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Roy Jones Jr.: Just how good was the former pound-for-pound king?

Can you remember when Roy Jones Jr.-Buster Douglas was almost a thing? Photo from The Ring archive
Fighters Network

Roy Jones Jr. was arguably the finest fighter of the past quarter of a century. The Pensacola, Florida star combined incredible speed, power and athleticism to capture world titles in four weight classes – from middleweight to heavyweight.

Jones was a brilliant amateur, who was robbed of Olympic gold in Seoul 1988. Unperturbed, he turned professional the following year, resisting the urge to sign with big-name promoters in order to forge his own path to the top.

He won the vacant IBF middleweight title in his 22nd bout, outboxing future great Bernard Hopkins, and made one defense before moving up. A near-perfect 12-round unanimous decision win over then-IBF super middleweight titleholder James Toney was enough to convince many in the trade that Jones was the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Jones made six defenses before moving north to light heavyweight. After being upgraded to full WBC titleholder following a dominant win over an aging Mike MCcCallum, Jones was disqualified for striking Montell Griffin while he was down. That incident lit a fire under Jones, who blitzed Griffin in the first round of a direct rematch.

Over the next few years, Jones unified his title and acquired undisputed status. He then made the audacious jump to heavyweight and became the first former 160-pound titleholder in 105 years to capture a title in that division by outpointing then-WBA claimant John Ruiz.

Shortly thereafter, Jones dropped back to 175 pounds and following a close – and for many controversial call – against Antonio Tarver, he was knocked out in the second-round of their rematch. Although he fought on for over a decade more, he was no longer the once-in-a-generation force that he was in his prime.

Here we speak to former amateur rivals, ex-coaches, sparring partners and former opponents who assess just how good Roy Jones Jr. was:


Former sparring partner

“For me, Roy Jones Jr. is No. 1. I sparred Roy a lot of times. He was just so fast, hit hard and put punches together in combinations. He wasn’t going to let you hit him and was very dynamic. You’re in the ring with him and you never know. You had to be aware three minutes of every round because at any given time something big could happen. Roy was a special fighter for sure. When I think of any guy in my weight class, I’d think of a scenario where at my best I could at least make it a very good fight but with Roy, I laugh because I couldn’t come up with a scenario where you could do anything with him. That kind of speed and power trumps so many things. There’s an expression, ‘There’s levels to this.’ A great fighter is a great fighter, but Roy is greater than some of the great fighters. If you didn’t know who some of the guys he fought were, you’d say, ‘Ahh, the guy’s not that good’ but listen, ‘That guy’s going to the hall of fame’ but boxing with Roy he looked like he had nine fights. In hindsight there’s no shame in saying that you can’t beat Roy Jones. It’s like fighting Sugar Ray Robinson, or Muhammad Ali in his prime – you have to confess, this guy’s better.”

Former amateur rival who went 1-2 versus Jones

“I lost to Roy in the Olympic trials. He had to beat me because I was the national champion and I think I was the No. 1 in the world at the time. He had to beat me twice and I had to beat him once. I lost two 3:2 split decisions. I give Roy a lot of credit; he’s a very naturally talented guy. We both talked about doing a unification fight (at super middleweight), but he found a way to hand pick his guys, so it never happened. Roy wasn’t an Achilles heel; I didn’t have no problems fighting Roy in the amateurs. Roy had this thing about fighting southpaws, he had trouble fighting southpaws. I fought southpaw but I’m right-handed, so it’s not conventional to fight me the way you’d fight a regular southpaw. I would rate him as being – from an era that I came from – as one of the greats.”

Head coach of the 1988 U.S Olympic team

“He was outstanding. His father had trained him and did a great job. Underneath what Roy had, so much of it was natural ability: flexibility, explosiveness, power, speed, good movement. That left hook of his was out of this world and he had a helluva right hand too. He had everything. A guy like him, you leave it alone. He was a hard worker. If you look on that 1988 team there was a lot of amazing fighters: [Michael] Carbajal all the way to Riddick Bowe. I think you can say he’s one of the best fighters of the past quarter of a century.”


Jones (left) against Bernard Hopkins in 1993. Photo from The Ring archive

May 22, 1993, RFK Stadium, Washington D.C • Titles: vacant IBF middleweight
April 3, 2010, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas • Titles: None

“Early-career Roy Jones in 1993 was the best I faced – speed, reflexes, unorthodox, that type of thing. No one, no one would have beat Roy Jones at that level, where he was at right there and then. He was smart enough to neutralize my best weapons and smart enough to not get hit with my big shots. Even though I got my shots in he wouldn’t get hit by more than one. Roy was one of those guys, if you hit him once, take that and run with it. If you got him three times, ohhh, my god!”

August 14, 1993, Casino Magic, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi • Titles: Non-title

“It was not easy to catch him; he was a mover; he threw punches while he was still moving. His hands were so fast that sometimes you could not see his punches. Roy Jones had good skills, he was clever. He does not allow you to hit [him], but he hit you in his own time. He could do everything; jab, move, punch. He was the best because he was so fast. I couldn’t catch him because of his handspeed and movement in the ring. Jones gave me big problems in the fight, he was just so good and fast.”

May 27, 1994, MGM Grand, Las Vegas • Titles: IBF middleweight

“Roy was very awkward – he was a fast guy but awkward. He had good speed and made up for faults with speed. Different-level speed. His speed makes his power. He was one of the best fighters of the past 20 or so years. He was a very talented guy. I knew he was destined for fame – he was very special.”

Jones (right) tags James Toney. Photo from The Ring archive

November 18, 1994, MGM Grand, Las Vegas • Titles: IBF super middleweight

“Roy Jones was, by far, the best boxer I faced. He had all the intangibles. He could get in and out, kind of like a smaller version of [Muhammad] Ali. Very fast, very good boxer, best handspeed I ever fought. Hands down, nobody was that fast. He was ridiculous fast. [Michael] Nunn was fast but he wasn’t Roy Jones fast.”

June 24, 1995, Convention Center, Atlantic City, New Jersey • Titles: IBF super middleweight

“Jones was fast as hell, and I fought a lot of fast guys. It was a bad night for me. People don’t realize, (they think) you get in there and it’s all dandy – it’s not like that. There are fighters that go in there with flu, colds, you’re not ready. It was a bad me and it was a great Roy Jones. Jones was at his best and I couldn’t get out the way of anything.”

June 15, 1996, Coliseum, Jacksonville, Florida • Titles: IBF super middleweight

“Fighting Roy Jones Jr. when he was recognized one of the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world was a really positive experience in my career. He was intelligent, precise, fast and had an incredible defense. He had all the tools and knew how to use them. After our fight, his team asked me to join him in a training camp as a sparring partner and that’s where I really saw and understood why he was the best of them all.”

November 22, 1996, Ice Palace, Tampa, Florida • Titles: Interim WBC light heavyweight

“He had very quick feet. He was elusive just because of his footwork. I fought quite a few smart boys in my time, but I think Roy may have been the smartest. He was very clever, which didn’t surprise me. I knew he was sharp, it was like he was always one step ahead of me.”

March 21, 1997, Taj Majal Hotel & Casino, Atlantic City • Titles: WBC light heavyweight
August 7, 1997, Foxwood Resort, Mashantucket, Connecticut • Titles: WBC light heavyweight

“I’ve never been in the ring with anyone in my life as fast as Roy Jones. I sparred Floyd Mayweather and he’s 25 pounds lighter than Roy and nobody could compare. I could see some of the punches coming, but there were some shots that came so fast that, even though I blocked them, I couldn’t believe how fast they were. He doesn’t move a lot, his hands were much faster than his feet were, but he could still move around. For his athleticism and God-given talent, I’d say Roy was the best I faced.”

April, 25, 1998, Coast Coliseum, Biloxi, Mississippi • Titles: Non-title

“He was very quick with his hands, he had a lot of intangibles. He was quick, he punched hard, he had good movement. He was never shaken by anything. If I hit him with a good shot, you could never tell; he didn’t show it. I never thought that he would throw a bodyshot because he never threw bodyshots. When I watched the film, his trainer said, ‘Do this, do that and sink one down to the body.’ Roy broke my rib, I just didn’t see the shot, but nevertheless I’ve never been hit that hard before.”

Jones decks Otis Grant. Photo from The Ring archive

November 14, 1998, Foxwood Resort, Mashantucket, Connecticut • Titles: WBA and WBC light heavyweight

“Fighting Roy was an opportunity. A lot of guys in those days were trash talking and he had seen me fight on the USA Tuesday Night series and found out I worked with special needs kids. He said, ‘A guy like that, I want to give an opportunity to fight.’ Everybody thought the fight wouldn’t last one round. I was so determined to prove to the boxing world I could stay in the ring with Roy Jones. I didn’t fight my fight; I fought a very defensive fight. The game plan was, ‘If you’re fighting the best guy in the world and you’re not getting hit, you’re doing OK.’ The plan was after six rounds to start pressing and as soon as I started pressing in the sixth round I got hit with an uppercut and went down. I got dropped again in the 10th round and Russ [Anber] said, ‘You’re so far behind, in order for you to win you’re going to have to knock this guy out.’ Between the 10th and 11th round he stopped the fight. [Jones] should go down as one of the best guys in the sport for his era. He was the top dog, like Floyd Mayweather in his day. I think what made Roy exceptional was that he had tremendous handspeed for a guy at light heavyweight. What made him exceptional at his craft was he could hit you from angles that you wouldn’t get hit by a regular guy. His co-ordination of quickness, hands and feet made him that prolific. He was head and shoulders above anyone at his time.”

Jones (left) dominated Reggie Johnson. Photo from The Ring archive

June 5, 1999, Grand Casino, Biloxi • Titles: Undisputed light heavyweight

“It is a no-brainer for me. I started boxing at the age of 12 and I fought at the highest level as an amateur and pro. Roy Jones’ skillset presented the most problems by far. When I think of my friend and former foe, Roy Jones Jr. and his fast hands, I think of [Muhammad] Ali turning the lights off and being in the bed before the room got dark (laughs). Roy was the only guy I couldn’t trap or get to due to his ability to get in and out so fast. The smartest man in this business is the one who can hit and not get hit and make the most money. That man, to me, is Roy Jones Jr. The best fighter I’ve fought in my career and the best fighter of our era.”

September 7, 2002, Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon • Titles: Undisputed light heavyweight

“At the time when I fought Roy Jones, I was his No. 1 challenger and they asked me if I wanted to fight him. I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to’ but I knew in my head that I wasn’t in his league. I trained hard, got into the ring and I was buzzing. Everybody expected me to get hammered. In the first round I was meeting him with shots because my speed wasn’t bad for a light heavyweight and I think he was a little bit shocked. For the first two rounds I was alright but [laughs] I do believe, watching it over and over again, Roy Jones was just having a look at me. He turned it on in the third round, was switching from one side to the next, throwing right hands and by the time you’ve realized, he’s gone. It was the speed and little feints. I’d never come up against a fighter like Roy Jones. I’d never even sparred anyone like him. His feinting was unbelievable and sometimes a feint is as good as a shot. He’d make me put my hands down to my body and bang to the head. He was a very clever fighter.”

March 1, 2003, Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas • Titles: WBA heavyweight

“He was coming up in weight to heavyweight and brought his handspeed. He moved around a lot and did everything he needed to do to win by boxing.”

Tarver takes the lead against Roy Jones Jr. in their second encounter. Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/ Getty Images

November 8, 2003, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas • Titles: Ring, WBA and WBC light heavyweight
May 15, 2004, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas • Titles: Ring, WBA and WBC light heavyweight
October 1, 2005, St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida • Titles: Ring light heavyweight

“Roy was the most gifted, the most talented [boxer I fought] and I had to really step my game way up in order to beat him. He brought out the very best in me. Of course, being the first guy to ever knock out Roy Jones was a feather in my cap. He was the fastest person I faced. His speed was incredible. I saw everything coming, but I was on top of my game, he made you raise your level. You had to go to the mountain top with Roy Jones or he’d outclass you and run you out of the ring. I challenged myself in ways I didn’t think I could and I became better than a lot of people thought I could be because I was facing such a great fighter. He was so mobile, moved around a lot, danced a lot. You had to be patient; you had to wait your turn because a lot of times he’s moving when you begin your offensive strategy and he’d be out of the way.”

January 19, 2008, Madison Square Garden, New York • Titles: None

“I have great respect for Roy Jones. He is a complete boxer with tremendous skills. He was fast, strong hands and incredible reflexes. I fought the best of the best, but if I had to choose one, it needs to be Roy Jones. He is one of the most dominant boxers of the decade and went on to become heavyweight champion.”


Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright