Jones Jr. risks shell of former self against Hopkins

Boxer Roy Jones Jr. speaks to reporters during Boxer Roy Jones Jr. speaks to reporters during a news conference to announce a rematch against Bernard Hopkins, to be held April 3 in Las Vegas. (February 9, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

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Wallace Matthews Newsday columnist Wallace Matthews

Matthews writes on professional sports, with a specialty in professional boxing. ...

There was a time when Roy Jones Jr. was the fighter no one could hit. These days, he's more like the guy no boxer can miss.

Yet he plugs on, nearly a month into his 42nd year, 22 years removed from his heartbreak moment at the Seoul Olympics, after 60 pro fights that have earned him world titles in four weight classes, from middleweight to heavyweight, and fattened his bank account to the super-heavyweight class.

Why? "I'm a risk-taker," he said Tuesday at a Manhattan news conference to promote his April 3 fight with Bernard Hopkins in Las Vegas, a 17 years later rematch of a fight that wasn't very good the first time around.

The words "Roy Jones" and "risk-taker" never seemed to belong in the same sentence, the same way most of Jones' opponents for the first 12 years of his career never seemed to belong in the same ring with him.

But that was a different Roy Jones, a Jones so talented his fights were more like one-man shows and so cautious by nature that he practically succeeded in turning professional boxing into a risk-free occupation.

That Jones spoke often about retiring early, with his faculties intact, and was deeply affected by the catastrophic ring injuries suffered by former champions Gerald McClelland and Greg Page, and the premature death of former heavyweight champion Jerry Quarry, who died at age 53 after being reduced to a horrendous middle-aged infancy from his years of punishment.

That Jones went out of his way to avoid danger in the ring. This Jones, the one who has now been knocked out three times in his last 10 fights, appears to be chasing it.

"I take more pride in entertaining the fans now than I did back then," Jones said. "I don't have to sit back and be safe no more. You get me, you get me, but you know you're gonna see a fight."

If it sounds like the usual justifications of an aging athlete loath to admit his skills are not what they once were, listen to his explanation of his last fight, a first-round KO loss to an unheralded Australian named Danny Green:

"It was a premature stoppage," Jones said. "I wasn't knocked out, I was only knocked down, but my consciousness came back very quickly. The referee stopped the fight but I was good to go. He was dead tired. Two more rounds and he would have been a dead man."

In reality, a tape of the Dec. 2 fight reveals that after Jones was knocked to the canvas by a right that landed above his left ear, Green threw 48 punches without a response by Jones, leaving referee Howard Foster no alternative but to stop the fight.

Said Hopkins: "He's in denial."

Compared with Jones' previous KO losses - a one-punch knockout by Antonio Tarver in May 2004 and a truly scary KO by Glen Johnson five months later - the Green loss may have seemed relatively harmless.

But for a fighter who took pride in his ability to make himself virtually unhittable in the ring, it was a devastating defeat. Still, through the magic of promotional hype and by virtue of the fact that few in the United States saw the Jones-Green fight because of the 14-hour time difference, the rematch with Hopkins - they fought a 12-round bout, won by Jones, on the undercard of a 1993 Riddick Bowe heavyweight title defense - has been shakily resurrected.

However, neither fighter is guaranteed a penny - all revenues will be split 50-50 for their light-heavyweight bout after pay-per-view exhibitors and others take their cut - and after 17 years of pursuing careers on parallel tracks, it is unclear how much appeal the matchup still has. "People still want to see it," Jones said.

Working in Jones' favor is that he, in fact, is the younger man in this fight - Hopkins turned 45 the day before Jones turned 41 - and Hopkins has never been the type to unnecessarily belabor an opponent.

Working against him is that Hopkins has been aching for this fight for nearly two decades and truly seems to dislike Jones.

"I can put my hands behind my back and beat this guy," Jones Jr. said.

Time was when Roy Jones Jr. wouldn't even consider putting himself into so much danger. Now, it may be all he has left to sell.

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