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Two Pieces on Jones-RuizBy Juan C. Ayllon
[Editor's Note: The first piece was of course written before the fight.]
My Sentiments on the Roy ShowI remember briefly watching a peculiar "B" movie as a young teenager, circa 1974. It was altogether forgettable, but for this one scene that has stuck with me through the years: a blonde haired, handsome and lithely muscular young man fought a haggard and menacing, middle-aged, sword-wielding pirate barehanded. The young man dazzled me as he effortlessly dodged the slower pirate’s sword thrusts and punished him with an array of back fists, rolling punches and kicks. He made it look easy, all the while emitting mocking and high pitched, monkey-like sounds like "huah’s," "ooh’s" and "ah’s." He was like an American surfer version of Bruce Lee. I thought to myself, "Whoa, this is really cool! I could definitely get into this movie." In fact, the martial artist was laughing, when suddenly the pirate plunged his sword into the kid’s stomach. My emotions mirrored the young man’s countenance: I couldn’t believe it. No way. Moments later, the evil pirate pitched my dying hero overboard and, with that, I pitched the show, changing the channel to something infinitely more agreeable.
Flash forward to 2003. Roy Jones, Jr. dazzles layman and hardened boxing man alike with his uncanny blend of quickness, athleticism, balance and power. He artfully dodges opponent’s best punches, then pounces with double and triple left hooks, lead rights and a blurring plethora of follow-up shots from impossible angles. The guy is unbelievable! He is boxing’s answer to Michael Jordan. In fact, he’s a morph of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Jersey Joe Walcott and Sugar Ray Robinson on speed all rolled into one ripped and muscular, 5’ 9", 168 lb. package. There’s a strong temptation to label him the heir apparent to Muhammad Ali as the new savior of boxing. Make that the new and improved savior of boxing, the greatest of all time, ad nauseum.
Except for one thing: with few notable exceptions, Roy Jones, Jr. has failed to fight really good competition. Nor, for that matter, has he had to overcome great adversity. As one of my favorite online compadres-in-arms, Rocky, likes to say, Roy has not fought life-and-death battles, time in and time out, like Ray Robinson did, for example. One has to wonder, what would happen if he faced the killers Ray did? Would he prevail, or would he be impaled and pitched overboard like so much flotsam when all was said and done?
These very issues buzzed through my head as I recently participated in an online boxing forum. In this thread, Roy Jones’ status in terms of all-time greatness, as well as his upcoming bout versus fringe heavyweight title-holder, John Ruiz, were discussed. The leading proponent for Roy Jones’ greatness was a poster I will refer to as Mr. "G."
As I pondered this phenomenal boxing enigma named Roy Jones, Jr., I realized that my feelings were best summarized in the following comments I posted in this discussion. Consider this a snapshot from a dynamic conversation, if you will, a conversation that I light-heartedly dubbed "The Roy Show."
Second, to be quite honest, my chief source of concern over Roy’s chin are very similar to concerns voiced decades ago over Muhammad Ali’s chin; as Ferdie Pacheco once said, Ali fought like he was deathly afraid of getting knocked out, like he had a glass chin and he knew it. Of course, Pacheco went on to say that as Ali’s reflexes slowed down, we found out that he was one tough son-of-a-gun. We do not have a similar body of evidence regarding Roy’s chin. So far, his chin has hardly been tested, but the way he walks and talks, i.e., often switching to a safety-first modus operandi, as well as carefully picking his opponents, definitely raises some questions, at least in my mind. For some reason, a certain, bastardized saying keeps coming to mind: if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck…
Third, in Roy Jones’ victories over Bernard Hopkins and James Toney, there were yet other, unanswered questions that subsequent rematches might have cleared up. These are the bouts some, including Mr. G, would use to cement his "greatness" status.
Realistically, in his bout versus Bernard Hopkins, Roy played a 1990’s version of Sammy Angott-or perhaps a smaller, more skilled version of Johnny Ruiz-alternatively hitting, then clutching to smother Bernard’s punches. That was hardly an impressive performance, especially for a career defining fight. On the contrary, it left a lot of questions unanswered, like what would happen if Bernard got his punches off? Instead, the public got a clinic in hitting and clinching, with the dubious, added bonus of watching two nearly naked men waltzing for the better part of the night. Geez, did someone step on a duck? That fight really stunk, as I recall.
Regarding James Toney, I heard from a source or two that he was tiring badly in that fight and was not in tip-top condition. I may be wrong in this, but I heard those allegations voiced once or twice. If so, I stand corrected. For all we know, it may have been an off night for Toney. Or, more likely, Roy may simply have been THAT good. Who knows? Either way, Roy looked pretty sharp and unbeatable that night. But with a guy like Toney, who up to then was looking like an all-time great in the making, allowing him a rematch would have been fitting. Granted, Roy looked pretty awesome and unbeatable that night, but, then again, so did Joe Frazier in Ali/Frazier I.
This brings me to my fourth point: throughout boxing’s history, quite often victors granted their beaten foes and the public a chance to see a rematch and-if they split the series-a third, "rubber match." I mean, can you imagine what would have happened if we never had series like Tunney-Dempsey, Zale-Graziano, La Motta-Robinson, Louis-Schmeling, Louis-Walcott and Ali-Frazier? Had there been no rematches, our perspectives on some of these fighters, at worst, would have been drastically different and, at best, would have denied us closure, as well as some of boxing’s finest moments. Yet, with Roy Jones, Jr., as well as a number of other franchise boxers today, quite often if they get by a dangerous opponent, they say that’s proof positive that they are superior and move on quickly. That’s convenient, but not necessarily true.
Fifth, there is the issue of allowing some grace to Roy’s fight selection process, as well as his proclivity to adapt a "safety first" approach to boxing due to the inherent danger of boxing professionally. Roy Jones, Jr. probably knows this as well as anyone. After all, his buddy, Gerald McClellan is living proof of what can happen in a boxing match gone awry. And yes, it is Roy that is taking the punches, not us, the paying public. However, we don’t have to like it, or-for that matter-endorse it, do we? Roy can do whatever he wants. However, in this age of entitlement, this does not entitle him to a free pass to "all-time" greatest of the great consideration. True greatness is brought out in adversity.
I have no doubt Roy has as much talent as anyone out there. However, as far as I know, those considered the "best of the best" in boxing did so at a price, by taking not one or two, but a number of difficult fights. Over time, they proved that they could take it, as well as dish it out. Look at Sumbu Kalambay: prior to Michael Nunn, he was beginning to look like an all-timer. Not one year ago, people were singing the praises of Moseley being an all-time great. Then, enter one Vernon Forest. Now mention the name of Moseley and you get a response like, "Yeah, he’s good, but..."
Sixth, there are the issues of how Ray Robinson might have been more selective of opponents had he made the kind of money that Roy Jones has, as well as Mr. G’s assertions that Ray "…took this only as a business" and that Roy and Ray are very similar in this fashion.
I have little doubt that Ray Robinson would have abbreviated his career somewhat had he benefited financially as Roy Jones did. His departure from boxing to pursue a career in dancing in Paris, only to return to boxing when dancing didn’t work out for him, is well documented. And, it’s also true that he probably would have been a little more selective in picking his fights. That makes sense.
However, to be quite honest, I think the degree to which Ray would have picked and chosen would pale in comparison to Roy’s demonstrated pattern. Robinson, like Leonard, Duran and other greats was a very proud man and, on top of that, he was greedy. That, and the fact that he was a big spender-look at all the millions Mike Tyson has made and the millions more he still owes-suggests that Ray Robinson, had he fought in our current boxing market, would have still possessed an impressive and rather lengthy resume when all was said and done.
That said, in my opinion, boxing was not simply pure business to him. Robinson was a pure fighter who was willing to put it all on the line. He gave everything he had to the game. He fought with a passion, flair and fierce pride that were inspired and artistic in execution. One does not produce this kind of work by looking at it as simply a paycheck or a means to an end. For that matter, I do not think Roy views boxing as purely a business, either. He has too much pride and artistry about his boxing. It’s just that he’s a bit on the risk averse side, if you ask me.
Furthermore, long before his career was half over, Robinson had established his greatness by fighting scads and scads of quality fighters; by the time he was renegotiating contracts versus the likes of Basilio and Fulmer, he truly earned his marks and, I might add, more than a little justified grace for his negotiating antics. Clearly, the long list of outstanding fighters Ray fought-even prior to his first retirement-was simply incredible to behold, nothing like Roy Jones Jr.’s record. It’s like comparing a mutual fund with an outstanding record for the past 10 years versus a fund that has been hot for the last two years running. Time and demonstrated performance under all sorts of conditions separate the "A" List funds from the flashy ones that are currently hot, but might not be in the running a year from now.
Seventh, I never doubted Robinson’s chin. In my previous post, I made reference to his knockdown by Bell as sort of a devil’s advocate counterpoint to my assertion regarding the Del Valle knockdown argument, i.e., Del Valle knocked down Roy hard, which suggested a weak chin, yet Bell knocked Robinson flat and somehow, Ray’s chin was outstanding. For the record, I think Ray Robinson had a terrific chin.
Eighth, on the surface, my win/win assertion regarding Ruiz may appear silly, but I believe it still holds water. Clearly, no fighter relishes the prospect of getting kayoed. Furthermore, I am very aware of a champion’s ego, as well as the danger in taking on a fighter so much larger and stronger than oneself. Roy, being the smart guy that he is, took a long time to ascertain these risks. However, in the end, I believe that he was supremely confident in his abilities. I also believe that, as a businessman, looked at the "best case/worst case" scenario.
Such an analysis might have revealed that, worst case, should Roy lose vs. Ruiz, his legacy would not be hurt (i.e., as I suggested with Conn, Moore, et al). A look at all-timers Ray Robinson and Stanley Ketchel further substantiate this phenomenon. With Robinson, his "stoppage loss" vs. Maxim had zero impact on his all-time ratings. Ditto for middleweight great, Stanley Ketchel in his kayo loss vs. Jack Johnson.
Of course, there’s the risk that Roy may get hurt. No doubt, Ruiz would potentially be a bigger risk health-wise, fighting a bigger hitter than he would encounter at light heavyweight. However, in this mega-event, the risk would no doubt be ameliorated by Roy’s speed and/or the overwhelming likelihood that the referee would be on strict orders to look out for Roy, as well as boxing’s public image. If Roy begins to take a serious pounding, look for the referee to jump in. If, on the other hand, Roy momentarily stuns Ruiz and follows up with a flourish of shoe-shine shots-mark my words-look for the ref to stop it prematurely.
And, Roy gets the big bucks.
Best case is that, if Jones wins, he gets an aura of respect in succeeding at what many light heavyweights have tried, but very few have succeeded: he gets a piece of the heavyweight title. Don’t forget, too, Roy Jones also gets props for taking such a big risk, win or lose versus Ruiz.
As an added bonus, Roy’s proclivity to avoid other fights that potentially posed a bigger risk to his legacy (i.e., losing to someone else at light heavyweight, super middleweight, or middleweight) at his weight class would be blotted out in the eyes of many. How convenient!
And, let’s not forget, Roy gets the big bucks.
In the end, the risks, in comparison to the rewards, are minimal; his legacy remains intact win or lose. He has a shot at the "Golden Chalice" of boxing, a piece of the heavyweight crown. He gets huge bucks for this fight-more than he would make versus a light heavyweight-win, lose or draw. Call me a pragmatist, but that’s win/win, in my book.
In closing, I believe that Roy Jones, Jr. is a very special boxing talent. No doubt-barring unforeseen circumstance-he will be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame. In fact, I think he’d do well versus many fighters of the past. However, I just do not see a preponderance of evidence suggesting that he deserves to breath the same, rarified air that boxing’s highest regarded boxers do. Nor, for that matter, do I believe that Roy would win versus a number of the all-time greats. From my vantage point, there are too many unanswered questions and, from what I’ve seen, some boxers flat out lick him, giftedness and all.
And, for the record, if Roy Jones, Jr. wins his bout versus John Ruiz, I will not suggest that Ruiz was the worst fighter since Joe Grim, although come to think of it, Joe may have had a better chin than Ruiz. And, should Roy lose, I will not sing special praises to God, give extra at the offering plate on Sundays or rant on these pages that Roy got what was coming to him, amen!
Believe it or not, I like Roy Jones, Jr. It’s just that I do not hold him in as high regard as, say, a Charles Burley, an Ezzard Charles an Archie Moore or, for that matter, a Sugar Ray Robinson. You cannot "pick and choose" your way to their status; you must earn it significant fight by fight.
A Fool's GameSomeone must have lied to John Ruiz. Maybe it was his trainers while he was working with smaller guys for speed. In my mind’s eye, I can here it now: “Hell, Johnny, you’re so fast, you could outbox Roy Jones, Jr.!” Or, “Johnny, you’re so big and tough, you won’t even feel his shots! You the man, Johnny!” Perhaps it was Don King stroking Ruiz, recognizing his limited shelf life was about to expire; like an educated chess player, he sacrificed a useful, but limited knight in order to entice-and eventually capture-an even bigger piece, this one for his upcoming heavyweight tournament. Checkmate? Maybe, maybe not. It’s a calculated move.
Or, maybe it was Johnny Ruiz, himself. He managed to get himself into relatively svelte shape. He was probably thought to himself, “Hey, I’m looking good, I’m feeling good, I’m the heavyweight champ! No skinny-[buttocked] middleweight is gonna take my crown. I’m bigger, I’m stronger and I can even box rings around this punk. I’ll show him!”
Even though his physique would never approach that of former opponent, Evander Holyfield, I had a funny suspicion that Ruiz heard strains of, alternatively, the Rocky movie theme and the 80’s hit song, ”What a Feeling” playing to visions in his head: replete in cutoff sweatshirt, headband, and cross training shoes, Johnny alternatively punched hanging slabs of beef at a meat packing plant, pranced about a boxing ring chasing smaller boxers, aerobically danced with a posse of lovely and adoring women, lifting weights and posed in front of a mirror with a prop chair in Flash Dance fashion. As the vision wound down, a bucket of water thrown from just offstage cascaded in slow motion over his ripped, muscular body majestically arched over a chair; he sat there soaking it all in. What a feeling! He had arrived. This was his moment.
Then, something went terribly awry. As Ruiz played big cat to Jones’ mouse in the first round, suddenly Roy stopped, planted, and landed a sharp shot on Ruiz’ lower midsection. It was classic Tom and Jerry cartoon stuff. Tom, the cat, chases Jerry, the mouse, into a corner where, at the last second, Jerry pulls out a weighty prop and nails Tom. Ouch. That hurt. That wasn’t supposed to happen. It didn’t wobble Ruiz, but it certainly got his respect. To be quite honest, I wondered if the punch hit the top of his beltline, shifting his protector just painfully so, or whether the shot simply landed well on a somewhat relaxed midriff. Roy put all his 198 pounds of his bodyweight into a left hook, while Ruiz put all his 220 pounds behind his belly and the two collided, producing a very respectable impact. Wouldn’t you know, it’s physics; Roy Jones used Johnny Ruiz’ bodyweight against him to create a wallop he could not generate under his own steam. Jones did this several other times in the fight, timing an onrushing Ruiz and cracking him good.
Either way, Ruiz got the message. From that point on, Ruiz shifted gears. It was almost as if the following monologue took place in his head:
Okay, that hurt. Chasing him around like this is tiring and, hey, I might run into another shot like that, which would basically suck. Let’s go to Plan B: I’ll follow him around slowly, give him plenty of space, fire one shot at a time, box with him in center ring and occasionally rush him into the corner, hit and smother him when he least expects it. Yeah, I’ll outbox-and outfox-Roy Jones, Jr. After all, I did that pretty good (sic) in training. My trainers even said so. They said I was damn good. I’ll show him: I’m John Ruiz. I’m the man.
Unfortunately, that was a bad plan. Johnny Ruiz, AKA Mr. Flash Dance, is no consummate boxer. To stand in center ring, pose, shimmy and trade single shots with Roy Jones, Jr. is to step into Roy’s proverbial office. Ditto for following him around the ring slowly, giving him plenty of breathing room and only occasionally rushing him into a corner where you tie up. He’s been there, done that with quicker fighters his whole boxing career. Hello!
This change in strategy violated a basic, time-tested principle that essentially said that you do not step out of your area of expertise and challenge someone in his or hers. That’s just foolish. If you are a tank driver, you don’t poke your head out of the turret and challenge a sniper to a shooting contest with rifles. If you are Jack Johnson, you do not challenge a world champion racecar driver to a car race. If you’re a professional wrestler in a tiff with Jack Dempsey, you don’t accept a challenge to a boxing match, even if he is retired, older, and getting a little pudgy. If you are Oprah Winfrey, you do not challenge Halie Barry to a swimsuit contest. And, if you are a bigger, slower heavyweight with somewhat limited firepower, you do stand in center ring and try to box with Roy Jones, Jr. It just doesn’t work.
In the end, it’s possible that John Ruiz loses to Roy Jones, Jr. ten times out of ten. After all, Roy Jones, Jr. is pretty darn good. The way he made Johnny miss and pay, the way he shrugged off the occasional shots landed with a laugh and a smile, as well as the apparent ease with which he danced away from Ruiz’ awkward pursuit suggests as much. Who’s to know? Maybe, as noted boxing writer and luminary, Bert Sugar, recently commented in a bar somewhere, John Ruiz is simply a horrible fighter. Maybe this fight serves as further notice of how abysmal the heavyweights division has slipped. I don’t know. Perhaps, as Roy Jones suggested afterwards, Divine intervention and empowerment played a role in this bout. And, no doubt, Roy’s considerable talents came to bear in the fight’s outcome.
Be that as it may, the thing that chafed my backside was that Ruiz exercised the wrong game plan, plain and simple. Standing there at center of the ring, posing and occasionally tossing the lead right or the odd jab, he might have had more success standing in center court at Wimbledon trying to volley with tennis great, Andre Agassi. Then, on the occasions when he managed to corner Jones into the ropes, he fired maybe two or three shots-shots that he pushed out there, rather than snapped-and promptly tied him up. Over and over again, this happened: he refused to let his hands go. I didn’t get it. Also, when John leaned on Roy and tried to rough him up, he was promptly pulled off by chastising referee, Jay Nady. Was this a case of the referee protecting the house player, I wondered aloud? Then, when Ruiz followed Roy around the ring, he moved about with all the speed of a Mighty Mo toy truck on lithium. This was not good.
So, there I sat, utterly frustrated, at a long table in a packed and noisy Suburban sports bar. To my left was a party of roughly eight raucous, young US Navy sailors, most wearing black T-Shirts to showcase their gym muscles and tattoos. They were good guys. However, they were very outspoken in letting anyone within 20 feet of them know that Lennox Lewis sucked because he had no chin and he fought defensively, while Mike Tyson took a dive in their match and, oh yes, Roy Jones, Jr. was the man. Once the main event started, they alternatively shouted loudly for Roy, drank beer and fielded numerous, important calls on cell phones. In the latter case, they wore pained expressions as they pressed the receiver tightly with one hand and covered their other ear with the other. With great skill and authority, they listened intently and barked terse remarks into their cell phones. Occasionally, they even left the room for privacy and better clarity. No doubt, their post-fight plans were classified and of extreme national concern. However, I digress!
To their credit, these sailors had a couple of shapely blondes with them whose presence helped assuage our collective pain, as not ten feet away the pitiful main event was showcased in all its grandeur on six, 32 inch color TV’s and a fuzzy, eight foot projected image in the middle on the wall.
To my right, two middle-aged, pro-Ruiz car dealers in suits joined me in yelling at the TV’s for Ruiz to let his hands go, to pound his body, to get out of the center of the ring, to cut Jones off, and to crowd Jones. Do something! Didn’t this guy watch the classic fight films? Didn’t he see how Jake LaMotta, Gene Fulmer or Ralph “Tiger” Jones offset Ray Robinson’s speed and superior boxing abilities with pressure and endless body assaults? Would Jerry Quarry or George Chuvalo have fought Roy Jones like that? My newfound car dealer/boxing buddy, Steve, joined me in derisive laughter as I wondered aloud how the fight might have been different had it been Jerry Quarry in there and not Johnny Ruiz. As for George Chuvalo, he had admitted that he didn’t like getting hit, but he still waded in there and gave it his best every time out. That used to be the general expectation when a fighter became “world class.” Somehow, with the passing of time, this had ceased to be the norm in the heavyweight division.
We didn’t get it. Wasn’t John Ruiz being paid the big bucks to take some shots and get the job done? And yet, as George Foreman pointed out, Ruiz seemed reluctant to get in there and mix it up. This is a hitting sport. You get hit. Does a good fighter chuck a potentially wining strategy because it might mean absorbing more pain?
Granted, playing pity-pat-or “Rock-Scissors-Paper”-in the center of the ring, cautiously plodding forward so as to avoid being clothes lined, cuffing the cuddly Roy Jones a time or two and giving him a “noogie” while you have him trapped in a corner is infinitely less painful and exhausting than the more prudent alternative: pressing Jones continuously, throwing punches in bunches, crowding him and taking more chances. Hey, as Rocky Graziano once said, boxing is a tough racket.
Thus, we yelled, we cajoled, we grandstanded and we pontificated endlessly. In the end, I even got the Navy kids to agree with us that Ruiz’ tactics all but assured a Roy Jones, Jr. victory. Max Kellerman and Teddy Atlas would have been proud. Heck, we might have all gotten together and sung strains of Kumbaya, had it not been for the lousy boxing match and the fact that my sailor buddies had other, pressing plans. Well, maybe not! Instead, I gave them my copy of the promotional fight poster, which I had procured earlier from the proprietor, and wished them good luck.
In retrospect, maybe Ruiz wasn’t capable of sustaining such pressure over the length of the fight. Maybe all the Pilates classes, the 135 lb. squats in front of the power racks, his training with smaller, speedier fighters and/or whatever else he incorporated in his exotic, 21st Century training regimen just didn’t do the job. Maybe it could not. Perhaps he was in way over his head. Perhaps he’s the Trevor Berbick of 2003 and Roy Jones, Jr. is his S.T. Gordon. Maybe Ruiz was just that slow and cumbersome.
Whereas this may be true, I do not buy it entirely. I am convinced that Ruiz could have made it a more competitive and compelling bout by using some common, boxing sense, along the lines of our advice. This is not new information; this is stuff you are supposed to learn in the amateurs. However, for some reason, he did not learn it or, if he did, he chose not to apply his learning.
That said, I must give Roy Jones, Jr. his props. He delivered on what he said he would do. What’s more, I give Roy high marks for giving Providence His due. Hey, I’m all for that. Our kids, especially, need to hear good messages of hope like that. Moreover, I must give Roy kudos for keeping his word and taking on a potentially difficult and dangerous challenge. Roy Jones, Jr. showed some guts in stepping up to heavyweight and taking on Johnny Ruiz. No doubt, Roy came to fight.
At the same time, however, I would also add that Johnny Ruiz played a fool’s game. You do not step out of your area of expertise and challenge someone in his or hers. Still don’t believe me? Just ask the hapless, heavily bandaged wrestler after his brief boxing lesson, courtesy of Jack Dempsey. Ask a badly shaken Jack Johnson, who, having challenged a world champion racecar driver to a race, not only lost resoundingly, but was nearly taken out in a couple of close turns. Or, for a little twisted fun, ask a roomful of red-blooded males who wins a head-to-head swimsuit contest, Oprah or Halle Berry. It’s simply a no contest. That’s how poorly John Ruiz’ strategy-or lack thereof-delivered versus the ever talented, Mr. Roy Jones, Jr.
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