Jones taking risk, but just this once


Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 9, 2003 at 1:29 a.m.
LAS VEGAS - Before he agreed to fight John Ruiz for a piece of the heavyweight title, Roy Jones Jr. was destined to be remembered mostly as the fighter robbed of a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics.
Because as good as Jones is - and no one disputes he is very good indeed - he seemed content to glide through his career beating a collection of no names who offered no real threat in the ring.
To some extent that was the fault of HBO, which threw $5 million at Jones every time he stepped into the ring against the likes of Clinton Woods or Richard Hall. The matches might not have been competitive - Jones was a 13-1 favorite against Woods - but always got good ratings.
But it was also true that Jones himself was averse to much risk, finding comfort instead in ruling a light heavyweight division that contained little in the way of challengers.
That changes March 1, when the 34-year-old Jones tries to join Michael Spinks as the only reigning light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight title.
Jones is finally getting credit for taking a chance that many in boxing never thought he would take. But, like his Olympic loss, this one will be tainted even if he beats Ruiz.
The problem is, Ruiz isn't the real heavyweight champion, no matter what Don King will try to get you to believe. Ruiz is a nice guy who holds the WBA version of the belt, but that's largely because of Evander Holyfield's age and increasing ineptitude.
The real champion is 6-foot-5, 250-pound Lennox Lewis, someone Jones wants no part of.
In fact, Jones wants no part of any heavyweight other than Ruiz. He says this is a one-shot deal, after which he will retreat to the 175-pound division and cheerfully make his millions.
"My point is not to become a legitimate heavyweight - just to take that one challenge for the most coveted crown in sports," Jones said.
Spinks, in contrast, beat Larry Holmes not once but twice, then went on to knock out Gerry Cooney before his career ended when Mike Tyson obliterated him in 91 seconds.
Jones believes he is smarter than that. He's taking one chance - and one chance only - to establish his legacy.
"Look at what happened when Spinks fought Tyson," Jones said. "He got knocked out because he was meeting a big puncher. That's what you do, you get tricked by staying in the division. I want to take my shot and get out."
Spinks had something else on Jones. He fought the best heavyweight of his era in Holmes, and though Holmes is still bitter about the judging in both fights, they went down as wins for Spinks.
Ruiz is a tough, rugged, legitimate heavyweight, but outside of a win and a draw in three fights with Holyfield his record is littered with ordinary fighters.
Still, he has the WBA title, and that's enough for Jones to shed his caution and take a fight in which he'll give away 35 or 40 pounds. Jones, who began his career at 160 pounds and seems smaller than most light heavyweights he fights, says he'll weigh about 192 for the fight.
"When you see people in these big fights, you want to be one of them," Jones said. "Whoever thought I'd get a shot at the heavyweight championship of the world?"
Jones, whose boxing skills might be the best the sport has ever seen, is careful to build up Ruiz as a top fighter and dismiss his chances of victory. Oddsmakers don't buy it, making Jones a 9-5 favorite to beat Ruiz.
"Looking at John, I can't see victory," Jones said. "But I'm going to go out there and pull it out."
If he does, Jones will be able to look back at his boxing career and know it meant more than just a disputed loss in the Olympics. He can become the only fighter ever to have held titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight.
He'll also be able to say he took a challenge when no one thought he would, and prove some of his doubters wrong. It might be John Ruiz instead of Lennox Lewis, but it's still a big risk against a big man.
"I don't duck people," Jones said. "I look for people. I can't force them to get in the ring with me if they don't want to."

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