Roy Jones punched Virgil Hill hollow while scoring a fourth-round KO last Saturday night in Biloxi, Miss., so it would be churlish to razz the boxer many consider the best in the sport, pound for pound. So let's be churlish: In the four years since he took the IBF super middleweight crown from James Toney, Jones has fought mostly patsies—when he has fought at all. At 29 the Pensacola, Fla., poultry farmer seems unconcerned that his prime fighting years are fluttering by. (In the 13 months preceding last Saturday's nontitle bout, Jones had boxed a single round, having disposed of Montell Griffin last August with one searing left hook.) Roy Jones's most formidable opponent has been Roy Jones. His lone defeat in 37 bouts was a ninth-round disqualification in his March 1997 match with Griffin. Jones, who was ahead on the cards, landed two punches when Griffin was down on one knee. Ever the sportsman, he later called Griffin a coward and even accused him of faking when he pitched forward after being coldcocked.
Jones normally confines his grousing to money matters. It rankles him that welterweight Oscar De La Hoya commands bigger purses. Part of Jones's problem is a lack of credible opponents in the 175-pound division. Part of it is the cool indifference he displays in the ring. And part of it is his disdain for flackery: He has blown off uncounted prefight press conferences and interview sessions. "That was the old Roy," says his new promoter, Murad Muhammad, whom Jones hooked up with in December.
Seeking a promoter who can help him land megabuck bouts, Jones hired Muhammad, a Falstaffian former bodyguard. "Roy doesn't like boxing politics," says his trainer, Alton Merkerson. "And he doesn't want to be dictated to." Muhammad doesn't dictate.
"I reason," Muhammad says. "I say to Roy, 'If you're invisible, nobody will want to see you.' "
In October 1997 Jones was offered $1.8 million to face light heavyweight challenger Michael Nunn. Rather than settle for those minibucks, he signed to fight heavyweight Buster Douglas. "Roy needs reasons to fight," says Muhammad, "and Buster gave him reasons." Seven million reasons.
The bout, planned for May, fell through after Jones's father advised him to pass on Douglas. A victory, he argued, would not assure a tide shot at heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, which is Jones's dream fight. "If Roy loses to a heavyweight contender, he's left with nothing," says Muhammad. "But if he beats the heavyweight champ, he has made the pages of Guinness."
Instead, Jones made the pages of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger by agreeing to take on Hill for a guaranteed purse (a career-high $3.5 million), plus the $125,000 Rolls-Royce given him by the bout's host, Grand Casino. A two-time WBA light heavyweight champ, the 34-year-old Hill had been inactive since last June, when he lost his belt on points to Dariusz Michalczewski in Germany. The Hill who showed up at Mississippi Coast Coliseum was a tired, sorely battered vestige of the fighter who had successfully defended his title 20 times since 1987. He waded into a barrage of overhand rights and crisp left hooks that snapped his head back. Jones's knockout blow—a right to the kidneys that broke one of Hill's ribs—followed a lead to the head that persuaded Hill to raise his guard.
Jones says his next opponent may come from cyberspace—he plans to list prospective foes on his Web site, royjonesjr.com. The winner will be the one who gets the most hits. To keep his WBC belt, Jones must agree to a fight with top contender Graciano Rocchiginia by the end of May, but he'd prefer to fight either Holyfield or Mike Tyson. "Roy could hold his own against a stylist like Evander," says Emmanuel Steward, Holyfield's onetime trainer. "He has the youth and strength to keep him off-balance, at least in the early going." Against Iron Mike, though, Jones has few supporters. "Roy would be better off sandpapering a wildcat's butt than messing with Tyson," says Joe Goossen, who trains Nunn. " Tyson is too massive and relentless; he'd be all over him like a soup sandwich. Jones doesn't have the frame of a heavyweight—he's just got the appetite, monetarily."
The leader of Jones's hit parade could be De La Hoya—if he'd be willing to plump up from 147 pounds to 160. Jones says he would plump down from his current 177, but it's not clear if that would involve lopping off his left leg. "Oscar would be nuts to fatten up for Roy," says Goossen. "He wouldn't make a dent in him, just as Roy wouldn't make a dent in Tyson. What's the point?''
Muhammad sees two: "The first is money' he says. "The second is more money."