Jones looks for a legend

Claude Abrams studies an American fighter's struggle for ultimate star status
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The Independent Online
Perhaps if he had boxed in another era, say the 1980s when Marvin Hagler dominated the middleweight division, the American Roy Jones would not receive the distinction as the best at his weight. But that recognition, rarely achieved in today's muddled world of multi-sanctioning bodies and astronomical purses, has proved a handicap in establishing the immensely talented 27-year-old as a fighting legend.

The frustrating irony is that valiant defeats by men as supreme as Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard and Michael Nunn, who reached their peaks over 10 years ago, are worth more than commanding victories over the likes of James Toney, Bernard Hopkins, Tony Thornton and Merqui Sosa.

Jones, recognised as world super-middleweight champion by the IBF, has won all 31 fights with only four men surviving to the last bell since he turned professional following the Olympics in Seoul in 1988 when he was denied a gold medal in a points-scoring scandal which rocked the amateur world.

But for the past 17 months, since he outclassed Toney, Jones has stood head and shoulders above the rest of his division and the surprise defeat of Britain's Nigel Benn in March by South African Sugar Boy Malinga - who was knocked cold by Jones in a non-title fight in 1993 - deprived him of the one outstanding contest capable of exposing his undoubted gifts.

Sprinter Michael Johnson, arguably the greatest 200m and 400m runner ever, has yet to break a world record, but his bid to double-up the two events in Atlanta challenges his ego to the same if not greater degree as Jones, who defends his title for the fifth time on 15 June, against the limited but tough Canadian Eric Lucas. But only after competing in a basketball match the same afternoon for the Jacksonville Barracudas. His promoters will be shuffling uneasily in their seats until the referee blows the final whistle.

And only then will a large crowd in his home state of Florida venture from one arena to the other to watch Jones compete against himself. One Canadian journalist casually summed up his countryman's chances by remarking: "Roy will do well to hold Lucas up for a round."

Like a pianist without his instrument or a painter without a canvas, Jones's skills remain largely untapped. We have had glimpses of his brilliance, but as with Johnson, no one has been able to breathe down his neck.

The situation for Jones is agonising, but beyond his control. Either we accept his magnificence without all the evidence or wait until another Roy Jones emerges to confirm our suspicions. His name will not be Eric Lucas.