dislike of Jones, plus Jones’ fragile chin, will be enough for him to push for and get his first knockout in five-plus years, maybe even in the first third of the bout. And should it happen, or even if it’s a comprehensive pounding by Hopkins rather than a knockout, maybe Jones will finally realize that there’s nothing left of the superhuman fighter who ruled the 1990s and that it’s well past time to quit.
[The TQBR Prediction Game is in effect. Remember the rules.]