April 25, 1998: Jones vs Hill
Like so many ring greats, Roy Jones Jr. found it very hard to say goodbye to boxing, fighting on long after it was obvious to all that his reflexes and skills were long gone. He finally moved on at the advanced age of 49, but not before giving his admirers too many sad spectacles, including knockout defeats to Danny Green and Enzo Maccarinelli. Seeing a once-unstoppable dynamo compete as a shadow of his former brilliance had been a painful ordeal for those who admired Jones and vividly recalled his astonishing talent.
But no matter how depressing it was to see an aging Roy on the canvas or competing with inept club fighters, one thing can never be taken from him: in the 1990’s he was, unequivocally, one of the greatest athletic specimens to ever step inside a boxing ring. It was his outstanding physical gifts that allowed him to reign as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world for almost a full decade. His electrifying hand-speed, reflexes, and unorthodox style enabled him to dominate virtually everyone he faced.
One of his most memorable performances occurred on this date at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi in 1998. His opponent that night was Virgil “Quicksilver” Hill, the former light heavyweight champion of the world. Going into the contest, Jones was 35-1 and considered one of the best boxers in the world. He was eight months removed from a first round knockout of Montell Griffin, which avenged the lone blemish on his pro record when he was disqualified for hitting a downed Griffin in March of 1997.
Hill was far from a slouch himself, entering with a record of 43-2. As impressive as that record was, this also meant that Hill had accumulated much mileage on his body’s odometer, having made twenty successful defences of the WBA light-heavyweight championship during two separate reigns. But while twenty title fight wins is an impressive accomplishment for any boxer, the fact is most of Hill’s title defenses were against mediocre talents. And while Hill was still rated as a top fighter in the division, his best days were clearly behind him. In his most recent bout, he had dropped a unanimous decision to Dariusz Michalczewski, surrendering his lineal title in the process. Thus Jones vs Hill was a battle between one fighter at the mountaintop and a respected former champion on his way down.
In the opening round, the champion was relaxed and loose, waiting to pounce on any countering opportunity. His vastly superior hand speed was evident from the start, as he landed several clean right leads over Hill’s slow jab. Not one to rely heavily on the jab, Roy also uncorked several well-placed lead hooks and left uppercuts. The first round showed Roy had the clear speed advantage and the champion oozed confidence in his corner between rounds, as if the first three minutes had verified what he already knew: Hill had no chance.
Hill began the second round with more pep in his step, getting up on his toes and attacking Jones’s body with jabs. Roy responded with a body jab of his own, immediately followed by a laser-like right to the jaw. Hill continued to throw body jabs, but little else. It was his only successful punch so he kept going back to it. But Roy was now timing the punch and started countering it effectively. Speed was clearly the key difference and ironically enough it did not belong to “Quicksilver.”
The pattern continued in round three, with Hill having little offensive success, and Jones looking for big counter shots. Hill picked up the pace and managed to land a few solid blows, but Roy dismissed them and shook his head to let the former champion know he was unfazed. Hill was forced to open up so he could land more telling punches but that in turn led to him taking more return fire.
Hill continued to use his body jab as his sole offensive weapon to start the fourth, circling and using the ring while Roy stalked his man and looked to land something big. And with two minutes to go in the round, he did exactly that. With Virgil backing to the ropes, Roy flicked out a left to distract Hill and draw a counter jab, creating an opening for a right hand to the body. Jones slammed home a monstrous shot to Hill’s ribs and the challenger immediately collapsed to the canvas, wincing in agony. He managed to get up at the count of six, but he could barely stand and was in no condition to continue.
Jones vs Hill saw a vintage performance from an all-time great talent, culminating in a highlight finish that stands out in a career of highlights. When he was at his best, Roy Jones Jr.’s sublime skill-set was nothing short of awesome and this was one of those occasions. And now that he’s finally retired, we would do well to forget entirely the last decade or more of Roy’s Hall of Fame career and instead focus on his greatest performances, his finest moments, which can never be eclipsed. And when recalling him at his very best, many fans will conjure up the night of April 25, 1998, when he iced Virgil Hill with one perfectly placed body punch. — Jamie Rebner