Once in a great while, there’s a match-up that’s so intriguing, it even gets the most jaded boxing experts
excited. Speculation was a verbal volleyball for weeks leading up to the John Ruiz-Roy Jones, Jr. heavyweight championship.
Could Jones do what only one man had accomplished in boxing history—to go from middleweight, to light heavyweight, to
heavyweight champion? Would Ruiz’s 30+ lb. weight advantage be too much for Jones? Could Jones handle a real heavyweight’s
punching power? Would Jones’ speed be enough to overcome Ruiz’s bulk? And finally—as the outcome of this
fight would prove—is Roy Jones, Jr. really one of boxing’s all-time greats?
There was little speculation about what strategy each fighter would employ. Ruiz, the WBA Heavyweight Champion (38-4-1,
27 KOs), would have to fight rough, drive Jones to the ropes, lean on him and tire him out. Undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion
Roy Jones, Jr. (47-1, 38 KOs) would have to box Ruiz, blind him with hand speed, and duck out of harm’s way before the
bigger man had time to counter.
Ruiz came out to execute his fight plan immediately, shoving Jones to the ropes in the first round. Jones escaped Ruiz’s
charge in a fairly even round. Jones was able to fight his fight in the second. The battle lines were mainly in the center
of the ring, where Jones could jump in, snap his jab—a punch he rarely bothers with in his light heavyweight bouts—and
back out before Ruiz could do any damage. He was able to slither out of Ruiz’s clutches near the ropes, and was consistently
beating Johnny to the punch.
In the fourth, Jones caught Ruiz with a right uppercut, starting a flow of blood from Ruiz’s nose. A big right stunned
Ruiz later in the round. Jones was having his way with the heavyweight champ. Ruiz came out with fire in the fifth, trying
to force the action, pin Jones to the ropes, and work him with body shots. But despite Ruiz’s attempts to win ugly,
Jones succeeded in landing the cleaner punches.
Round 8 was Johnny Ruiz’s best, with a good dose of rope pressure and his best punch of the fight, a ripping right
to Jones’ head. But it also served notice to any who’ve questioned Jones’ chin—he can take a heavyweight
punch. Roy assumed command in the ninth and tenth, with Ruiz eating his jab, and taking potshots to the midsection.
The fight’s most bizarre scene took place between the tenth and eleventh rounds. In an effort to exhort their fighter,
Ruiz’s corner including manager Norman Stone, tore into their fighter with an expletive-laced barrage that would make
a sailor blush. They knew extraordinary efforts were needed to turn Ruiz around, as his title was in serious jeopardy. Roy
Jones, Jr. short-circuited any adrenalin Ruiz may have had with a big lead right in the eleventh.
The chase continued in the twelfth—Ruiz was desperate for a knockout. But Roy Jones, Jr. could barely contain his
smile for the entire round. With ten
seconds left, Jones was apart from Ruiz, pumping exultant fists in the air, while
Ruiz looked on helplessly, unable to change his destiny. Jones had risen to the challenge, probably his toughest test since
fighting James Toney in 1994. A wild celebration ensued in the ring, the crowd acknowledging they had just seen what no one
had seen in over 100 years. A middleweight had climbed the ladder to heavyweight, and was now standing at the pinnacle of
boxing’s most celebrated division.