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Still Roy After All These Years

Roy Jones Jr. says he is not the fighter he used to be. Somebody forgot to tell the admiring mobs.

Say what you want about the 2008 version of Roy Jones Jr. -- just don't say it to his fans.

Despite losing three of his last five fights, the 39-year-old Jones has demonstrated, in the weeks leading up to his fight with Felix Trinidad Jr., that he can still draw mobs of adoring fans wherever he goes. Jones, voted Boxer of the Decade for the 1990s by the Boxing Writers Association of America, still has that unmistakable mystique.

Eight weeks ago, Jones and Trinidad held autograph signing sessions for rank and file ESPN staffers at the network's cafeteria, a routine promotion for the fight. The response, however, was far from routine.

"We bumped into ESPN producer David Brofsky on our way there," said Alan Hopper, the Director of Publicity for Don King Productions, which is promoting this fight. "David said 'I just walked by there -- they're lined up around the building.' They signed for nearly two hours. I couldn't believe how many people went out and bought gloves and brought them to be signed."

The turnout was even more impressive on Dec. 6, when Jones and Trinidad - who, too, retains his charismatic sway over fans - arrived at Eglin Air Force Base and adjoining Hulbert Field in Florida. Over 1,000 airmen and -women turned out, filling an airplane hanger as they waited for autographs.

"Roy and Felix were willing to stay for hours if we wanted," said Lois Walsh of the base's public affairs office. "They didn't cut off anybody. They made three stops here, starting at 1 p.m., and they stayed until 7 p.m."

At the base's largest dining room, The Breeze, nearly 500 uniformed personnel turned out, some with husbands and wives and children in strollers. They carried boxing gloves, headgear, American flags, photos and many other memorabilia to be autographed.

Lt. Jonathan Thompson, the officer in charge of food operations at The Breeze, was among them. "I used to watch a lot of boxing, and Roy Jones was like a Michael Jordan. His hand speed was incredible. I have a buddy in the Coast Guard and I called him and told him Roy was coming here. He said, 'You are going to be meeting one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in history.'"

Though Thompson was impressed by Jones' easygoing attitude, he also saw something special in the fighter. "We have explosive ordinance troops, the guys who go in with Navy Seals and dismantle road side bombs," he said. "They have a mystique about them, a confidence in their ability. I see that in Roy."

Jones, a longtime basketball fan and sometimes player for the minor league Jacksonville Barracudas, also made a special trip to Madison Square Garden last month to meet with the Knicks during a practice session.

The boxer planned to visit with the players after they finished practice, but the Knicks' head coach, Isiah Thomas, waved him over to take part in a full-court, three-man weave drill with the team.

"I was a little rusty, but I wasn't going to say no to coach Isaiah," said Jones, who once played 13 minutes and scored six points for the Barracudas the same day of a world title fight. (That night, he scored a technical knockout over Eric Lucas in the 12th round.)

The Knicks' guard, Nate Campbell, was especially taken with Jones. "Roy Jones is a boxing great," he said. "He didn't have to come out here with us. It just goes to show what kind of guy he is."

Just walking over to the Garden, Hopper said, made it clear just how big Roy Jones is. "People immediately recognized him -- from cars, from across the street. They were yelling that he was going to win, everywhere we went."

For his fans' predictions to be right, Jones will have to draw on more than just the physical gifts that made him one of the great middleweights of all time. He recently assessed himself in Men's Fitness magazine: "Power is not as sharp as it used to be. I've become more economical, so I only throw power shots where I need them and when I need them. Speed is about the same. Reflexes are a little bit different. You don't see as much coming as you used to see, or as quick as you used to see it."

But Larry Merchant -- the longtime HBO commentator who has had his share of differences with Jones over the years, both as a fighter and an announcing partner - says that the Jones Mystique is bigger than any single fight.

"He was discovered by the public while young. He was on top for a long time, and he had a distinctive, personal, often sensational style," Merchant said. "He was at his best as a young middleweight and then he beat a heavyweight to show he could do it, at the end. Roy Jones, Jr. wasn't like anyone else."

"He was discovered by the public while young. He was on top for a long time, and he had a distinctive, personal, often sensational style," Merchant said. "He was at his best as a young middleweight and then he beat a heavyweight to show he could do it, at the end. Roy Jones, Jr. wasn't like anyone else."

Felix Trinidad vs Roy Jones Jr.

HBO PPV - Jan. 19, 2008

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