KO Magazine Q&A – Roy Jones: Somebody is gonna get hurt and it ain’t gonna be me
This feature originally appeared in the August 1995 issue of KO Magazine
The more you see Roy Jones inside the ring, the more you realize what a special talent he is. Sure, he does things that upset the purists, and old-guard trainers love to point to his technical shortcomings. But like Muhammad Ali, who also violated all the rules, Jones has been blessed with the kind of unique athletic ability that allows him to do things most boxers wouldn’t even dream of.
Though Jones, 26, was deprived of the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics when South Korean Park Si Hun was awarded a flagrant hometown decision, he’s bene unstoppable since turning pro in May ’89. Jones, 28-0 (24), won the vacant IBF middleweight title in May ’93, decisioning Bernard Hopkins, and made one successful defense (a second-round kayo of Thomas Tate) before moving up to the 168-pound class.
In the first defense of the IBF super middleweight title, which he won by outpointing previously undefeated James Toney in November ’94, Jones blew away the IBF’s number-one contender, Antoine Byrd, in the opening round. The spectacular display of power-punching was televised by HBO and witnessed in person by an exuberant, capacity crowd of approximately 9,500 fans at the Pensacola Civic Center.
Although Jones’ boxing career is flying so high it’s about to go into orbit, his personal life is still burdened by the fact that he is partially estranged from his father, Roy Jones Sr., the man who taught him to box and molded his future from an early age. Roy Jr. is also deeply shaken by the tragic end of the Nigel Benn-Gerald McClellan fight, and Jones and his promotional company, Square Ring Inc., donated five percent of the gate from the Byrd fight to McClellan and his family.
Jones’ ultimate plate in boxing history has yet to be determined. But lacking the charisma of Ali or the savoir-faire of Ray Leonard, he’ll have to carve his niche entirely with his fists. Two days after his knockout of Byrd, Jones spoke to KO Managing Editor Nigel Collins.
Collins reports: “Jones presents some intriguing contradictions. Despite expressing concern for his opponent’s well-being, he participates in cockfighting, an activity in which the losing bird often dies. And regardless of his repeated denials, it’s difficult to believe he doesn’t care what his father, his critics or anyone else says about him. And while he is totally at ease inside the ring, it’s obvious Roy is still feeling his way as a sports celebrity.”
KO: You received a tremendous reception from your hometown fans when you entered the ring for the Antoine Byrd fight.
Roy Jones: It was terrific. It gave me a lot of confidence, a lot of enthusiasm. It made me want to really go ahead and perform.
KO: You’d never drawn such a large crowd before in Pensacola. Did your hometown fans need that win over James Toney to convince them that you were the real thing?
RJ: Yeah, they did. They needed it just as bad as I did.
KO: Where you looking for a quick knockout against Byrd?
RJ: What I had in my mind was that if he made any kind of mistake early, I was gonna make him pay for it. And he came out and made a mistake right away. He jabbed my hand. He shouldn’t have thrown a jab first. It let me see everything he was gonna do.
KO: What’s the story behind the tuxedo-type outfit you wear into the ring?
RJ: That started when I fought Glenn Wolfe. Me and the lady who makes clothes decided to do it. It came out good, so I said let’s do another one, but let’s wait until we fight a major, major fight. So when it got time to beat up James Toney, we did it.
KO: Another unique thing you have going is that little line of hair across the back of your neck. What’s that about?
RJ: That’s just to let you know that this is Roy.
KO: What do you think of Jorge Luis Gonzalez’ hairdo?
RJ: Oh, I don’t mess with that! Mine is a little different than that.
KO: You obviously like the showbiz part of boxing.
RJ: Yeah, better than I do the boxing part.
KO: I understand you recently had a small role in a TV show.
RJ: Yeah, The Watcher. It’s pretty cool. I did it in December and it came on in January. I played this boxer who killed another boxer, which is something I never want to do in real life. But I handled it pretty good. I didn’t have much to say, but the parts I did were all right, very realistic.
KO: Who else was on the show?
RJ: It’s something that Sir Mix-A-Lot did. I forget the other names. I don’t keep up with many people.
KO: What makes you more nervous, going before the cameras or getting into the ring?
RJ: Before the cameras, because I’d never done it before. I forgot my lines one time. But I would do it again if I got the chance.
KO: Let’s talk about a more serious subject. What happened to Gerald McClellan has clearly affected you deeply. When something like that happens, does it give you second thoughts about being a fighter?
RJ: Second thoughts about being a fighter, second thoughts about ever going in the ring again. It gives you second thoughts about a lot of stuff. Gerald is a very close friend. You wouldn’t think anything would happen to him. He seemed pretty safe. He’s a good fighter and all. It’s hard to imagine him not fighting again. It’s scary.
KO: Do a lot of fighters have an it-won’t-happen-to-me attitude and push the danger of boxing out of their minds?
RJ: Yeah, they sure do.
KO: Do you push it out of your mind?
RJ: No, I know that anybody can be hurt or killed at any time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re boxing or walking the street, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. You have to do everything you can to take precautions. Nobody is invulnerable. Anybody can be hurt. Anybody can be killed.
KO: When people first started talking about you fighting Vinny Pazienza, you expressed concern that you might seriously hurt him. Are you more worried about that now, after what happened to McClellan?
KO: Is that going to stop you from fighting him?
RJ: Evidently, they’re making it very difficult for me not to fight him. They’re trying to claim that I’m scared. They’re trying to claim a lot of stuff. I don’t care about fighting nobody. You know what I’m saying? The only one who I might have been worried about fighting was the one who talked the most – Toney. And as you saw, I didn’t care nothin’ about Toney. I didn’t care about his talk or nothin’ else. So, how could they say I was scared to fight somebody else?
KO: Were you surprised that Toney lost to Montell Griffin?
RJ: No, because if you think about it, he really didn’t do a whole lot to outpoint Toney. That fight could have gone either way. It wasn’t an astonishing victory like when I beat Toney. It’s nothing close to what I did to him.
KO: What is Toney’s problem?
RJ: He’ll be all right. He’s just going through what happens when you try to build yourself as being invincible and then figure out that you’re not. He’s just not facing reality.
KO: Who does HBO want you to fight next?
RJ: They want me to fight Pazienza, but I ain’t ready for that yet. I just don’t like fighting all the big fights back to back to back. I just got finished fighting Toney in the winter. I just don’t want to jump to another big fight right now. Then this McClellan case comes along. Somebody is gonna get hurt. You know what I’m saying? I know somebody is gonna get hurt. And I know who it’s gonna be, because it ain’t gonna be me.
KO: Have you ever eased up on an opponent because you were worried you might seriously hurt him?
RJ: In the amateurs I used to ease up on a lot of opponents. I could have hit Byrd a lot harder with the overhand left, but I took something off it because I thought I was gonna hurt him.
KO: Do you have any special way to handle the anxiety of fighting?
RJ: No, I don’t worry about it, no way. I just love to fight. I’m the sort of person that never cared. I just don’t want to hurt nobody.
KO: What do you say to the people who want to ban boxing?
RJ: You can’t stop me from doing what I want to do. Do they want to bar car racing every time one of them get killed? Do they want to ban skiing every time one of them gets killed? They pick on boxing because it’s man to man and because you go in there to hurt your opponent. But they don’t realize you don’t go in there to really kill him. You just go in there to beat him, to outbox him.
KO: Is there anything that can be done to make boxing safer that hasn’t already been done?
KO: What about professionals wearing headgear?
RJ: That’s crazy. Headgear on professional boxers. What is that gonna prove? They’re still gonna get beat just as bad. They’re just gonna get hit more because headgear makes a bigger target. Any blow to the head is painful. They wear headgear in the gym, but a lot of fighters get punch drunk from all the sparring they do. I’ve been dazed worse in sparring than I ever have in a fight.
KO: You’ve spoken often about fighting heavyweights. Is that just talk or is it something you really intend to do?
RJ: Oh, yes. The fans will see it one day. I’d go into the ring as close to 180 pounds as I can get and still fight a guy who’s about 220 or 225. I’ll fight Mike Tyson if he gets down to that size.
KO: What about George Foreman?
RJ: I could handle myself with George, too. Basically, all I’d have to do is stay away from George. I am not going to just stand there and let him hit me the way Michael Moorer did. The guy is strong. But I’d never let him hit me.
KO: Have you boxed heavyweights in the gym?
RJ: I’ve sparred with (IBF cruiserweight champion) Al Cole, and I handled myself pretty good.
KO: What about his long reach?
RJ: The long reach is a problem for some people, but Foreman is slow. Guys like Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis are tall, and that’s a little different. They would be a little hard to deal with. But the guys that are not really that tall, I can get to them.
KO: How do you react to criticism? Does it bother you when you read negative things about yourself?
RJ: I don’t hardly read stuff because I really don’t care what people say about me.
KO: In a recent KO interview, Emanuel Steward said some critical thing about you.
RJ: What did he say?
KO: He said, “Roy is another fighter who is only operating on 60 percent of his talent. He’s still fighting like a very fast amateur. Even when he beat James Toney, he never executed in a professional style. He was just jumping around, jumping around, then, all of a sudden, if he saw the guy off-balance he’d run in and slap him, then jump back. He did not fight like a good professional fighter.”
RJ: Event though he trains Lennox Lewis, and trained Thomas Hearns and Gerald McLellan, none of those guys were unbeatable. All of them eventually got beat. So, I don’t care nothin’ about him and his support neither. It doesn’t bother me… no, no, no.
KO: Boxing fans know Roy Jones the fighter, but they don’t know much about Roy Jones the person. What kind of things do you like to do when you’re not training?
RJ: Basketball, basketball and more basketball.
KO: Aren’t you supposed to play a game against Pernell Whitaker?
RJ: It’s supposed to be a celebrity game to raise money for a charity. His team against mine. Al Cole will probably play with me.
KO: How is your relationship with your father coming along? Have things between you improved?
RJ: It’s about as good as it’s ever going to get. I went to see him yesterday.
KO: What did he have to say about your performance against Byrd?
RJ: He didn’t say nothin’ about the fight. It don’t bother me. I don’t care. If he enjoyed it, fine. If he didn’t, fine. He might not even want to look at it. It don’t bother me at all. I don’t know which way he thinks. But I’m not gonna ask him, because I’m my own man and I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. I’m in business, and if my business goes good, I’m sure it makes him happy.
KO: Speaking of business, have you got involved in anything besides boxing?
RJ: Me and a friend are trying to open our own record company right now. I did my own song that they played when I came out for the Byrd fight. Me and my brother Cory did it. He’s gonna be big, real big. My brother has a couple of friends who are pretty good, too. I’m basically just trying to help local talent, trying to give something back to the community. That’s all.
KO: You’re still a single man.
RJ: I have a girlfriend, a fiancée, but I’m not planning on getting married anytime soon. I’ve still got to go through this boxing thing. When I get through, then I’ll come back.
KO: Before your fight with Byrd, HBO showed some footage of you working with a chicken. What’s the deal?
RJ: I raise game chickens. I have about 300 of them. I have a place, about six and a half acres, where I keep them.
KO: Do you fight them against other chickens?
RJ: Sometimes. It’s still legal in Louisiana. I condition them, and my uncle takes them to fight. Sometimes they do good. Sometimes they don’t.
KO: Do you find it exciting?
RJ: Yeah, I like that.
KO: A lot of people would say that cockfighting is even more brutal than boxing.
RJ: It’s pretty brutal, but the bird wants to fight, let him fight.
KO: Of all the things you’ve accomplished in boxing so far, what has meant the most to you?
RJ: The Olympics.
KO: Why was that bigger than winning two professional titles?
RJ: Because I fought Americans to win my professional titles. There were mixed feelings. In the Bernard Hopkins fight, you had people in the United States who wanted Hopkins to win. In the Toney fight, three-quarters of the country thought I was going to lose. In the Olympics, everybody in the country was rooting for the United States. So it wasn’t so much of a me thing. It was for the United States. I was fighting for everybody. That’s what made it bigger.
KO: How much longer do you want to fight?
RJ: Another four or five years. But like I’ve said, anything else I do from now on is extra credit.
KO: Do you want to fight Nigel Benn?
RJ: It would be a real good fight, and they say he wants to fight me. But I don’t know, I might think about it later on, but not just yet.
KO: What is the main thing you want to accomplish in the future?
RJ: Win the light heavyweight title.
KO: Does that mean you’re having trouble making 168 pounds?
RJ: No, no, no, no. I just want to do it for the record.
KO: What about unifying the super middleweight title? Are you interested in becoming the undisputed champion?
RJ: Yeah, if I get a chance to. But it’s not at all important because I look at things from a business point of view. And I realize that a lot of times things may not be able to happen the way I want because of who has who. The politics of boxing used to bother me, but not anymore.
KO: But would you like to go back to the way boxing used to be, back to having just one champion in each weight division?
RJ: Yep, because I’d be the man.