- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
It's out of one fight for former pound-for-pound king Roy Jones Jr. and into another.
Jones, who turns 45 in January and has not fought since June 2012, was scheduled to face Bobby Gunn in a 12-round cruiserweight fight on Dec. 18 in Bethlehem, Pa., but that fight is off and Jones will instead head to Moscow to face Zine Eddine Benmakhlouf of France, Jones announced on Tuesday.
"Roy is excited to be coming back to Russia to fight and we are very happy that we were able to put this together so quickly with our good friend and partner [Russian promoter] Vlad Hrunov," said John Wirt, chief executive of Jones' Square Ring Promotions. "We are disappointed that the fight with Bobby Gunn didn't happen, but there were just too many loose ends, and it was taking far too long.
"Vlad came forward and closed the deal on Monday. We have a longstanding relationship with him and his team and knew that he could make it happen."
Jones, Wirt, Gunn and promoter Don Elbaum held a news conference in late October in Philadelphia to announce that Jones and Gunn would meet Dec. 4 at the National Armory in Philadelphia. The bout then was shifted to Dec. 18 at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem. Although the fight had been agreed to, it was not signed and when there were problems securing financing for the bout and a television deal, Jones opted for the fight in Russia instead.
"I told Bobby that I would fight him," Jones said. "I meant it then and mean it now. On Saturday, John told me that they were still trying to make changes to the contract, but that he could make a deal with Vlad, so I told him that the first one to close a deal was where I was gonna go and Russia won."
Many have called for Jones to retire. He is years past his prime and has suffered four brutal knockout losses in his past seven defeats, but he has ignored those calls. Instead, his main goal is secure a victory against the obscure and untested 36-year-old Eddine Benmakhlouf (17-3-1, 8 KOs), while shaking off the rust of his long layoff in order to be ready for the fight he hopes will be made next -- a showdown with UFC star Anderson Silva in a boxing match in the first half of 2014.
"I want to be ready for Anderson Silva in case he beats [Chris] Weidman," Jones told ESPN.com in October. "Silva has made it clear that if he wins, he wants me next. I'm here for him. That's a fight that intrigues a lot of people, but I can't fight Anderson Silva coming off such a long layoff. So I needed to get a fight first. If it wasn't for Anderson Silva calling me out, I wouldn't be fighting this fight."
On July 6, Weidman upset Silva at UFC 162, knocking him out with a left hand in the second round of their middleweight championship fight (185 pounds in UFC). They are scheduled to meet in a rematch on Dec. 28 at UFC 168 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Jones will be fighting in Russia for the second time and probably does not have good memories of that first bout. In May 2011, Jones faced Denis Lebedev, who later won a cruiserweight world title, in Moscow and got knocked out cold in the 10th round in a fight that Hrunov promoted.
Jones (56-8, 40 KOs) has fought two 10-round bouts since against lesser opposition, outpointing Max Alexander in Atlanta in December 2011 and struggling to a controversial split decision against Pawel Glazewski in Poland in June 2012.
"This is my early Christmas present to all Russian boxing fans," Hrunov said. "Most Americans don't realize how much Roy is loved here in Russia. He's bigger than [Muhammad] Ali or [Mike] Tyson. Russian fans want to root for Roy. That's why I picked a foreign opponent for him. Dec. 21 is going to be a huge Christmas party and a great night of boxing."
Jones, who spent a decade regarded as the best boxer in the world, won world titles in four weight classes -- middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight, although he has not been a serious contender for several years.