ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The news of Roy Jones' return to the ring to face top-10 cruiserweight contender Denis Lebedev on May 22 in Moscow was not exactly greeted with wild cheers from fight fans who love Jones and don't want to see the 42-year-old faded great get hurt.
Jones probably should not fight anymore. He's about the only one who doesn't realize it, but it's pretty obvious just by watching his last few fights, including the two lopsided losses in a row he has suffered in his most recent bouts: a decision to rival Bernard Hopkins in their April 2010 rematch and a first-round knockout to Danny Green in Australia in December 2009.
But Jones is stubborn. Sure, I wish he would stop fighting the same way I wish Evander Holyfield would call it a day. But I respect Jones, and this is his decision to make so long as he keeps passing the medical tests. His stubbornness is one of the traits that made him one of the all-time greats and the most gifted fighter I have ever covered.
I had a chance to talk to Jones on Saturday night before he went on the air on HBO to call the Yuriorkis Gamboa-Jorge Solis card at Boardwalk Hall, and I asked him what he thought about those who had voiced concerns that he was continuing to fight.
"Don't worry about those folks," Jones told me. "I ignore everybody except God."
Jones said he is familiar with the 31-year-old Lebedev (21-1, 16 KOs), whose only loss came via controversial decision in a December world title bout against Marco Huck in Germany.
"He's left-handed, he's a very strong puncher, but he's straight up," Jones said.
Although some thought Lebedev (21-1, 16 KOs) defeated Huck, Jones said he is not one of them.
"He had a good performance, but I still thought Huck won," Jones said. "He tried to put pressure on Huck, but he never could catch Huck with anything big, and Huck kept catching him with straight right hands. He didn't do enough to take the title from Huck."
Since Jones wants to continue fighting, I asked him why he would tangle with such a strong opponent, especially when he has to go all the way to the guy's backyard to do it?
"I don't fight jokes fights. I won't waste my time for a joke," Jones said. "If I'm gonna fight, I want to fight the best. If I can't fight the best, I don't want to fight."
(I wish Jones had taken that same attitude when he was great rather than fight so many of the weak opponents that he did. Ricky Frazier, anyone?)
As for going to Russia, Jones (54-7, 40 KOs) reached back into his memory banks: "Only reason I even considered it is because I owed it to [myself to] get back there. I went to the first Goodwill Games [in 1986] and I lost to a Russian in Russia. I got a bronze medal. I'm still pissed off.
"I never thought about going to Russia, but actually I have some young amateur fighters in Russia that I talk to on Skype and they're really, really big fans of mine. They were like, 'Please come over here and fight. Just one time.' So after that, it made me start thinking about it."
The weight limit for the bout is 200 pounds, the heaviest limit Jones has had for a fight since he beat John Ruiz so easily to win a heavyweight belt in 2003. (Jones weighed a career-most 193 pounds for the fight.)
Jones said he was happy to be taking on a bigger guy.
"I love fighting a bigger fighter," he said. "It's interesting to me and gives me something to work for. I fight somebody my size, I'm supposed to beat 'em, so that's no good. If I fight somebody bigger than me, I'm not supposed to beat him, so I can do something."