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The toughest opponent

Why do once-great champions
like Roy Jones Jr. fight on
long after their skills are gone?





            The state of Florida has been described as a land of sun, sand, palm trees, eternal youth and second chances. But, for one of its most-famous resident athletes, the dream of eternal youth and second chances seems to be coming at a deadly cost.


            Like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali before him, Roy Jones, Jr. now joins the not-so-exclusive club of former greats who chose to soldier on, long after the erosion of their skills and the consensus of journalistic opinion, said it's time to call it quits.


 Jones once exemplified skills that all other fighters aspire to, at least the Jones of the 1990s. But it's becoming painfully apparent that the man who once exhibited the fastest hand speed of a now bygone era cannot stop the hands of time. Unable to retire, and years past his prime, Jones is now riding a wave of denial, and his once-pristine legacy is being swept away in a tide of beatings, knockouts and athletic decline.


            Since losing to Antonio Tarver in 2003, Jones has gone 5-7, been knocked out four times, and has never been able to recapture the speed and unbeatable offensive qualities that once made him a god of the ring. To make matters worse, watching Jones' recent struggle against Max Alexander -- a limited journeyman who was riding a six-fight losing streak hadn't been in the ring in well over two years -- was like watching a slow-motion film of a fighter too old and tired to put together meaningful combinations. Jones' performance was so subpar that any fighter in their right mind would come to the realization that his timing and skills have eroded to the point where it's time to hang up the gloves. But Jones hasn't come to this conclusion, and that's the problem.


            Jones' deteriorating talents have gone beyond normal decline, into an area of overt danger, and everyone sees this but him. Though Bernard Hopkins is proof there is life after 40 in this sport, most realize he is the exception rather than the rule. No one wants to see Jones get hurt, or wind up with pugilistic dementia, but the cliché story of the ex-fighter winding up punch drunk and homeless is fast becoming the rule rather than the exception.


Jones was recently quoted saying he desires the cruiserweight belt before moving back to the heavyweight division. But how much of his mental health will survive the type of brutal beatings he suffered against Dennis Lebedev and Danny Green?


For every athlete. there comes a time

when the roar of the crowd is gone,

and we have to learn

to turn the page in our lives

and move on.

-- "Irish" Gerry Cooney on The Ringside Boxing Show, April 4, 2010


            It has been said that time can serve to create or destroy a fighter's legacy, and Jones is no exception. His life and career is fast becoming a tale of destruction, with no redeeming value other than to awaken in us, as boxing fans, a resolve to not support such senseless and dangerous campaigns. His inability to come to his senses raises moral, ethical and perhaps even legal questions about a mandatory retirement age, and perhaps even some type of 5150 clause written into the contract of this sport.


            Whether it is financial struggles, the thrill of competing, or the fighter's ego superseding his sensibilities, it is clear there are serious health consequences at stake for all fighters. Hopefully, the example of Roy Jones' plight can serve as a reality check for both fighter and fan alike.


 Then again, delusion has sometimes been the most difficult opponent of once great champions.



Other columns by "Irish" Joe O'Rourke
Loyalties to the Dead
Ricky Hatton's quandary
Ambassadors of Hope: The Rock Boxing Gym
Cuban Libre: An effigy to the human spirit
An unwanted visitor

A eulogy for Vernon
 Moneyweather talks ... disinformation walks
Of Hurricanes & Aftermaths

Inside Robert Garcia
The Blade's Edge

CLICK HERE to contact Irish Joe O'Rourke

Image by FlamingText.com

Irish Joe with Eloy "The Prince" Perez

Born and raised on the Eastern
Seaboard, Irish Joe O'Rourke is a
lifelong boxing aficionado who
now writes about the sport from
his home on the picturesque
Central Coast of California.

CLICK HERE to contact him