Ahead of his fight against Enzo Maccarinelli this Saturday, Glynn Evans selects a fistful of fights which cemented the Pensacola pug as easily the best of his generation and among the greatest ever.
1. Park Si-Hun, Seoul, South Korea, September 1988
It was generally perceived as the worst robbery in Olympic boxing history – certainly the most high profile – when the ridiculously gifted teenager dropped a 3-2 split vote to the home nation favourite in the light-middleweight final.
RJJ, 19, hadn’t lost a single round whilst cruising to the gold medal bout and had handed Britain’s future WBC Super-Middle king Richie Woodhall his ass in the semis.
Co-finalist Park, the reigning World Cup winner and twice Asian champion was left carving fresh air by the evasive US panther who comprehensively outscored him 86-32 on the punch stats...only to be thwarted by the three blind mice masquerading as judges at ringside.
The erring officials were suspended –two for life – and a 1997 IOC investigation revealed they’d been copiously wined and dined by their Korean hosts beforehand.
Though Junior copped the Val Barker trophy as the best stylist in the tournament, the travesty was never overturned. Widespread outrage brought the introduction of computer scoring to minimise future farces but that was scant consolation to Jones.
2. Bernard Hopkins, Washington DC, USA, May 1993
After sparkling in his opening 21 pro gigs – performances rather than ‘fights’ – a 24 year old Jones faced fellow sure-fire future Hall of Famer ‘BHop’ in his first serious test.
In a rather drab and passionless 12 rounder before barely 9,000 at the 30,000 capacity RFK Stadium – home of NFL franchise the Washington Redskins – Jones preceded with overt caution against the reformed Philly street hoodlum who back then was sinisterly styled as an axe wielding ‘The Executioner’.
Jones eloped with a unanimous decision – 116-112 on all three cards – but few plaudits .....until it later emerged that he’d entered the battle with a fractured right knuckle.
In essence, the brazen upstart had confronted and comprehensively schooled the future undisputed middleweight king and two-weight world champion with just one –hand. Next time, I’ll wear a blind fold, Bernard!
3. James Toney, Las Vegas, USA, November 1994
‘Lights Out’ Toney was unbeaten in 46 (29 early) and a leading pound-for-pound operator entering this Bob Arum promoted ‘Uncivil War’ at the MGM Grand.
But despite embarking as a 6-5 outsider, ‘Superman’ Jones boxed him dizzy, flooring the scowling, sullen champion with a lightening left hook in round three and trouncing him by scores of 119-108, 118-109 and 117-110 to add the IBF Super Middle strap to his basket.
The Floridian used every square inch of the canvas and executed guerrilla raids from range to comprehensively humiliate the Ann Arbor bully. By the latter stages Jones was even tapping his chin and poking out his tongue. It was probably the finest performance of his career and led to him eclipsing Pernell Whittaker as the sport’s finest practitioner.
4. Montell Griffin II, Connecticut, USA, August 1997
The fight than unleashed the beast within!
Five months earlier, after 34 effortless wins, Jones had been tortured for five rounds by the squat but exceptionally strong and awkward ‘Ice’ man. Tutored by the great Eddie Futch and himself unbeaten in 26, the two-time Toney conqueror from Chicago forced Jones to operate in reverse. A rare feat, indeed.
By round nine the judges were split. However, Jones appeared to have solved the riddle and clubbed Griffin to his knees...only to cold-cock him with a right hand-left hook combo. The Frank Maloney managed Griffin theatrically ‘fainted’ face first and veteran ref Tony Perez rightly issued a red card.
The return at a packed Foxwood Resort - and dubbed ‘Unfinished Business’ - saw the usually composed Jones positively smoking. He blitzed Griffin to the boards within the opening 20 seconds then chilled the ‘Ice man’ for the 10 count (and some!) with a neck jolting left hook -cum- upper. Vindication brutally exacted in just 151 seconds.
5. John Ruiz, Las Vegas, USA, March 2003
Compelling evidence that a great small man is capable of mastering a mediocre big one.
Jones, who debuted at light-middle, put on a ring clinic to tame the 3in taller, 33lb heavier WBA king and become the first middleweight champion since England’s Bob Fitzsimmons 106 years earlier, to nail a world heavyweight title.
Billed as ‘Never Take a Heavyweight Lightly’, it proved a thoroughbred against a workhorse. The limited but awkwardly effective Puerto Rican served as a punch bag with a pulse against this mesmerising ring genius who weighed half a stone inside the cruiserweight cut-off!
Jones, too quick, too skilled, too savvy, broke his nose and broke his heart, before capturing a landslide 118-110, 117-111, 116-112 decision before 15,000 at the Thomas and Mack. ‘God woke me up and told me to save the sport,’ he chided after.
Had RJJ retired at that juncture, as a 48-1 undefeated four weight world champ, he’d have been an extremely strong candidate for consideration as the greatest fighter in the long history of our sport.