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Original Issue

Inside Boxing

In a one-man show, Roy Jones Jr. unified the light heavyweight

If Roy Jones Jr. finishes his career as boxing's best fighter,
pound for pound, he will have done so without any help
whatsoever. Think about it: Unlike other of the sport's great
stars, Jones has no rival. There is no Frazier to his Ali, no
Duran to his Leonard, and probably no Trinidad to his De La
Hoya. Jones, alone among all the marquee players, is strictly a
solo act.

Last Saturday, fighting in the self-imposed obscurity of Biloxi,
Miss., Jones, who hails from nearby Pensacola, Fla., again
performed boxing's version of a monologue. He demolished Reggie
Johnson over 12 rounds to win a decision that could not have
been more one-sided if Johnson had failed to show. With Jones,
now 40-1 (with 33 KOs), flashing his supernatural hand speed, it
was at once entertaining and undramatic. It was, in other words,
a typical Roy Jones fight.

It was a bout that ought to have generated a little more
excitement and suspense than it did, but Jones's career is such
that even when he meets a fellow champion to unify the light
heavyweight title, the competition is irrelevant to his
performance. Did the people want to see Roy Jones? Yes, they
did. They sold out the 10,000-seat arena, and HBO believed
enough in his appeal to contribute to a purse of about $5
million. But did anybody care whom he fought? Not at all. Poor
Johnson, who held the IBF championship, was a 15-to-1 underdog.
He was as important to the promotion as the availability of
on-site parking.

Not since 1994, when Jones challenged the undefeated James
Toney, has he had a fight that presumed any risk. Like all the
rest that followed the vanquished Toney as Jones mowed through
three weight classes, Johnson was just one more foil, less
hapless than most, but no less helpless.

Jones knocked him down in the first and third rounds, displaying
hands so quick that even Johnson became discouraged. The
swiftness of Jones's leather is spectacle enough, even though it
is clear that he employs that speed less for the demolition of
opponents than for his own amusement. Still, when Jones
establishes his dominance as quickly as he did last Saturday,
nothing is left for the opponent to hope for but survival.

That Johnson survived had less to do with his own skills--which
are not negligible--than with Jones's dispassionate approach to
boxing these days. "I've got nothing to prove," he said
afterward. Not even the boos, which followed him in later rounds
when he failed to exploit openings or otherwise pursue the
advantage of his talent, bothered him. "I probably could have
knocked him out if I had pressed," he said, "but why do
something stupid when I'm winning every round. That's not smart,
it's not businesslike, it's not Roy Jones-like."

So Jones coasts, grows bored and fails to generate excitement
beyond the wonderment of his physical gifts, the witnessing of
which, he suggests, is "like getting to watch Secretariat." Not
even the subplot of Johnson's involvement in Jones's infamous
rift with Roy Sr.--father and son split partly because Roy Sr.
wanted to train Johnson, a potential rival, alongside his
son--seemed compelling enough to supply drama to the event.
Although Jones says he loves boxing, he also says he takes these
fights only to give his running buddies, such as junior
lightweight stablemate Derrick Gainer (a winner on Saturday's
undercard), a platform.

At times Jones talks of new challenges, like moving up to fight
one of the smaller heavyweights, or even dropping down to fight
welterweight superstar Oscar De La Hoya. Either situation might
expose him to just the kind of danger that fans love to feel and
allow a more generous evaluation of his career.

For now, however, as Jones has outdistanced all competition, he
must be considered as a kind of stand-up act, a guy who works
alone. Of course, to be fair, you must ask yourself, Is there
anyone else you would rather watch?

Canizales Fights On

Orlando Canizales learned how to fight without benefit of a
boxing ring, just four garden hoses placed in a square on the
dusty floor of the Laredo (Texas) Boys Club. Yet Canizales
emerged as one of boxing's best bantamweights, winning the IBF
belt in 1988 and keeping it through 16 title defenses over six

Those days are gone. The 33-year-old Canizales, who once fought
world title bouts in glamorous venues for $200,000 a night, is
now fighting as an unranked featherweight, taking on no-names in
muggy halls for $10,000 a gig. Such was the case last Friday
night at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia, where Canizales
stopped club fighter Richard DeJesus in the sixth round.

Canizales (50-4-1) unleashed the same roaring combinations that
brought him his previous 36 KOs, yet clearly the career of a
fighter once considered among the best is headed toward an
inglorious conclusion. "I know I don't have many more years
left, and, win or lose against DeJesus, I was going to weigh my
options," says Canizales.

Here are his choices: 1) Keep striving for an unlikely title
shot (he is currently unranked); 2) go home to Laredo and wait
for a call from the Boxing Hall of Fame.

Our suggestion: Hang up the gloves and pull up a rocking chair
next to the phone. --Richard Deutsch

A Modest Proposal

Once again the boxing business is under heavy fire, with
presidential candidates making a play for its overhaul on the
one hand and FBI agents putting the game's operators on notice
on the other. (Federal agents raided promoter Don King's offices
in Florida last week.) Out of this morass steps Fred Levin, a
longtime representative of Roy Jones Jr., with what he believes
is a preemptive strike, a solution that will satisfy both boxers
and fans and keep the government at bay.

What Levin proposes is a single sanctioning body--for want of a
better title, the World Boxing League--that would oversee title
matches and would contract the ever controversial ratings to an
independent body, a la the AP Poll in college football. (The
FBI's raid on King was part of a grand jury probe into whether
the IBF had accepted bribes for the manipulation of ratings.)

The beauty of it, says Levin, is that such an upstart body can
eliminate boxing's habitual systemic corruption. How? By
eliminating many of the opportunities for corruption.

Levin, who won big bucks as the litigator who crushed the
tobacco industry in Florida, believes free enterprise is the
answer. A corporate sponsor might be willing to foot the bill
for all title costs (referees, judges, belts etc.; purses,
however, would still come from promoters) for the privilege of
appending its name to a bout. In his estimation it would cost
about a third of what Budweiser pays one NASCAR driver. (Dale
Earnhardt Jr. is due to get $10 million from Bud, his primary
sponsor, alone.)

The fighters who now pay millions out of their purses in
sanctioning fees (Jones paid $400,000 to two bodies in last
Saturday's fight) would surely embrace a no-cost system. The
public, meanwhile, bewildered by three champions in each of 17
weight classes, might respond to a streamlined sport. (Levin
envisions 12 to 13 classes.)

Anybody got a better idea?

Pinup Pugilist

Female featherweight Mia (the Knockout) St. John got her first
TKO as a high school sophomore 15 years ago in Boise, Idaho. It
happened in the stands at a Friday-night football game after
another girl tossed her gum into St. John's hair. Then the girl
started calling St. John, who is Mexican-American, spic and
wetback. "So I turned around and decked her," St. John says. "I
was the only minority in my school. When I was provoked, I just
lost it."

Now St. John punches out women for a living: Seven of her 11 pro
fights have ended in knockouts. Her perfect record should extend
to 12-0 on June 26, when she is expected to dispose of the
lightly regarded Mary Ann Haik in Las Vegas on the undercard of
the Johnny Tapia-Paulie Ayala bout. "Other female boxers don't
like me," says St. John, 31, who holds something called the IBA
featherweight championship.

Maybe it has to do with her work out of the ring. Before she
began boxing in 1997, St. John spent five years flooring people
as a swimsuit model for Playboy calendars and posters. Her
modeling career has been on hiatus since 1991 but is making a
major comeback with a layout--her first "in the buff"--scheduled
for the October issue of Playboy. "Female fighters want to take
me on because of the way I look," St. John says. "But just
because I don't look like a man doesn't mean I don't train like
a man."

COLOR PHOTO: WILL HART Against Johnson, the flashy Jones pitched a 12-round shutout--with plenty of hits.

Before she began boxing in 1997, St. John spent five years
flooring people as a swimsuit model for Playboy calendars and