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The Roy Jones JR Return: Danger in Russia

By Geno McGahee

The announcement was made that former Middleweight, Super Middleweight, Light Heavyweight, and Heavyweight Champion, Roy Jones, JR., 54-7, 40 KO’s, will step back into the ring on May 22, to face cruiserweight Denis Lebedev, 21-1, 16 KO’s, in Russia, in a twelve round bout.

Very recently, the report surfaced that Roy Jones, JR., had signs of brain damage. These signs were so alarming to Roy that he went to seek treatment to somehow reverse the effects of years in the ring. Even though Jones would come forward later on and deny that he had any brain damage, there is evidence to the contrary, and at the age of 42, why is he risking his health and life by stepping into the ring against a good cruiserweight with a powerful punch?

Lebedev is not a household name by any stretch of the imagination and some may be thinking that Roy is hand picking an easy mark to get a victory. This is very far from accurate. Lebedev has knocked out 8 of his last 9 opponents, with the only exception being a split decision defeat to WBO Champion, Marco Huck.

In his most notable win, he starched former world champion, Enzo Maccarinelli, in three rounds. At 31 years of age, Lebedev is much fresher than Jones, and with the fight set in his backyard, he is seeing this as his coming out party. The obvious plan is to take Roy out early as Danny Green did in one round in 2009.

What drives Roy to continue fighting? I hope that it is not money issues, but even if it were, he is currently doing commentary for HBO and that, along with other advertisement opportunities I’m sure he could get, he would be financially OK. If it is not money, then what is it?

Roy has accomplished everything that any fighter would ever want to accomplish. He is an all time great, but his insistence to step back into the ring with a 200 pound power-puncher is worrisome.

In his prime, Roy defeated James Toney and Bernard Hopkins. Those fights took place in the mid 1990s, and when you look back at those fights, followed by Roy’s longtime run as the king of the 175 pounders, you see just what made him special: his lightning reflexes. At 42, they are not there anymore, and every older fighter notes that they can see the punches coming, but they just can’t seem to get out of the way.

The idea of Roy having a brain injury and fighting on is scary. When Joe Mesi had documented brain bleeds, but insisted on getting back into the ring, it was a tragedy in the making. Thankfully, he left the game before that happened. In boxing, it only takes one punch and expect Lebedev to land several punches on the older Jones JR.

If Roy wants to continue fighting, he seemed to have the right idea from 2006 through 2008, with the exception of the money fight with Joe Calzaghe. He fought mediocrities or former big name opponents that had nothing left. He could beat them with his ring savvy and he did just that.

He was able to put his fights on pay per view, earn a few bucks, and beat up his opponents without much feedback. Every once in a while, you will get these old timers seeking each other out for a payday and the opportunity to fight a big name of the past that they never had the opportunity to face before.

In 2008, Roy took the perfect fight, as he took on Felix Trinidad, a big name, but a naturally smaller man that was incredibly inactive and basically shot. Roy looked great in dismantling and playing with the Puerto Rican superstar. That fight made sense for Roy. Even the fight with Bernard Hopkins in 2010 made sense … they couldn’t give the fight away, but it made sense for Roy. The Executioner was never known for his punch and the fight would be tactical and neither would take too much punishment, but we found out what happens when Roy faces a younger fighter with power and an eagerness to prove their worth to the boxing world.

Danny Green pummeled and stopped Roy in two minutes. Expect Lebedev to do the same and it may be what everyone should hope for. If it happens quickly, Roy may just escape the fight with a defeat and not a permanent injury, but if Lebedev is unable to get the quick stoppage and just beats on Roy for 12 rounds or even 10 rounds, the end result could be what Roy has feared most throughout his career.

On February 25th, 1995, the WBC Middleweight Champion, Gerald McClellan made his move up in weight and was on a collision course with Roy Jones, JR., despite the fact that they were good friends. He would be facing off against the powerful-punching Nigel Benn for gold at 168 pounds. McClellan came into the fight with three first round knockouts, one being over former champion Julian Jackson. He was a star.

The fight was a war and McClellan would be stopped in 10 rounds. The defeat was the least of his worries. McClellan was permanently damaged in that fight, unable to box again, and without most of his faculties. Without the generosity of others, who knows where he would be now, and one of those that gave him funds to continue treatment and continue having his essentials was Roy.

That fight had a huge impact on Roy, and many contend that a fight with Benn never materialized because of fear that the same fate may have happened to him, should he step into the ring. At this time, Roy also began to change his style slightly, being more defensive, more aware of the dangers of this game, but now he rolls the dice in Russia, and let’s hope that we don’t see another tragedy.

Most older former champions continue to fight. It is in their blood, but it is up to the commission to step in and prevent a fighter from getting into the ring if their safety is at risk. They have done it before, but they stand on the sidelines when the bigger name boxers put the gloves on again. If Roy wants to fight, nothing will stand in his way, and if this fight does actually take place with Lebedev, there is a possibility that it will be one of the biggest foreseeable and preventable tragedies in the history of boxing.

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