By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

I remember being in Barcelona, Spain, when I heard. Brooklyn b-ball legend Junie Sanders and I had just come back from a bullfight when the word reached us: "Roy Jones just got cold knocked the [expletive] out!" I remember. We were standing somewhere between Gaudi's La Pedrera and Gaudi's Casa Batllo, stunned. More lost in translation than Bill Murray.

I remember the pain that went through me.

Once we were told how it went down, I remember saying to Junie, "That's it; he needs to shut it down right now."

Junie thought different. "He needs to get back in the ring, fight Tarver one more time. He can't go out like that. He won't go out like that."

Roy Jones, Jr.
It's still strange to see Roy Jones, Jr. on the canvas.

The pain inside was speaking for me, thinking for me. "Lucky punch, sucka punch, beat to the punch … " All of it ran through my head.

"This was his first loss," even though it was technically his second.

"The only reason he got beat is because he had to lose all of that weight from the Ruiz fight in like 3½ months," even though that was the excuse for the last fight against Tarver and it had actually been eight months between fights.

"Plus, he beat Antonio Tarver in the first fight, so he don't need to prove nothing to ol' boy," even though he didn't and yes he did.

In my mind, Roy Jones Jr., the best boxer not named Ali I have ever seen, didn't need to risk it. Especially against a cat that possibly had Roy's number from the time they were amateurs together as 13-year-olds.

Junie nullified all my verbal jabs: "Believe me, son, they gonna fight again."

They both fought Glenn Johnson. They both lost. Tarver avenged his with a 12-round decision. Roy simply got cold knocked the [expletive] out … again.

One year later, this Saturday, they bring the pain back to each other for the last time.

I hope.

Because if Roy Jones Jr. loses one more fight, the pain he feels when he hits the canvas, or when the judges' cards read in favor of Tarver, will be nothing close to the pain I will feel -- again -- from realizing that the one I've felt was "The One" since 1988 has finally become the two.

Second to none, is the way we used to describe him. Yeah, we'd considered Sugar Ray Robinson, Ali, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis. But we were in a new era like the caps. We knew that dude was past special.

The Glen Kelly fight, when he body-punched a knockout … the second Montell Griffin fight, when he was on a mission to prove the disqualification from the first one was bogus … the unanimous decisions over the only two fighters of his era who were supposed to be able to compete: Bernard Hopkins and James Toney.

We'd heard it all ("Roy Jones is dodging real fights; he ain't really fought nobody") and seen more (49-1 with 38 KOs, five-time champ in four different weight classes, 1990s Boxing Writers Association of America "Boxer of the Decade," etc.). He was, in our minds, beyond "the Mike Tyson that Mike Tyson was supposed to be" as some were calling him. He was Jordan, Gretzky, Rice, Tiger before Tiger. As my uncle in Alabama used to say: "Roy Jones Jr. is so fast, you couldn't hit him with a handful of sugar."

That was the motto we lived by with him. Like I said … second to no one.

Then after the Ruiz fight, something happened. I couldn't figure out if it was the weight or the arrogance, the loss of interest or the other side of the peak. But it happened the minute Antonio Tarver grabbed the mike in the press conference after Roy did something that had not been done in over 100 years of boxing: Roy, an original middleweight, became a world heavyweight champion.

Roy Jones, Jr. & Antonio Tarver
Jones and Tarver will do battle once more.

When Tarver stood up and asked Roy in front of the world, "Where's my shot? When am I going to get my shot at history?" I saw no fear in Antonio's eyes. And I saw hesitation in Roy's.

At that moment, Roy looked like the handful of sugar hit him.

But we stood strong. We forced ourselves to, and into believing that he was God. God inside of a square ring. We had faith in Roy Jones Jr., like hurricane victims had in our government. We hung on to every word and every swing. If he was going down, we were going down with him. We just weren't prepared that it actually was about to happen.

And we -- those few million boxing fans who believe Roy Jones Jr. is so close to the best we've ever seen that we lie to ourselves about his greatness -- knew it once he signed the contract to give Tarver his shot. We knew it -- the reign, the supremacy, the titles -- wasn't going to last much longer. We knew the end was near.

And we had no idea how to deal with the pain.

"They want your ass beat because upsets make news. News brings about excitement, excitement brings about ratings. The objective is to bring you up to the tower and tear your ass down. And if you don't believe that, you're crazy."
-- Roy Jones, Jr. "What I've Learned," Esquire 2003

As one who creates, one of the hardest, most difficult things to do is follow a masterpiece. I am a sportswriter … Gary Smith is a masterpiece maker. In June of 1995, word had gotten around the city of Chicago that Kevin Garnett, then a senior at Farragut High School, was going to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The story was about KG's going straight to the League. Everybody in the Chi was amped. The copy hit the racks on Tuesday; they'd disappeared by Wednesday.

More Roy Jones, Jr.
Want Roy Jones, Jr.'s take on some current music? Click here.

But tucked in the back of the issue, as they always are when they make their six or seven annual appearances, was a feature epic on Roy Jones Jr. More important than the story on Roy was the byline on the opening spread: By Gary Smith.

In it, Smith didn't just make you fall in love with his writing; he made you fall in love with Junior. He wrote of electricity and how it was "humming through Little Roy." He wrote of how "sympathy had power, too." He wrote: "A great fighter is a man alone on a path. He must feel that he is the maker, not made. He must feel that he fathered himself." He wrote of how Roy was so "blindingly quick that he gets away with murder and commits it at the same time." He wrote about axioms, Glock 9mm pistols, and roosters. He wrote about the death of a dog. He wrote about the death of a father and son.

Others followed as the years went by. Everything from "Ring" covers to "Vibe" to "Esquire." He became a household name with no nickname. But for those of us who still have the originally aired (not replayed) broadcast of his fight against Si-Hun Park stored in a box in our basement, Smith took us from discovery to love. He turned the world on to Roy Jones Jr.'s mastery of boxing by his portrait of a masterpiece. Creating a documentary in writing that no one outside of Pensacola, Fla., had ever experienced. Before that, Roy Jones Jr. was the kid from the Seoul Olympics who got robbed of a gold medal. He was a great boxer, without greatness.

Gary Smith gave a three-dimensional boxer a fourth dimension.

Roy Jones, Jr.
This is the Roy we remember the most.

Then the crazy knockouts came. One after another after another. Tyson was done in one division, and boxing had no one to counter what Leonard/Haglar/Hearns/Duran/Arguello/Pryor/Davis/Whitaker had given us in that middle division over the past decade and a half. Boxing was all about no one. That's when Roy came along.

The fact that he fought nobodies meant nothing to those of us who fell in love with watching him fight.

"It ain't his fault that no one else is around for him to whoop."

"It ain't his fault that he came into the game in an era that was weak."

"It ain't his fault that Roy Sr. and Carol (his mother) had bad timing."

We simply saw Cassius Clay's speed with Muhammad Ali's power. And that was enough. The world had never seen anything like that in one man at one time. Therefore, in our minds, no one coulda beat him in whatever era he fought.

And even when the haters came in, all the time claiming that Roy was not great because he "ain't never fought no one," we'd grab that SI story. Read it again. Memorize the lines like Bible verse. Then recite: "Everything can be a survival skill."

Just like Gary wrote it.

"I been fighting since I was 10. That's 25 years. It's time to walk away. I started talking about retiring in 1997. This is a brutal game and 25 years of it ain't good for your health. I don't care about no boxing legacy. I don't care where they put me on the list of all-time greats -- let them put me at the bottom. After I get past Tarver on Saturday, give me Klitschko or Tyson. Otherwise, I'm outta here."
-- Roy Jones Jr., 2004 (before Jones-Tarver II)

"I think Roy now understands that his legacy is on the line, and he don't want to go out on his back. I mean, you gotta compliment the guy for that. He's saying, 'If I'm going to fight anybody, I'm going to fight the guy that makes sense, the only fighter that can give me redemption and vindication. The only fighter that, if I can beat him, I can be considered one of the best to have ever gotten in the ring … once again.'"
-- Antonio Tarver, 2005 (before Jones-Tarver III)

But what makes athletes great is rivalries.

Not hatred, not competition.

Outside of what New Balance is telling us, there are only two things in sports that define greatness: superiority and adversity. That's why Ali should have finished above Jordan and Ruth in SportsCentury's original 50 greatest.

Ali lost fights he wasn't supposed to lose, then came back and cheater-proofed everything. As great as Joe Frazier was, we knew he was never an Ali. He was just the only boxer who could beat him.

Roy Jones went a career without (almost) any adversity. The Olympic loss, we know the deal. And the Montell Griffin loss, he knew the deal.

He never had a Frazier.

The only test Roy Jones Jr. ever had came when Tarver caught him guards-down at that press conference. And the three fights he's had since that night have been the indication of how he's been unable to handle adversity.

You can't claim greatness while lying on your back.

What scares us is that Roy Jones Jr. might be the only fighter Antonio Tarver can ever really beat. 'Tonio didn't look good in his two fights against Johnson. He really never looked overwhelmingly great in any of his other fights until he got to Vegas for Jones-Tarver I. And even in Jones-Tarver II, Antonio only landed seven punches.

Now Antonio's on a mission to prove something that he's already proved: That he can beat the greatest fighter of his era. Torture Roy's psyche and soul a little longer. Make Roy retire knowing that he was second to one.

And as bad as we want to see Roy win -- want to see him reclaim what is rightfully his (a place in the Top 5 ever boxers), want to see him silence the Larry Merchants of the world who dog him when he's not around but kiss his butt when they're standing next to him, want to see him retire at the adolescent boxing age of 36 untouched and with a sixth championship -- we have to accept the fact that our greatest fears might come true Saturday night.

His legacy over. His place in history gone. Conversation complete.

The death of the Kingpin.

Roy Jones, Jr.
This is the Roy that's suffering inside.

And as much as he's tried to play down his place in history in the past, Roy knows what's on the line. Everything he stands for as a human being will unfold in the ring against Tarver this time. His life; ours with him.

He brought his father back to train him for this one. He's denied confirmed rumors of a broken hand for this one. He's disregarded the advice of neurological testing by WBC president Jose Sulaiman, who wanted to get Roy tested for this one, before the fight-related death last week of former IBF welterweight champ Leavander Johnson.

Roy will deal with pain to avoid the pain.

Even his advisor, Bill Jacobs, had to admit: "Every fight is important, but this fight is brutally important. The outcome will dictate the future of his career."

And as much as I -- Jones fan -- hate to admit it, Roy Jones Jr. needs this trilogy to define his career. He needed to get knocked out; he needed to get his butt beat in the ring. He needed to feel the pain. So did I.

We needed to see what type of people we are, to see if what people are saying about us is true: That we were frauds, paper champs, because we've never been through nothing!

All which is true, but can be paper thin and Edith Bunkered within 36 minutes.

No excuses.

And until then … I'll suffer. Just like Roy.

So my question is this: Have you ever felt someone else's pain? Not that you necessarily felt what they went through, but felt for them as they went through it?

My answer is yes. What's yours?

I've been a Roy Jones Jr. fan for 17 years now. I went beyond a fan 10 years ago. I've asked myself over the years if what I feel for Roy when I see him in the ring is love. If I am in love with what I've seen him create -- with his masterpieces -- on his 20-foot-by-20-foot canvas.

And until I heard that he'd lost, until I heard a year ago that he was knocked out by Antonio Tarver, I never thought that what I felt was any deeper than appreciation for his skills. Now I know it's more.

Do I love Roy Jones Jr.? Yes, would be my answer.

I love him to the degree that I know I cannot watch him fall Saturday night. I can't survive his losing this fight. I know I cannot take that pain anymore.

Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.

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