When Roy Jones Jr was pole axed last weekend in Russia by Welshman Enzo Maccaranelli - a little part of the fight game's morality was eroded again. It was a sad sight to behold, Jones after all had been one of the chief pistoleros of '90s boxing - a prodigious talent who balanced like a murderous ballerina and punched with perfect spite. To see him stuck on the ropes with a paper mâché defence in a country that always saw him more as a curiosity than a hero just didn't seem the right epitaph. By the time he crashed to the canvas, even Maccaranelli didn't seem to celebrate it. There was a sad look in his eyes like he'd just put a favourite pet to sleep.
It's hardly Maccaranelli's fault of course, and it's hard not to feel sorry for the guys who have to rub out the reputations of fighters who should of hung up their gloves years ago. Larry Holmes for instance was said to have held back on his punches when easing his way to a horribly one sided defeat of Ali some years ago. It was out of respect. Ali was Holmes' hero and he was damned if he was going to inflict any more damage on him. He was not alone in his empathy either. While the sport has always run on the coda of the old guard replacing the new, there's never been any kind of celebration in seeing the greats having their nose rubbed into the canvas when they've gone on too long. Virtually everyone close to the sport actually hates it.
Ultimately of course it comes down to the fighters themselves. They're victims sure but pretty much self inflicted ones. The top echelons of the fight game are such a warm embrace around the egos and self doubts of fighters that it sometimes seems almost impossible for them to give up. There are exceptions sure. Both Calzaghe and Lennox Lewis were wise enough to quit and stay retired, but a lot of it comes down not to narcissism but the backgrounds the fighters come from. Boxing is a poor guy sport, always was, always will be and having escaped their sometimes nefarious backgrounds and replaced them with the vainglorious trappings of fame and sporting sucess, it's almost as if subliminally fighters feel that they're sliding backwards to ordinariness again. Even defeat after defeat can't dissuade them.
There's an inherent and deadly problem with that reasoning of course. Boxing is a brutally competitive sport which shouldn't be played out like a romantic birthday wish. In the case of Roy Jones it's obvious that he's no longer competitive in a sport that doesn't slow down for reputations and relies on a mixture of youth and athleticism to carry a fighter through the flame. With those skill sets now seemingly gone in this once great fighter, it's time for those closest to the big man to put the brakes on.