AN invitation to stay up through the night to witness Roy Jones Jr’s final boxing match against a guy named Scott Sigmon, live on UFC Fight Pass at 3.30 am (GMT), is one I can’t refuse. If I do, if I rip it up, bin it, pretend it never arrived, I’d be undermining the greatness of the man and, moreover, ignoring the fact it was his unrivalled brilliance that both attracted me to boxing in the first place and made the sport seem more than just a case of you-hit-me-and-I’ll-hit-you. So what if he’s 49 years of age. So what if he’s boxing Scott Sigmon.
I’ll do it, then, I’ll watch him, not because I necessarily want to, but because it feels like the right thing to do.
Now all I have to do is stay awake…
To keep my eyes from closing, and to create a sobering before and after shot, I decide to watch a number of Roy Jones fights on DVD, the first of which is his 2003 WBA world heavyweight title shot against John Ruiz. (Roy Jones Jr’s true last fight, it could be argued.)
I watch him cop a big Ruiz right hand in round one, a proper heavyweight punch, and then, rather than run, as many anticipated, stand and give some back. I also delight in seeing him stagger Ruiz in round four with a right cross from hell, a shot that moved George Foreman, the former heavyweight champion of the world, to involuntarily yell “ooooooh”. I’d do the same if I hadn’t seen it so many times before. And if I wasn’t preserving my energy.
This one is an acquired taste, no doubt, and a fight overlooked, but Jones’ 2001 light-heavyweight title defence against Mexican Julio Gonzalez remains one of my favourites for a number of reasons.
1) I love every one of the three knockdowns; two via hooks, one via an overhand right. 2) Even with his brittle hands, Jones has rarely thrown the left hook better. 3) Jones’ white gloves. 4) Because it was one of the first Jones fights I experienced live – as in watched live on television in the middle of the night – and is subsequently one I can recall front to back and back to front, like a favourite film, as a result of the slightly obsessive taping and re-watching process.
Richard Hall (2000) is next and this is yet another example of the kind of Roy Jones fight I enjoy: one that features an opponent short on skills but big on heart. When the fights are like this, when Jones is confronted by a man unable to do anything but take it to him in blind hope, much fun is had.
Hall, a tough southpaw from Jamaica, didn’t win a single exchange in the fight but, such was his bravery, somehow survived two first-round knockdowns, one of which saw him spin right around, to reach the eleventh. Along the way he sampled every shot in the Jones arsenal, including the best right hands to the body he ever threw, and suffered the indignity of having HBO commentators Larry Merchant, George Foreman and Jim Lampley practically beg referee Wayne Kelly to end the thing from around the halfway mark. “The referee ought to be pistol-whipped for allowing that to go on,” said Merchant.
In hindsight, three long fights was a bad idea. I’m flagging.
To undo the damage, I sensibly throw on some shorter ones. First, I watch Jones deal with the erratic movement and emotion of Vinny Pazienza (1995), busting him up with his jab, a shot he didn’t really use again (or as well) until fighting John Ruiz, and knocking him out in round six.
After that, I watch Jones avenge his loss to Montell Griffin (1997) in a rematch that saw Jones start more aggressively than usual – check the terrified look on Griffin’s face after he tastes the first left hook – and rock the Chicagoan’s world with a left uppercut thrown from around his knees. Black gloves, shorts and boots, Jones knew what he was doing.
I go right the way back to 1994 and revisit Jones and James Toney trading moves like Fischer and Spassky. Fascinating more than fun, it’s arguably Jones’ finest win on paper, but shouldn’t be studied close to midnight, not when the student intends on staying awake.
It’s 2003 and Antonio Tarver is whacking Roy Jones’ body and the commentators are aghast. I too am surprised: the last time I looked at the screen James Toney was a picture of frustration and Jones was mimicking a rooster. What happened? It’s like going to bed watching your go-to comfort movie and waking up to a late-night horror.
I fell asleep and the playlist continued. I realise this now. Similarly disappointed is Antonio Tarver, who believes he has just been robbed of a huge win. He’s laughing but he’s hurt.
I’m up now. Properly up. UFC Fight Pass is on the laptop and television and, according to the broadcast, Roy Jones is backstage getting his hands wrapped. We’re on. It’s time. He wears a Jordan T-shirt with the word ‘Relaxed’ on the front. He looks relaxed. He also looks 49.
The co-main event is a mixed martial arts fight between lightweights John ‘Max’ Mustaki and Socrates Pierre. Mustaki tells the watching audience to expect a boxing match with MMA gloves, while Socrates, someone with a Muay-Thai background and a killer d’arce choke, has dyed his hair orange but crucially missed the hairline, meaning a portion of his forehead is also afflicted.
We’re told it is standing-room-only at Pensacola’s Civic Center, which, I think, is a way of suggesting the venue is packed to the rafters and the punters are desperately fighting for wriggle room. The truth, however, seems to be this: the stands are out of bounds, or simply empty, and the majority of people sit, not stand, at tables. There are white tablecloths. There are bottles of water and cans of Budweiser. These are the facts.
The ring looks big and the canvas, which features not a single sponsor, looks dirty. It’s black and the dust shows. Give it a proper sweep, a proper clean, and you’ll find the DNA of many a regional talent.
The co-main event starts. Feet are bare and gloves are small.
Tired, I put the kettle on, go for a p*ss and then, mid-p*ss, hear commotion.
I return to the screen to discover Mustaki has stopped Socrates with punches at the 4.18 mark of round one. It’s controversial, but it’s also early and that is all that matters.
My tea is ready. ‘Mad’ Max, Pensacola’s very own, says he’s ready for the UFC.
TJ De Santis, the night’s commentator, starts beating the drum. “It’s our main event next,” he tells us. “How are you feeling right now?”
Co-commentator Nate Campbell, the former world lightweight champion, thinks about it for a second, then says: “I’m indifferent.”
I already love Nate Campbell.
De Santis has an interesting theory on the importance of Roy Jones boxing Scott Sigmon in 2018. “It’s the biggest fight of his career,” he says, “because it’s the last fight of his career.”
Who can argue?
The Jones vs. Sigmon promo starts. Sigmon is described as “well-travelled”, which reminds me of when John Ruiz was announced as “determined” by Jimmy Lennon Jr all those years ago. He shadowboxes against a black backdrop. It’s wholly unconvincing.
“I’m always ahead of the game,” says Jones. “That’s what boxing will miss most about me.”
He talks a bit about Anderson Silva (the former UFC middleweight champion), and for the first time I fear he has underestimated Sigmon, the 30-year-old from Virginia, and is foolishly looking past him.
“After round seven he’s going to be worried about that Anderson Silva fight happening,” answers Sigmon. “That’s the goal.”
He adds: “I’m going to do my best to stop him doing all that dancing and spinning his fists and bolo punches because that means he’s comfortable in the fight.
“If he plans on winning it’s going to be by decision or because of some kind of bad cut or I break my ankle. Roy Jones is not putting me to sleep.”
Scott Sigmon, 30-11-1, has been stopped five times in his eleven career defeats. I don’t believe, to the best of my knowledge, he has broken his ankle in any of those defeats.
“I never thought I’d see the day I’d retire,” says Jones, 65-9. “I’m choosing now because the body is having a harder time. But if I quit when you all thought I should have quit I’d never be boxing on the first boxing event on UFC Fight Pass.”
Well, when you put it like that, Roy…
Scott Sigmon makes his way to the ring as music better-suited for Halloween starts to play. There are wolves howling. He has his name on his white T-shirt with #DareToBeGreat on the back of it. His shorts are small and black. “It’s kind of hard for me to look at this guy and think he’s going to beat Roy Jones,” says a perceptive Campbell.
As Sigmon walks to the ring, slowly, uncertainly, Campbell elaborates: “Roy has forgotten more than Scott knows or will ever learn. And Roy can still punch a little bit.”
Six dancers in hot pants and red ‘Y’all Must’ve Forgot’ T-shirts dance on stage. The song to which they shake their hips namechecks Roy Jones – of course it does – and the man of the hour does some nodding along with his eyes closed. His robe is sleeveless and black and white. On the back it reads ‘The Legend Roy Jones Jr’. He waits to walk. Someone stands in front of him and takes a selfie.
“Montell Griffin is here in this room,” says Campbell. “It’s huge. No one believed we’d ever see this. Not this way. We joke about it all the time. It’s funny. Actually, it’s not funny. It’s sad and it’s bittersweet. It’s not sad, it’s bittersweet.”
Nate Campbell is funny; this fight isn’t. Nate Campbell, in fact, hasn’t been this funny since he showboated against Robbie Peden in 2004.
The MC runs through his announcements as a girl in a bikini holds up the WBU cruiserweight title belt. Humiliated, embarrassed, freaked out by the thing in her hands, it might as well be attached to a Hollywood producer.
“This is it!” shouts the MC.
Sigmon, weighing 193.4lbs, gets booed, whereas Jones, at 199lbs, gets a hero’s welcome.
Referee Tommy Kimmons gives both boxers their instructions. Roy Jones looks like he has just woken up.
The first bell rings for the last time in the career of Roy Jones Jr.
Sigmon claims the centre of the ring and they clinch almost immediately. Roy laughs. It’s more of a hug than a clinch and Sigmon apparently feels safe here and is happy to stick around.
They finally break with 1.10 left on the clock. With space, Jones, a silhouette of a rooster on his shorts, can go to work. He throws a quick flurry and the crowd go “wooooo”.
“If this is the last one you better have all the fun you can,” Campbell tells Jones. “Roy is still very savvy.”
“Sigmon’s fired up,” says De Santis.
“He’s bloody, too,” says Nate.
Sigmon loses his mouthpiece and Jones uses the respite to have a conversation with someone in the crowd. He then blasts Sigmon with an uppercut as the action resumes. Nate Campbell chuckles to himself as if his kid is picking the wings off a butterfly. They hold again.
In a clinch, Roy leans over and talks to Nate.
“Go sit down, please,” Nate tells Roy.
More uppercuts land. Sigmon’s face starts to swell.
“This uppercut is like potato salad at a family reunion,” says Campbell. “It’s there.”
More insight from De Santis. “Growing up as a kid,” he says, “I always lost to Roy Jones on the Fight Night (computer) game. Tonight, this is like a game for him.”
Sigmon disagrees. He rallies over by the ropes, throws both hands, and occasionally touches flesh. Unperturbed, Roy talks to him. Smiles. Tells him to come and get it. There are quick 49-year-old jabs and hurtful-looking left hooks to the body. Jones pokes his tongue out. Sigmon’s mouthpiece is displaced by a hook upstairs.
“The seventh round seems like a long way away for Scott Sigmon,” says De Santis.
“If you’re watching this at home, Scott Sigmon has fought seven rounds already,” says Campbell. “And they’ve been a hard seven.”
Campbell laughs again as Scott Sigmon tries to beat Roy Jones. “Why would you go inside with a guy who can cut angles better?” he asks nobody in particular.
“I don’t think Scott Sigmon knows what to do,” says De Santis.
“He could have been less rowdy. He could have been nice.”
“Sigmon is in trouble.”
“He was in trouble when he came to the show.”
Still fighting at close quarters, Jones lands left hooks and uppercuts. He speaks to Sigmon: “I thought you wanted to fight?” At the bell, he strikes a pose and the crowd eat it up.
Scott Sigmon’s mouthpiece tries to escape for a third time. Evidently, even his mouthpiece knows it’s time to leave.
“I would say ‘poor Scott Sigmon’ but he brought this on himself,” says Campbell. “Roy still has such command of his body at this age.”
Roy continues to smash away at Sigmon’s body, especially with the hook.
“Sometimes you get on the wrong ride and you know you shouldn’t have got on the ride but you’ve got to stay on it until the end,” offers Nate. “You have a minimum height for every ride. He’s not tall enough to get on this ride.”
Jones doesn’t even have to look at Sigmon to land punches on him. Left uppercuts, for instance, are drawn to the 30-year-old’s chin and flung from the waist of Jones as if he’s checking his phone for unread text messages. “We made plans to go to this place but we’ve got to wait until this is done,” moans Campbell. “He knows the good restaurants are closing. It’s gone ten o’clock.”
It’s gone four o’clock in the morning here, Nate.
“The uppercuts are mean,” says Campbell as he watches the replays back. “They’re just mean. He’s throwing these uppercuts with the intent to knock his brains out.”
Sigmon comes out hard and lands another right, only for Roy to return the favour in the form of some short and tight uppercuts and a left hook ripped underneath. “This is the round Sigmon said this fight would become ugly,” remembers Campbell. “I think Roy has other plans.”
The more Sigmon tries, the more he gets hit. But the more he stands off and doesn’t try, the more likely it is he gets knocked out.
Jones, a considerate soul when he wants to be, takes to guiding and advising the man intent on punching him in the face. “Be careful!” he says, not once but twice, as Sigmon marauds forward to no avail.
A left hook to the body, left hook to the head combination from Jones, otherwise known as the reverse Micky Ward, gets through and stops Sigmon in his tracks. Not content with that, Roy then almost slaps his right hand the way of Sigmon’s ribs, after which Campbell laughs for a second time.
“If nothing else,” says Nate, observing Sigmon solemnly return to his stool, “Scott’s corner man has a very nice corner jacket.”
Stuck in the corner of his own volition, Jones is content to control Sigmon there, landing body shots at will, and occasionally staggers the aggressor when he becomes a little too aggressive. But Sigmon, bless him, is still trying and even stumbles upon something of a breakthrough when he throws a left hook, his best shot of the fight, which catches Roy unawares.
Jones, of course, hooks him back and, right in the nick of time, remembers how to throw the sort of uppercut he used to spark Montell Griffin. He then aims it at Sigmon’s face.
The last round. Hopefully the last ever round for Roy Jones.
“It’s been a nice ride,” says De Santis, coming over all sentimental.
“An uncomfortable ride for Scott Sigmon,” says Campbell. “On a wagon with a bad wheel.”
Buoyed by his success in the previous round, Sigmon searches again for the left hook. But, in doing so, he leans in, right over his front foot, and gives Jones ample opportunity to come alive, nail him with uppercuts and hooks of his own, and essentially rattle through a box of tools rusted way past polishing but tools nonetheless. They are thrown slower, but the instincts and variety remain.
Sigmon, meanwhile, once more finds joy with his hook, a personal triumph, and then, just as the audience start to wonder if Roy Jones is letting his opponent have some success to send him home happy, the four-weight world champion explodes – okay, wakes up – into life with two uppercuts in a row and a flurry on the bell.
Fight over, he triumphantly raises his right arm, as he has so many times in the past, and tours the ring.
“Roy Jones Jr was masterful in his final piece of work,” says De Santis. “We talk about how it’s a bittersweet ending for his career and it’s bittersweet because he can clearly still shine.”
“I’ve been retired four years and I miss it every day,” says Campbell. “If a man loses his arm, you still feel it. I understand that.”
The decision is unanimous (98-92 across the board) and Roy Jones – IGNORE – is crowned the new WBU cruiserweight champion of the world.
“I want to say this one last time: Pensacola in the house!” he says. “I knew Scott was tough and game and would keep coming. I don’t make excuses but last week I tore my bicep in my left arm. But because it was my last fight in Pensacola, I didn’t pull out.
“Dana (White), I know you’re listening. I know Anderson (Silva) is suspended, but that’s the only fight Roy Jones returns for. Other than that, chapter closed.”
‘Y’all Must’ve Forgot’, his best-known rap song, plays on the PA system as Roy Jones poses for photographs.
It’s over. We can all go to bed now. And, yes, that includes you, Roy.
I finish writing a round-by-round of Roy Jones Jr’s last ever boxing match and realise, in keeping with the great man’s career, it is much, much too long.
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