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In a flash, Jones shows his brilliance

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Roy Jones Jr., left, keeps Derrick Harmon away with his left hand during Jones' TKO victory.

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By GARY SHELTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


TAMPA -- The moment of greatness came quickly, and it did not stay for long. If history was watching, it needed to pay close attention.

It was the 10th round, and to be honest, the greatness was late on arrival. Oh, Roy Jones Jr. had been in control of the fight for the entire evening, but just that. He had been very good. Only that.

And then, quick as a snapshot, Jones was dangerous. His hands flurried, and the little sound effects -- shhhh, shhhh, shhhh -- coming from his mouth as he punched came more quickly, until it sounded like air rushing from a balloon. For those few seconds, finally, thankfully, he took his career, and his competition, off cruise control. You could see the power -- he left Derrick Harmon's eardrum shattered with the flurry -- and the speed and the skill.

Big fight draws all kinds to Ice Palace
It was that moment, that brief wink of an eye, that we will tell our grandchildren about Roy Jones Jr.

As for how much more we will say, who knows?

Jones won his fight Saturday night at the Ice Palace. Of course he did. Jones was never in danger, which should go without saying, because he has not been in danger for a very long time now. He merely goes out, throws a few flurries, and wins what is looking more and more like exhibition boxing matches.

But don't you wonder?

Shouldn't there be something more?

He is the bully in his neighborhood. No one has doubted that about Jones for a very long time, either. He remains charismatic, and occasionally brilliant.

Still, there wasn't a lot here for history -- or the rest of us -- to pay attention to. It doesn't matter how skilled the mountain climber is if he's going up a small hill with no particular challenge.

For Jones, it is time to think of such things as his legacy. He has fought for paydays, and he has won them. He has fought for titles, and he has won those, too. Now it is time to leave the safety of his neighborhood and expand his horizons.

It is time for him to fight Felix Trinidad.

This is the fight that makes sense. Forget about Antonio Tarver, who left the ring suggesting that he could beat Jones, that Jones wears a skirt and furthermore, who knows what's underneath it. Forget about Dariusz Michalczewski, who seems to be that rare challenge with an unlisted phone number. Forget those who would have Jones puff up to heavyweight standards to fight Lennox Lewis.

For Jones, Trinidad is the fight that makes sense. Jones' people should call him immediately and negotiate the money and the 14 pounds of difference in their weights. They should debate how many belts and where the fight should be (the Ice Palace is free once the hockey playoffs begin, as usual).

And then they should bump gloves and start swinging.

If you are Jones, you need to ask yourself this. In 50 years, when people talk of your greatness, which moment are they going to point toward? Put it this way: If there had not been a Wilt Chamberlain, would we have recognized the true depth of Bill Russell's greatness? If there were no Joe Frazier, would we really appreciate Muhammad Ali? If there were no Joker, would we think Batman was such a big deal?

This fight was the best and worst of Jones. It was the best as far as watching his brilliance, his showmanship, his creativity in the ring. But it was just another glorified exhibition against a rented punching bag, this one named Derrick Harmon. You might suggest Jones has as much resistence when he shadowboxes, but let's face it: at least the shadows are sneaky.

With Jones, that's always the way. He seems to find his victims in the checkout lane at Publix. They come, they get punched in the face, and they go away. And then we go on to the next one.

His handlers, of course, say that isn't his fault. They talk about the former champions he has beaten the way a football team with a bad schedule talks about how many bowls its opponents attended.

The result is that the winning goes on, and the paydays -- propped up by HBO -- continue. But, as he fights, Jones' reputation seems to be withering. There used to be no argument when onlookers called Jones the finest pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Now, the same people shake their heads and talk of Trinidad and Shane Mosely. They suggest that Jones is working around the rocky places.

Jones says this isn't true. He says he'll fight anyone, including Trinidad. Fine. Let's see it.

Jones should welcome the opportunity. There are pockets of time in which he seems to become disinterested. And who can blame him? How can greatness escape when there is never one second of wonder as to what will happen? Lately, Jones' fights are as predictable as Jackie Chan's.

For much of Jones' career, he has not received his due because of his weight. That's the nature of the beast. We pay attention mainly to the heavyweights, and anyone lighter is considered lesser. And so we laud what he is, then we lament what he is not. He is good enough. A shame he isn't big enough.

The thing is, when you consider what a cartoon the division has become, perhaps we should be glad Jones isn't a heavyweight. We have enough clowns threatening to eat children. Enough graft, enough garbage.

As it is, it's going to be hard for history to make a decision about Jones. He's the king of his neighborhood. But he hasn't traveled far enough outside it.

Perhaps now, he will be willing to travel.

Trinidad sounds like a great destination.

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