Jones only has eyes for Benn

Ken Jones on the IBF super-featherweight champion, considered by many to be the best fighter pound-for-pound in the world, who is considering a career in basketball
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The Independent Online
The slungball swings before a boxer in erratic arcs, simulating a moving target. On television last week, timed electronically, Roy Jones Jnr, who holds the International Boxing Federation super-middleweight championship, connected at the astonishing rate of six punches per second.

Blurring, coming-from-everywhere hand speed is just one of the reasons why Jones is considered to be the most accomplished fighter, pound-for- pound, at present working in the ring. There is his fancy footwork too. And blazing self-confidence. "I didn't set out to be the best in my time but of all time," he said.

Trouble is that Jones is running out of opportunities to establish historical supremacy. Bored, frustrated by the politics that would require the signing away of prized promotional independence to gain a unifying contest against the World Boxing Council title-holder, Nigel Benn, he claims to be serious about attempting a career in basketball.

If his life depended on it, Jones could not make it in the NBA, but next month he plans on trying out with the London Towers. A gimmick maybe, but Benn apart there isn't an opponent who excites Jones's interest.

At Madison Square Garden on Friday night a non-title bout against Merqui Sosa of the Dominican Republic will add a further $2.5m (pounds 1.6m) to wealth evident from the two estates Jones maintains in his home town of Pensacola, Florida, where he collects vintage cars and breeds fighting cocks for Mexican arenas, still spending six days a week in a custom built gymnasium.

Selected for his durable chin, Sosa is not given a chance. For Jones it is just another pay day, doubtless extending his record to 31 straight wins.

When the former manager and trainer Gil Clancey, now a fight commentator, first saw Jones he was reminded of the young Muhammad Ali. "So much natural talent that he could break the rules. Like Ali used to lean back from punches rather than slip under them. Which is a no-no. This kid lunged past the other guy's punches to throw his own... and got away with it. He was so natural, as good as I'd seen in years with the potential to be the most exciting fighter around. What you're seeing now is the fulfilment of all that promise."

Angelo Dundee, who trained Ali, formed a similar impression. "I liked the kid's quickness - the way he jumped on guys when he got them hurt," he said. "There was all sorts of stuff he hadn't used yet but you knew that it would come out when he needed it." All this at a time when the difficult relationship between Jones and his domineering father and manager, Roy Snr, was at breaking point. "From the time I was 15 my daddy would try to pick a fight every day," Jones said recently. "He'd talk about jumping on me. I never said nothing. I was scared of him. No way I wanted to fight him. I couldn't say nothing about what I thought with a crowd of people around. I was scared to have a girlfriend because he'd dog me out in front of them. I began carrying a knife in case he went for me. A huge pocket knife. I used to think I'd go to jail for killing him. Thank God it didn't happen. I was very afraid but I was ready to defend myself."

They were still together when Jones was robbed of a gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics by a decision so blatantly corrupt it was recommended that the judges who awarded the fight to Si-Hun Park of South Korea be suspended for life.

Immediately there were opportunities for Jones to break free, but on a plea from his mother he remained under his father's influence through 18 professional contests. "He's got you this far," Carol Jones said. "Give him another chance."

When Jones defeated Bernard Hopkins for the IBF middleweight championship on 22 May 1993, his father was no longer in the corner. They had split permanently, Jones by then taking business advice from two wealthy Florida lawyers, the brothers Fred and Stanley Levin who had invested in his future.

Recognising that independence was the most important thing implanted in Jones by his father, the Levins came in on the strict understanding that no promoter would be given options of future contests. Thus the impasse that exists between Jones and Benn, who is under contract to Frank Warren and Don King. "I'll fight Benn any time," Jones said last year when meeting British boxing writers in Atlantic City shortly before Lennox Lewis defeated Tommy Morrison. "Tell me where he is and I'll go and see him. If Benn wants this fight then he's got to understand that I won't sign away anything to the people who promote him. It's that simple."

Questions about Jones no longer existed after he dismantled James Toney in November 1994 to become the IBF's 12st champion. If weak at the weight, Toney could not cope with the virtuosity Jones brought to the ring and was utterly outclassed. In June of last year, Jones didn't expect anyone to take seriously a contest against the experienced Vinnie Pazienza and emphasised the point by systematically dismantling him. So far, 26 of Jones's 30 opponents have failed to last the distance. When in possession of the WBO's version of the super-middleweight title, Chris Eubank wanted no part of him.

A contract with the cable television network, HBO, means Jones, 26, can go on earning between $4m-$5m (pounds 2.5-pounds 3m) annually. If he wants it. If frustration doesn't lead him into shooting for baskets instead of a place in history.