It is Sunday morning. The champion wakes up in the familiar surroundings of his hometown. The new car he was awarded prior to his most recent bout sits idle in his already-crowded garage. Although he fought only the night before, he is no worse for wear and tear. He escaped his latest test with nary a scratch. His opponent, despite being a champion for most of the last decade, was no match for the young superstar's prowess. He had made it look easy, just as he had so many times before. As the $3 million dollars he pocketed earns it's first day of interest, the champion considers his future. His career has no place to go but forward....or does it?

If your name is Naseem Hamed, then the crisp morning air in Sheffield is ripe with opportunity. But if your name is Roy Jones, Jr., then the humid Pensacola winds are thick with confusion. Boxing's two most unconventional, charismatic, and outspoken champions are on different paths. Although they both dominate their respective divisions, one man is clearly on his way up, while another is coming dangerously close to being on his way out.

Ever since his coming-of-age fight with James Toney, the career of Roy Jones has been more closely associated with Medusa's stare than Midas' touch. His career has not grown in proportion to his talent. To look at the reasons why, we need look no further than Roy himself.

Jones has consistently shot himself in the foot at every turn. Once winning the IBF Super Middleweight title, Roy took on some less than stellar competition. The ease with which he disposed opponents was poorly accentuated by the average fighters he occasionally found across the ring from him. Worse, still, Jones himself became bored in the ring. And the lack of motivation spread. When his attempt to generate interest extended to the basketball court, where he would play a professional league game the same day as a title defense, he again failed to meet expectations by turning in an unexciting technical performance against the hand-picked Eric Lucas. Jones' further attempts to market himself as a music-writing, clothes-designing, multi-sport prodigy were offset by Roy's odd insistence on referring to himself in the third person.

Roy Jones had a wonderful chance to renew himself with a step up to the Light Heavyweight division. However, Jones' first foray into the land of the 175 pounders was another non-challenge in the 40 year old Mike McCallum. Fighting for and winning an "interim" title, for which Jones had paid a special $50,000 sanctioning fee to the WBC, smacked of the devious boxing establishment maneuvering Jones had long attempted to avoid. Losing his first title defense by disqualification was a scenario made even worse when Roy's legitimate complaints about referee Tony Perez's tardiness were tarnished by his excuse-ridden post-fight rant.

With the loss behind him, Roy Jones had another opportunity to advance his career to the level of fame and fortune he seeks with a lucrative rematch. A promoters dream (ex-champion attempts to erase his lone blemish against the underdog who beat him) was turned into a nightmare as the pay-per-view was broadcast on a Thursday night. The undercard, filled with Roy's cronies at his insistence, was fought in front of a tiny crowd. Making the most out of a night in which he would only take home a small percentage of the anemic pay-per-view sales, Roy Jones yet again gave himself a wonderful opportunity to find his acclaim by demolishing Griffen in less than a round.

With his next fight undecided, what does Roy do? He drops his world title, announces that he's going to fight at Heavyweight, then announces that he's going to fight at Cruiserweight, then announces he's going to stay put at 175. When George Foreman balked at fighting Hasim Rahman, Jones volunteered to take his spot. When Foreman ended up with Briggs to keep the HBO date, Jones rescinded his offer to fight Rahman. Miraculously, $5 million was offered to Jones to fight heavyweight punching bag Jeremey Williams. More miraculously still was Jones' counter-offer for $10 million, more than three times his biggest-ever payday. Jones' penchant for large paychecks was greater than his penchant for easy paychecks as he also was offered and refused $3 million to fight the spent Michael Nunn. And finally, Jones gets within moments of signing to fight Buster Douglas before changing his mind at the advice of his long-estranged father. Another in the long list of opportunities lost.

And now again, Roy Jones finds himself at the crossroads. Having mowed down his largest opponent to date in Virgil Hill, Roy is again able to parlay his latest highlight-reel kayo into the career he feels he deserves. And already, he shows signs of blowing it. Instead of announcing that he would attempt to keep his WBC title by fighting Graziano Rocchigiani or that he would fly to Germany to take on linear champion Dariusz Michalczewski, Jones instead announces that his next opponent would be determined by a poll at his website. His talk of a heavyweight title fight has been replaced by an even more ludicrous call out to Oscar DelaHoya to meet him at 160.

Contrast Jones with The Boxer Currently Known As Prince. Naseem Hamed, it seems, can do no wrong. The young Brit has just as much ego, just as much charisma, and just as much love for currency as does his Light Heavyweight counterpart, yet his career seems to show no signs of stopping.

Since winning the WBO title, Hamed has had no problems selling tickets to his fights. His hype machine seems unstoppable. Hamed has been able to overcome the stigma that big-event fights take place at 147 and up. His flashy ring entrances have won him as many detractors as admirers, and yet his in-ring performances guarantee that both groups will be watching when he next fights.

He has been able to remain motivated, thus allowing him to give the performances boxing fans crave. And when he's off his game, as he was against Kevin Kelley, his stock nonetheless continues to rise. Consider him the blue chip of the boxing game.

Like Jones, Hamed has signed a multi-fight, multi-million dollar deal with HBO. Unlike Jones, Hamed has openly expressed a desire to take on all comers. While Jones accepts, reproposes, and eventually reneges on deal after deal, Hamed continues to accept the opposition put in front of him. His future schedule has more names on it than DelaHoya's, and unlike Oscar, Hamed seems eager to face them all. His refreshing attitude gives him more credibility than the belts the WBO keeps awarding him. It's an attitude that's reaping huge rewards.

It is Sunday night now. As the champion falls to sleep, Monday approaches. The first business day after the fight, his agents, managers, lawyers and promoter will begin the frantic search for the next big opportunity. Will the champion accept it? The answer, not unlike the will to win, lies within the fighter. Only he can determine his path. Only he can make the dreams that fill his slumber come true.

.....Chris Bushnell


© 2001 Chris Bushnell. All rights reserved.

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