NEW YORK — Roy Jones Jr. defiantly wore a gilded crown into a ring surrounded by hostile fans of a Puerto Rican hero. He then taunted Felix Trinidad, waggling his chin and shaking his rump, before rudely flooring Tito twice.
Some old guys just never learn how to behave — yet the 39-year-old Jones showed he can still get down to business, pounding another iconic boxer whose prime is well past.
Jones pranced and punched his way to a unanimous victory over Trinidad on Saturday night, dominating their
light heavyweight bout. From the opening minutes to the increasingly lopsided final rounds, Jones simply was too fast, even in a fight that was several years too late.
Jones and the 35-year-old Trinidad might have put on the year’s best fight — if the year was still 2001, back when both were kings of the sport.
“I can’t believe you stayed in there 12 rounds with me,” Jones said to Trinidad after the fight. “People thought we were old.”
Actually, they still do. The most dominant boxer of the 1990s has reflexes that are fading, but not totally faded — and more than enough to beat another declining dynamo.
Jones (52-4, 38 KOs), the erstwhile pound-for-pound king who had lost three of his past five fights, was content mostly to clown away the early rounds of his first significant victory in four years. When he finally went to work, he knocked down Trinidad in the seventh and 10th, landing a power punch in nearly every exchange.
“He was slipping some really good punches,” Jones said. “I was missing knocking him out by about an inch on some of those shots.”
Trinidad (42-3) hadn’t fought in 32 months since his second retirement.
“I take nothing away from Roy, but if I could have avoided the knockdowns, I think I could have won the fight,” said Trinidad, who hasn’t decided whether he’ll fight again. “Roy was very fast and strong.”
He threw great punches. I have no excuses. He demonstrated speed and took my body.” Judge Julie Lederman scored the bout 117-109 for Jones, while Nelson Vasquez and Tom Kaczmarek saw it 116-110. The Associated Press also called it for Jones, 118-108.
Jones connected on 172 of his 482 punches (36 percent), while Trinidad was 160-for-552 (29 percent). Jones had a big lead in power punches, landing 147 to Trinidad’s 101 — including a commanding 97-52 edge for Jones in power connections over the final seven rounds.
Though Jones hardly earned a title shot with this win, he would love to fight Joe Calzaghe, the unbeaten 168-pound Welsh champion, assuming Calzaghe beats Hopkins in their expected meeting in April. Jones even said he would travel to Europe for the fight, something he’s been reluctant to do throughout his career.
“I’d go to Wales tomorrow,” Jones said
After Jones mostly played defense in the first 2½ rounds, he repeatedly teased Trinidad late in the third, pounding his own stomach and sticking out his chin while doing a jig. Tito was more businesslike, but mostly ineffective against Jones’ defense.
With chants of “Tito!” filling the Garden, Jones finally landed a few damaging punches in the sixth round. Jones then dropped Trinidad to his knees early in the seventh with an overhand right.
Jones soon had control of the fight, sitting back on defense and pounding Trinidad’s head. He floored Trinidad again late in the 10th with a jab and a straight right hand, removing nearly all doubt in the outcome.
Fans were left to wonder what might have happened if these champions had been matched sooner. Though both won armloads of title belts and millions of fans during their primes, Jones and Trinidad were kept apart by obstacles ranging from mandatory title defenses to the jab of Bernard Hopkins, whose upset win over five-time champ Trinidad sank a potential matchup with Jones six years ago.
Both then plummeted from the sport’s elite ranks in 2005 with embarrassing defeats and eroding skills. Trinidad retired for the second time, while Jones was reduced to fighting in Boise and Biloxi — but last year, Trinidad asked promoter Don King for a comeback fight against Jones, the eight-time champion who turned 39 on Wednesday.
Few would argue Jones hasn’t been the same since he fell from his perch as boxing’s pound-for-pound best with three consecutive losses from 2004-05, including knockouts by Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver.
Saturday’s 170-pound catch weight presented potential problems for both fighters: The normally skinny Trinidad had never fought above 160, but Jones hadn’t been as light as 171 since 1998. After winning a heavyweight title in 2003, Jones shed 18 pounds of muscle to make weight in his first fight against Tarver, and the ordeal contributed to his fall from pre-eminence.
Trinidad seemed joyous as he basked in the pre-fight cheers of his fans, but he also wasn’t the same Tito who has enthralled Puerto Ricans and millions of New Yorkers since winning his first welterweight title in 1993. Thousands of those fans turned out at the Garden, yet exorbitant ticket prices kept many more away in a crowd of 12,162, well short of capacity.
Tito still is his native island’s most beloved athlete, judging by the frenetic support from the Madison Square Garden crowd, but the 35-year-old revealed the rust many expected in just his fifth fight in 6½ years, his first since a decisive loss to Winky Wright.
Fighting 10 pounds over his heaviest previous weight, Trinidad couldn’t match even Jones’ diminished skills.