Roy Jones Jr. – Calculated Clowning
By Jay McIntyre: The following article is amended from the one posted on my blog that includes visuals. For those of you interested, please visit: http://a-neutral-corner.blogspot.ca/2014/12/roy-jones-jr-calculated-clowning.html
Roy Jones Jr. is a popular high-light reel fighter. The speed and sheer decisiveness with which he ends fights has made him into something of a living legend. Make no mistake though, the Roy Jones Jr. that boxes today is a shadow of his former self.
Jones still boxes into the twilight of his career, as many fighters are wont to do, but this shouldn’t take away from his dominant and explosive reign earlier in his career.
His rise to the top was meteoric. After leaving as a jilted Olympian from the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, he quickly tore through the middleweight division (winning 26 bouts), then the super-middleweight division (winning seven bouts), and then the light-heavyweight division (winning fifteen bouts). Other than the hiccup that was the disqualification loss to Montel Griffin, Roy Jones was undefeated, and certainly looked to be quite untouchable. Continuing to find new career milestones, he peeled away John Ruiz’s WBA heavyweight title with relative ease in 2003. Who could beat this – essentially – undefeated middleweight, super-middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion? Roy Jones Jr. was riding the crest of a wave that lasted from May 6th, 1989 to May 15th, 2003. That’s fourteen years of being in control.
And yet, beaten he was when he lost his rematch to Antonio Tarver in 2004. His decline was as abrupt and unanticipated as his knockout wins, yet it was bound to happen sooner or later. 2003 was the year he won his WBA heavyweight title, and ironically, the same year that the seeds of his deterioration were sown. Some fighters are as dominant in their later career as they are in their ‘prime’ physical years. When interviewed after his victory over Mike Tyson in 2002, Lennox Lewis said his style was “like a fine wine”, implying that he got better with age. However, this can’t be true for every boxer; certainly not those that rely on their athletic faculties as much as a boxer like Jones.
Jones was a fighter that was great at a lot of things, but at the very center – holding all of his success together – was his speed. Moving to heavyweight had the predictable effect of making him slow like a heavyweight (even if he could easily outmaneuver the ponderous Ruiz). Moving back down to light-heavyweight at the age of 34 and expecting to still have his speed was unrealistic. Narrowly beating Tarver the first time in 2003 took all of his accumulated know-how and technical ability; losing the second time – at that time – seemed profoundly sudden.
Following this loss, fans of Jones saw him absorb two more losses (to Glen Johnson and Tarver) before establishing a checkered pattern of wins and losses that has persisted to this day. At his peak, I am confident that he could take on any of the top fighters in his weight classes) of any era and made it competitive. At face value, his clowning, antics, braggadocio and speed are self-evident but his boxing persona is more than showmanship – it is subterfuge. He carefully undermines his opponents, and pot shots at their vulnerabilities. Amongst this, and perhaps at the very forefront, was his knack for humiliating his opponents with a brash displays of contempt.
The truth is that Jones’ posturing was never as risky as people thought. Whenever he did emasculate his opponent in the ring, the psychological edge wasn’t the only advantage he was taking. He also trying to make them throw caution to the wind, to exploit technical deficiencies or to determine their patterns of behavior. Sloppy fighters have more openings in their defense that can be pried open and taken advantage of.
Beneath the posturing and showboating, Jones had a very clear understanding of the fundamentals of the game. If he didn’t calculate what he was doing, he would have been destroyed much, much sooner. In reviewing Jones’ technique, we must pay close attention to his stance, mastery of distance and angles, and lastly, the method behind the madness that was his posturing.
Jones has typically fought in a style that blends speed with anticipation.
His right arm is tucked close to his side and his right glove is in front of his chin. This lets him parry what their jab without much effort and lets him counter back easily with a right. If they try to reach around his right glove to land a left hook, he almost always replies with a straight right or a left hook of his own. Again, speed is essential to victory. In his prime he could out-quick anyone.
If you also observe his left hand hanging by his side you will notice that it confers several advantages to him as well. First of all, simply by being there it protects him from body shots. Secondly, when he attacks with a left hook, it comes from a blind angle which his opponents have a hard time dealing with. Lastly, he will also on occasion ‘mill’ his left hand. Milling the hand means drawing it in and out from the body in a circular pattern. Doing so varies its distance from his opponent and also the angle at which the punch will land. If a fighter is used to timing a jab or a left hook due to its established distance and speed, then milling the hand basically confuses the opponent’s reaction speed and makes the punch more difficult to time. For example, when his hand is drawn back and low, it’s loaded for a left hook. Conversely, when it is outstretched then it can deflect an incoming punch or become a short jab with a starting point much closer to the opponent than they may realize.
Jones’ flamboyant punching was predicated on working smarter, not harder than his opponents. Rather than stay busy and punch often – which can tire out a boxer and lead to defensive lapses – Jones patiently processed what his opponent did, and sought to use it against them.
His jab was utilitarian, sizing up range and the habits of his opponents, but also blinded them to other punches. It was nothing extraordinary or superhuman like that of Larry Holmes or Muhammad Ali, but functional. Between that and his left hook, as discussed above with the milling of his lead hand, Jones could usually find different angles to land, or at least preoccupy his opponents when he did combination punch.
Typically though, Jones is mostly recognized as a sniper, landing one devastating punch and then either finishing them with a flurry of beckoning his opponent to come back for more.
Counter punching really depends on one’s speed, timing and sense of distance. Of course, anticipation is at the forefront of this ability since you need to be able to respond to a particular punch with the right movement. Slipping to the right of what you think is a jab, but is in fact a left hook, can be pretty hazardous to your health. Knowing is indeed half the battle.
Jones’ big win over the bigger John Ruiz was in many ways a foreordained affair. A big, slow guy that doesn’t punch or move well is pretty much tailor made for a blown-up Jones to pick apart. Nevertheless, Jones could have been a victim of Ruiz’s relentless grind if he didn’t do his homework and use the right strategy (a smaller but impressive fighter moving up in weight doesn’t always look as impressive – De La Hoya moving to middleweight, and Yuriorkis Gamboa moving to featherweight come to mind). Floating about the edges of the ring and waiting for the bigger opponent to get carried away or reckless is a pretty standard procedure for a smaller fighter. When Ruiz would try and throw when they stood at the center of the ring, Jones just needed to pull him out of position and counter.
The Bolo Punch
The “bolo punch” is not unique to the repertoire of Jones. It has been seen many times before. Ray Leonard was condescending in his use of it against many of his opponents, as was Kid Gavilan. So when Jones used it, it was not something foreign to boxers – he just happened to do it rather well and used it to accentuate an already brazen style.
There are about as many write-ups on Jones’ bolo punch as there are on Floyd’s philly shell. So, to be brief as this article is absurdly long as it is.
The bolo punch is a punch that begins with the boxer rotating his arm in a circular motion before punching. While obviously telegraphing the motion of the arm, its purpose isn’t to arrive quickly so much as to deceive and posture in front of an opponent. The trick with the bolo punch is that the opponent doesn’t know at which point in its rotation that the punch will take off on a trajectory for its target.
The bolo, regardless of how it is employed does achieve the goal of deceiving an opponent, while also being a rather obvious display of showmanship. Jones could have easily followed through on the swinging of his arm, as he did so often before, but Ruiz was clearly not expecting a punch from the other hand.
The ‘gazelle punch’ was pretty popular among fast, sharp boxers like Floyd Patterson that liked the throw hooks. Much like the motion of a gazelle, the boxer leaps forward off his front, his back foot following so that both his feet are off the ground at the same time. His rear foot usually lands first and around where his lead foot had started, while his lead foot lands forward on the ground just as the punch connects.
In his rematch with Montel Griffin, Jones uses the gazelle punch to close the distance quickly and end the fight with one decisive punch.
It might seem like a risky punch, but the gazelle punch is unpredictable, covers a lot of ground, and generates tremendous power. Notice that Jones dips low before throwing it to be more evasive. He also coils his body while doing so, getting his weight onto his lead foot and loading his left shoulder. His punch comes low from a blind angle, and closes the distance while his opponent backs away as he skips forward. The amount of force from his forward moving body and his hip rotation, coupled with the blind angle of its approach means that the punch becomes particularly devastating.
You may have also noticed that the left hook is also a bolo punch. There is a quick swiveling of his elbow before throwing it; no doubt contributing to Griffin’s confusion and subsequent KO loss in the first round.
Understanding distance is just as important as understanding how to throw a punch. After all, what good are big punches if they can’t find their target? Knowing how far you have to travel or how far your opponent has to travel is key in knowing which punches can land, and what you have to do about to land you them (or avoid them).
In this fight against Reggie Johnson, Jones used his speed, calculation of Johnson’s range and countered his predictable tendency to jab. As Reggie jabs, Jones pulls his head back ever so slightly to avoid the jab, and then steps in a couple of inches (which is all that is needed) so that he can land a 1-2 combination. Notice how Jones pulls back reflexively in the event that Johnson does try to counter.
Years later, during his win against Antonio Tarver, Jones also exploited his mastery of range, and made use of Tarver’s tendency to tentatively over-jab. For the first couple rounds Jones used his lead hand to effectively control Tarver’s lead hand while he tried to sort out the range he would need to operate at in their fight. The jab is used a fighter’s own measuring stick, and Jones used Tarver’s jab as his own gauge of distance to pot shot counters and secure a majority decision win.
Although Tarver had his moments and Jones did not connect as often as he used to, the central theme of the fight was Jones standing at range, using Tarver’s jab, and snapping out power punches. In the above example Tarver jabs but fails to do anything else. Jones, by contrast, used his those little moments to steal rounds.
The jab is used to exploit other punching opportunities – unfortunately for Tarver, Jones was the one to exploit those opportunities in their first bout.
It’s worth noting that in their rematch a year later, Tarver learned from his hesitation in their first fight. Although the fight took on a pattern not unlike their first fight, Tarver pressured more effectively, controlled the range better with his lead hand, and most importantly – he threw his left hand when Jones stood still. Jones was still keenly aware of the range he was fighting Tarver at, but he just didn’t have the speed to make his punches sting as much, or make his evasions as immediate as they once were (his left hook proved to be ineffectual as Tarver lands his own left hook first).
Baiting is a tactic that Jones has used to great effect throughout his career. He is able to bait his opponents by making use of the distance between himself and his opponent, understanding their habits (or at least the patterns of the fight), and creating a situation where the risks are heavily outweighed by the potential reward.
Feinting is meant to confuse the opponent by making them think you are throwing a punch. This is done to see how the opponent reacts, thereby creating that response again later. Feinting also serves the purpose of distracting the opponent from other punches. In the following example taken from his fight against Merqui Sosa, we see Jones feinting in order to provoke a reaction from his opponent. Depending on the fight and the fighter, the reaction will vary. Jones has always been known to have a dangerous left hook and his opponents knew to look for it, which is why Jones had to set it up with – among other things – feints.
Notice he feints to his left, as though he were loading up for a punch, and as soon as Sosa crouches forward to avoid the non-existent punch, he leaves himself prone and in perfect range to be countered. One important thing to notice is that after his feint, Jones takes a step back to create enough space and gauge his opponent’s reaction. Thanks to his split-second reflexes and the poor positioning of his opponent, he has no problem hammering a left hook to the side of Sosa’s head. Firing it from his hip like he often does means that it comes from that blind angle – and it’s a well-known fact that the punch you don’t see coming is the punch that hurts the most.
One thing you don’t learn on your first day in the gym is dropping your hands and leaning toward your opponent with your chin out. Typically this makes even less sense at the elite level where a boxer’s skills are sharpened enough to make the most of the smallest opportunity. Why then, did Jones have a pathological tendency to take such a risk? Well, as I am sure you are starting to notice, it was never much of a risk at all. Knowing that he was faster than anybody else, was a part of it, but leaning forward and offering his head meant that his opponent could only punch at his head. Defense is all about anticipation and Jones knew exactly what to anticipate. Getting under his opponent’s skin and letting their anger get the best of them didn’t hurt either.
What seems to be a brazen contempt for his opponent is in fact a calculated ploy to draw a reaction. In his fight against Glen Kelly this is all too evident. Notice the tentative jabbing from his opponent and no reaction from Jones. Each time the jab comes in, Jones slips to the outside (his right). In doing so, there is no follow-up punch that Kelly can throw that will touch him. Jones constantly maneuvers himself to allow himself to slip to the outside and find a dominant angle to counter. Jones right hook to the side of the head is not only one of the hardest punchers a boxer can throw, it’s also unexpected by Kelly.
It is very important to know that Jones is always a methodical puncher. He doesn’t try to force the knockout, but instead consistently pot-shots until it happens. In doing so, his knock outs seem effortless, but his shrewd effort also prevents him from taking a lot of damage.
During the Nineties when heavyweight boxing was very relevant, fighters like Julio Cesar Chavez and Roy Jones Jr. in the lower weight classes gave people something else to talk about. His winning streak was as long-lasting as his decline was sudden. While you won’t see much of the techniques discussed here in his fights today, it’s still worth remembering what brought him into the spotlight and into possession of so many major world titles (WBC, WBA, IBF to be specific)
- IBF Middleweight Champion (160 pounds)
- IBF Super-Middleweight Champion (168 pounds)
- WBC Light-Heavyweight Champion and Interim Champion (175 pounds)
- WBA (Super) Light-Heavyweight Champion (175 pounds)
- IBF Light-Heavyweight Champion (175 pounds)
- WBA Heavyweight Champion (200+ pounds)
In addition to these, he won a slew of minor world titles from the sanctioning bodies like the IBO and WBU…
Love him, or hate him, he was great at what he did. The trouble is, if you do something long enough, your enemies will calibrate their styles to adjust for what you do best. The Romans made adjustments against Hannibal Barca of Carthage in the third century B.C., just as Sergey Kovalev did against Bernard Hopkins in November of 2014. Roy Jones Jr. too was a victim of this as Antonio Tarver and others made use of the miles of footage on his fighting style and the miles of wear and tear from his aging body. Let’s face it, in his three loss skid to Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson and then Tarver again, Jones got old fast.
Robert Frost probably didn’t think about prizefighting when he woefully wrote that “Nothing gold can stay”, but in this case, I find it an appropriate remark.
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