Floyd Mayweather is considered, and rightly so, by many boxing experts as the greatest fighter of his generation. Mayweather debuted in 1996 after winning a bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics that year, and went on to unimaginable greatness.
Mayweather not only won world titles in five weight classes and compiled a 50-0 career mark, but he smashed every financial record in the sport’s history. He nearly made $1 billion in purses.
The money, not his greatness in the ring, is what will define Mayweather.
There was another fighter in that generation who was likewise gifted. Long before Mayweather was recognized as the pound-for-pound best in the world, that honor belonged to Roy Jones Jr.
Jones was a rare, remarkable talent. Like Mayweather, he had other-worldly skills, and he won professional world titles in four weight classes. In 2003, he became the first former middleweight champion in more than 100 years to win a version of the heavyweight title when he drubbed John Ruiz in Las Vegas.
Jones, though, hasn’t received the same type of acclaim as Mayweather. Part of it is that he continued to fight and suffered significant knockout losses.
Jones will end his legendary career more than 28 years after it began tonight in his hometown of Pensacola, Florida, when he fights Scott Sigmon in a combined boxing-MMA card that will be streamed live on UFC Fight Pass.
He is 65-9 with 47 knockouts, but there is a dividing line in his career. He was 48-1 with 39 knockouts after the Ruiz fight. His only loss was a disqualification against Montell Griffin, which he avenged the next time out with a first-round knockout.
After Ruiz, Jones went 17-8 with eight knockouts against much lesser competition and was knocked out five times.
Those losses, even though they came well after his prime, left him badly trailing Mayweather in the eyes of many experts. Even in his late 30s and early 40s, Mayweather was still dominating the best in the world. Jones was never the same after the Ruiz fight.
In his prime, there were few like Jones in the history of boxing. And while he admires what Mayweather accomplished both in the ring and in terms of finances, he doesn’t believe he deserves to take a back seat to him.
Jones wasn’t nearly as accessible to the media as Mayweather was and the perception is that it cost him money. Jones had the kind of talent – and the personality – to earn Mayweather-like money.
He never invested in his career that way, but he said it wasn’t a coincidence.
“I didn’t leave money on the table, but we stood for two different things,” Jones said of a comparison between himself and Mayweather. “He was a social media blow-out. He blew it away and that fit his character. Doing things the way he did them, he was smart, as far as that part [ the promotion] of it. I was never looking to be that smart. I was looking to be a bad-ass. I wanted to go stand on top of the hill, and you bring whoever you want to the top of the hill and that was who I was going to whoop. I wanted to play ‘King of the Hill.’
“He didn’t want to play ‘King of the Hill,’ he wanted to play ‘King of the Money,’ which he did. It served him well, because he did it smart and in a beautiful way. Nothing against what he did, but you have to realize, we did two opposite things. He did his thing the way he did it because he wanted to be Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather. He did that. I didn’t want to be ‘Money Roy,’ I wanted to be king of the hill.”
In his time, there was no one better. Jones was so fast, he couldn’t be hit even though his defensive technique was nowhere near as sound as Mayweather’s. He relied much more on athleticism than technique.
And while as unified light heavyweight champion he was criticized for not going to Germany to fight then WBO light heavyweight champion Dariusz Michalczewski, it’s an unfair argument.
American fighters in that era were reluctant to go to Germany to fight because they felt the odds were stacked against them, and some prominent fighters would privately say they thought there was something nefarious going on.
Jones said that was a factor in his not going to Germany, but pointed out that offers were made for Michalczewski to come to the U.S. to fight him.
“Roy was the best pound-for-pound, not Michalczewski, so why would Roy have to go to Germany to fight Michalczewski when Michalczewski could have just as easily, for guaranteed $5 million, come to the U.S. to fight Roy,” Jones said, speaking of himself in the third person as he is often wont to do.
At his peak, there were few ever better and one-sided wins over the likes of Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Mike McCallum, Virgil Hill and others are evidence of that.
He fought far too long and created an impression among younger fans who didn’t see him in the late 90s and early 2000s that he wasn’t nearly as good as Mayweather.
That, though, is bunk. Jones was every bit the fighter Mayweather was and was equally as dominant.
He’ll go out tonight fighting away from the spotlight against an opponent not well known.
That simply obscures the fact that he is one of the great physical talents ever to play the game and should eventually be regarded among the top 10 or 20 fighters who ever lived.
He more than deserves to live in that rarefied company.