Superman turned 55 on Tuesday.
It’s almost hard to believe that Roy Jones Jr. is ten years away from being a senior citizen, especially when we’ve only just seen him in the ring in April of last year, losing an eight-round majority decision to Anthony Pettis.
At 54 years old. No, Pettis isn’t a world-class pro boxer, but he is a former UFC lightweight champion with good enough hands to hold his own in the ring, and many believe Jones won the fight.
I repeat, at 54 years old. Which means that we may not have seen the end of Jones in the ring, even though he’s already done all there is to do in the sport, including earning a place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2022. That reality doesn’t sit well with the majority of the fan base, and it shouldn’t. But Jones is a fighter, and that will never go away.
Note the word fighter, and not boxer, even though it was Jones’ sublime boxing skills that earned him the wins and accolades that put him in Canastota. But for all those years when he made great fighters look average and good fighters look like they had no business being in the ring with him, it was when Superman met his kryptonite in the form of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson that the fighter inside rose to the surface for all to see.
That journey from 2006 to 2018 wasn’t always pretty. It was filled with wins against journeymen and “opponents” in venues far removed from the bright lights of Las Vegas and New York City, losses far from his home in Pensacola against opponents that wouldn’t have touched him in his prime, and moments that were met with a mournful shake of the head by those who saw him wrecking his legacy.
But Jones fought on, defiant, He didn’t talk of winning titles or getting back what once was his. He fought because that’s what fighters did. And if you didn’t agree, he didn’t care. And if you told him your feelings, he didn’t nod and accept your two cents. He fired back.
The site was Atlanta. A couple weeks before Christmas of 2011. Jones, loser of three straight to Danny Green, Bernard Hopkins and Denis Lebedev, was about to face the 14-5-2 Max Alexander for something called the Universal Boxing Organization Inter Continental Cruiserweight title (vacant, of course).
Being that it was none of my business what a grown man who passed the athletic commission tests to compete did with his life, I didn’t come out and ask why he was still doing this. I danced around the question like RJ in his prime. But like RJ in his prime, Jones saw right through me and walked me into a hook. I tried to weather the verbal storm, but I finally had to close my eyes, throw something and hope for the best. I asked him why do this when he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after he hangs up the gloves.
“You think I’m gonna stop like that because of something five years down the line?” Jones said. “I might be dead in five years, who knows. You think I’m gonna save my life for five years down the line? Who knows what the hell might happen to me in five years? I still got it, I still feel good, so am I gonna stop now, so I can be safe and careful and hope that I don’t mess up my chances? What if I better my chances of going in the first time? So there are two sides to that coin and I understand that. What if I do go capture the cruiserweight title and have the greatest comeback in the history of the sport?”
Taken aback, about to get stopped, I had to fire back with one of the most honest questions I’ve ever asked, whether he understood that people were concerned about his well-being.
I asked him if he understood the concern people had for him.
“I totally understand the concern,” Jones said. “But do you understand my concern? How can you expect me to change now? That’s just who I am.”
I shut up. I didn’t bring the topic back up, didn’t press to go deeper. I understood. Fighters are a different breed, and that fight is in them forever. So as Jones kept fighting, I kept quiet. If he passed his medicals, let him compete. And he did. He beat the Max Alexanders of the world, showed the occasional glimpse of his past brilliance, and we didn’t speak again for another seven years until his 2018 “retirement” fight against Scott Sigmon. Retirement is in quotation marks because I think we all knew it wouldn’t really be the end, but we all went along with the narrative.
I asked why now.
“You get to a point where your body starts to fail you and you’re having a hard time,” he said. “Then it’s time to start saying, ‘Okay, now may be time to give it up.’ When your body is not really holding up to the whole training camp, you look at things a little different, because if your body holds up, then you’re good. When your body starts breaking down, it means you ain’t good.”
It was that Jones honesty again. He would beat Sigmon, come back in 2020 for an exhibition bout with Mike Tyson that was declared a draw after eight rounds, then fought Pettis last year. In between was the IBHOF induction and the usual broadcasting, training and promoting gigs.
What does that mean? You might take it as proof that Jones doesn’t need to fight. But maybe he does. Maybe it’s not about the money, the glory, the spotlight or any combination of the three. Maybe Roy Jones Jr., whether at 13, 23, 33, 43, or 53, just wants to step through the ropes, test himself against another man with nothing but two fists and his wits to defend himself, and feel alive.
I used to have a problem with that when Superman turned back into Clark Kent. I still do to an extent because this is a young man’s game.
But I get it.