For Jones, victory only adds to legacy

The first hint of history being made came early, and forcefully. It came behind the super-quick fists of Roy Jones Jr., who once again proved one of sport's oldest adages — speed devastates.

MIKE FREEMAN

The first hint of history being made came early, and forcefully. It came behind the super-quick fists of Roy Jones Jr., who once again proved one of sport's oldest adages — speed devastates.

Roy Jones Jr. celebrates after deafeating John Ruiz in their WBA heavyweight championship bout in Las Vegas . — Pic. AP-

The plan for John Ruiz was to use his 25-pound weight advantage to overwhelm the smaller and shorter Jones in their World Boxing Association title fight.

Then along came the jab.

Jones's belligerent left hand quickly visited Ruiz's chin, again and again. Speed was the best ally for Jones, but he also displayed surprising strength. A consistently powerful left hook from Jones made a grand entrance in the second round, and by the fourth round blood covered Ruiz's face.

Game plan over. Jones's flexing of his fast-twitch muscles, as well as his might, had clearly shaken Ruiz's confidence. Ruiz, standing three inches taller than Jones at 6 feet 2 inches, looked as if a stiff breeze could have blown him over. Jones's face remained pretty. "I surprised him with my speed," said Jones, the light-heavyweight champion, who was fighting for the first time as a heavyweight.

No one should be surprised by anything Jones does anymore. He won the fight on the judges' cards, 116-112, 117-111 and 118-110 — a convincing victory.

By beating Ruiz (38-5-1), Jones (48-1) became only the second light heavyweight to win a heavyweight title, joining Michael Spinks.

Jones also became the seventh fighter to win championships in four weight classes; only Sugar Ray Leonard has won in five. Jones is just the second former middleweight champion to earn a heavyweight belt; the last man to do that was Bob Fitzsimmons in 1897.

Fitzsimmons had only a 16-pound disadvantage when he beat Jim Corbett.

Jones, who weighed in at 199 pounds an hour before his bout, became the lightest man to win a heavyweight title since Floyd Patterson in 1956.

The loss truly stunned Ruiz, to the point that at first he refused to give Jones credit. Then Ruiz said he was contemplating retirement because of what he called personal issues. He did not elaborate.

Ruiz said he and Jones were warned by Referee Jay Nady that holding would not be tolerated. Ruiz complained that it was Jones's constant holding, not his speed or surprising power, that cost him the fight.

"I felt like every time I went in, he was holding me," Ruiz said. "The ref would break us up, and I couldn't get my punches off." Ruiz added, "I would give him more credit if I felt like I was given the same advantages he was during the fight." The statistics, however, show that Ruiz's comments are tainted by bitterness. Ruiz threw 216 power punches and connected on 52 for a rate of 24 per cent. Jones, the far lighter man, threw 204 power punches, connecting on 77, or 38 per cent.

Those numbers should have at least been reversed, and considering that Ruiz had a 3-inch height and a 7-inch reach advantages, they should been heavily in his favour.

They were not because of Jones, who took the fight to Ruiz, forcing him to become timid. Because Jones is also a more accurate puncher, he made contact with Ruiz on a higher percentage of those power punches, doing some damage.

The common prefight speculation was that Jones would use his excellent footwork to bounce and dance across the ring, limiting the number of opportunities Ruiz had to hit him.

Jones did the opposite. "I never cared about his punch from the get-go," Jones said. "I'm the kind of guy who doesn't care about a guy's punch. I heard for years how I'm concerned and worried about being punched, but I never cared or worried once." In the aftermath of beating Ruiz, the debate surrounding Jones now shifts from whether he could win as a heavyweight to where this victory places him in boxing history.

Jones, 22-1 in title fights, says he will let the public decide such matters. But he successfully undertook one of the riskier and rarer endeavours in sports, moving to the heavyweight division and exposing himself physically to a much stronger and heavier opponent.

"The thing I want people to say about me is that I come to fight," Jones said. "That's the best thing you can say about any fighter."

New York Times News Service