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The Bizarre Career of Roy Jones. Jr.

Photo Courtesy of AP

Roy Jones Jr. chose a dramatic way to pull out of his scheduled fight last Saturday against journeyman Tony Moran in Liverpool. Jones missed his flight, effectively cancelling the fight on short-notice. The move marked yet another bizarre turn career of a fighter who in his spare time outside the ring used to raise gamecocks and appear in the sci-fi “Matrix” film series.

It’s been a bizarre few weeks for Jones who may have pulled out of the Moran fight to better focus on better training WBA world super-middleweight champion Fedor Chudinov for his title defence against challenger Frank Buglioni on Sept. 26 in the U.K.

Just weeks earlier the 46-year old former world champion had asked Vladmir Putin for a passport in August in another bizarre move. These missteps offer a cautionary lesson in brand management and the troubled fortunes of a boxer who, in his prime at the turn of the millennium, was such a great talent that “RJJ” overshadowed the rise of Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Asking Putin for a Russian passport to travel more easily is ironic given that in his prime over a decade ago, RJJ flatly refused to fight outside the United States. Jones’ choice didn’t lack a foundation, though; he was seemingly robbed out of a gold medal.

The fight was entirely one sided and Jones was stunned at the result but refrained from blaming Korea’s Park Si-hun. They put the silver medal around his neck, only to see him remove it shortly after. He’d never hang the second-place medal on his neck again.

It was the Cold War and boxing was probably still Korea’s most popular sport.

A decade later, the man from Pensacola, Florida had more than recovered and his dazzling hand speed and subtle boxing skill (watch on old tapes how he pivots into nearly every punch adding extra power). He would bait opponents with his left hand pressed against his hip and would throw the odd bolo punch to humiliate his foes. Like a bull fighter he would use the aggressiveness of his opponents against them.

He even earned an Air Jordan sponsorship.

At the turn of the millennium, Jones’ situation was much like Andre Ward’s today—both are arguably the pound-for-pound greatest fighters of their era but, fight in a weight classes relatively devoid of quality opponents. It was in order to stake claim to piece of history that RJJ took on John Ruiz, the WBA heavyweight champion. In doing so Jones was the first fighter to hold some portion of the middleweight title since 1909 to challenge for a heavyweight title.

For Jones’ heavyweight challenge he had to gain a significant amount of weight. He weighed only the minimum 190 pounds for the fight, allegedly with weights hidden in his pockets. After winning the title, he made clear he had no intention of keeping it and went back to 175.

The changes in weight appear to have taken too much out of Jones. He won a close fight Antonio Tarver in his next appearance, but lost by KO in a 2004 rematch. Jones would lose again to Tarver by decision in 2005 and after taking a ninth-round KO loss to Glen Johnson in 2004. By then it was obvious that Jones was past his prime.

Today, Roy Jones has eight losses to his record and the only notable wins in the past 10 years have been against past-their-prime versions of Puerto Rican legend Felix Trinidad and the respectable Jeff Lacy. Jones has also now suffered the indemnity of a 2009 first-round knockout at the hands of Australian Danny Green.

RJJ once a fighter who opponents could rarely hit, is now on a very short list of Hall of Fame quality fighters who have suffered first-round knockout losses. A list that would include other former heavyweight champions like Floyd Patterson and Jack Dempsey.

He now fights abroad more often that he used to, where he can earn larger purses. Since 2011, he has fought 3 times in Russia and twice in other eastern European countries.

RJJ has worked as both a boxer and singer in Russia and thus positioned himself  to receive admission into the country.  As an American, getting a Russian visa is frustrating.

Yet, RJJ’s quick embrace of Russia may yet prove a mistake. His recent trip to Crimea was deplored by the Ukrainian government. Jones is now blacklisted from visiting the country. Jones fired back, saying he’d settle against Ukraine’s famous heavyweight boxing brothers Wladmir and Vitali Klitschko.

There’s no telling how much longer the 46-year-old fighter will continue to lace up his gloves; but rest assured the bizarre story doesn’t end here.

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