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Jones Can Win, Still Lose

Boxing: Light-heavyweight title on line tonight and, as usual, fighter's pound-for-pound reputation.

July 28, 2001|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Is Roy Jones Jr. the greatest fighter pound-for-pound?

Or the greatest waste of talent round-for-round?

Is Jones a great fighter who loves to dance?

Or a great dancer who hates to fight?

Is he simply so good that he makes his opponents look bad?

Or were they simply bad to start with?

Perhaps no boxer has ever been subjected to such adulation and such criticism at the same time. This is a man who was named fighter of the decade for the 1990s, yet also has been accused of throwing away his chance for true greatness by failing to meet great fighters or carve out momentous victories.

Jones, the undisputed light-heavyweight champion, will face Julio Gonzalez of Huntington Beach in tonight's main event at Staples Center. It's the kind of fight that figures to bolster the argument of both sides.

Jones (44-1, 36 knockouts) is a 20-1 favorite to retain his title against the unheralded Gonzalez (27-0, 17), a hard puncher, but a slow mover who appears to be in over his head against Jones.

Promoter Bob Arum calls Gonzalez "the best light-heavyweight in the world, with the exception of Jones."

Kids, and promoters trying to sell tickets, say the darndest things.

The reality is that, although Gonzalez packs a powerful punch and showed earlier this year he can take one as well, getting up after three knockdowns to defeat Julian Letterlough, he probably never will get the chance to demonstrate his strength against Jones. With hand speed that leaves opponents looking at a blur as they get a taste of his gloves, and foot speed that leaves opponents swinging at thin air, Jones is not about to stand around and compare power with Gonzalez.

"I don't get caught in the hoopla of trying to be the toughest guy," Jones said, "of trying to prove who is the badder guy. Don't get me wrong, I'll fight. I'll fight toe-to-toe to the death if I need to. So far, I have never needed to."

So Jones probably will put on a ballet performance tonight, pile up the points and, when it is over, his supporters will say he was too good for Gonzalez and Jones' detractors will say he should have been fighting a more talented foe.

Jones' supporters can look at his list of opponents and point to 12 former, current or future world champions, including Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Virgil Hill, Reggie Johnson, Vinny Pazienza and Mike McCallum.

Jones' detractors can point to all of his fights of the '90s, supposedly his decade, and dare anyone to point out a memorable match, a memorable punch, a memorable moment.

His biggest blow was an illegal punch, landed against Montell Griffin when Griffin already was down in a 1997 fight in Atlantic City. That resulted in a disqualification for Jones and his only loss. Jones got a quick rematch and got his revenge, knocking out Griffin in the first round five months later in Ledyard, Conn.

So is Jones a great fighter?

"No," said a man who should know, hall of fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who has worked the corner of many world-class fighters over the last three decades. "To be a great fighter, you have to be in big fights. It's not Roy's fault. He came along at a bad time. It's unfortunate. He may be the most talented. I feel sorry for him because he doesn't have anybody to fight.

"I don't think he ducked anybody. He has more consecutive victories over world champions than any other fighter, but the public doesn't know who they are."

Steward also has a problem with Jones' style.

"He's a very defensive fighter," Steward said, "because he's afraid of being hurt, so afraid that he may never attain greatness. You've got to get in there. He has tremendous athletic ability, but he has never developed into what the public expected of him as champion."

Jones says his defensive style is necessary because his hands are brittle.

"My hands ain't that healthy at all," Jones said. "A lot of times, I get a guy in a pretty good situation, but I've got to chill out. . . .

"If I keep on, my hands would be so broke up, I wouldn't be able to fight any more. I can't do that. I'm trying to get myself to last through this game. I used to mess with my hands, but I realized, if I kept up at that pace, if I ever got in a big fight, I wouldn't have any guns left."

Fair enough, a win is a win, but that doesn't explain why Jones has lowered the level of opposition so much in recent years. He has fought a policeman, a mailman and a schoolteacher. His last four fights have been against David Telesco, Richard Hall, Eric Harding and Derrick Harmon.

Jones' supporters are quick to point out he is stuck in a division that has historically suffered from a lack of talent.

But the public doesn't buy that argument. And fans haven't shown much interest in buying Jones' fights either. He has been on pay-per-view telecasts only four times in his 12-year career, drawing 320,000 for his match against Toney, but never more than 150,000-175,000 for the others. The national media has even stopped following Jones around.

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