The odds of being struck by lightning hover somewhere around one in 3,000. In the sometimes bizarre world of boxing, lightning often strikes when we least expect it.
On March 21, 1997, Roy Jones Jr. met Montell Griffin in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Jones’ 175 pound WBC Light Heavyweight Championship was on the line.
Both men were undefeated, and although Griffin held the WBU Light Heavyweight crown, Jones was recognized by most fans as well as The Ring as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
A highly decorated amateur, Jones won the United States National Junior Olympics at 119 pounds in 1984. In 1986 he won the 139 pound National Golden Gloves title. In 1988, Jones represented the United States in the Seoul Olympics. His performance was dominating as he won every round in reaching the finals where he met South Korean Park Si-Hun.
After Jones battered Park for three rounds, outlanding him 86 punches to 32, the judges inexplicably awarded the decision victory to Park. The International Olympic Committee launched an investigation amid cries for Jones to be awarded the Gold Medal he deserved. The IOC stood by the decision and Jones left Seoul with a Silver Medal.
Jones then turned professional in May of 1989. Many of his fights aired live on national networks like HBO and USA Network as he grew into a larger than life figure. He had reeled off 34 straight wins and had scored multiple victories over many household names.
In 1993, Jones won his first major title in beating Bernard Hopkins for the IBF Middleweight title. He thumped James Toney in 1994 earning the IBF Super Middleweight crown. In 1996, Jones added a third title when he defeated Mike McCallum for the WBC Light Heavyweight championship.
Along the way, Jones had earned victories over Vinny Pazienza, Merqui Sosa and Tony Thornton. Next on the agenda was the durable Griffin.
After competing in the 1992 United States Amateur Boxing Championships, Griffin began his professional career in February 1993. He twice beat James Toney by scoring a majority decision, then a unanimous decision. Griffin won the NABF Light Heavyweight crown in July of 1996 with an 11th-round knockout over Matthew Charleston.
The Trump Taj Mahal hosted their first meeting as the bout aired live on HBO. Fans witnessed Griffin controlling much of the early action and Jones making adjustments as the fight found its way into the middle rounds.
After eight rounds were complete, Jones led on all three scorecards, however, the action was closer than many had anticipated. The scorecards read 76-75, 76-75 and 77-75.
The ninth round saw Griffin moving forward and attacking as Jones was moved backwards and was not countering. With exactly one minute left in the round, Jones landed a big right hand that shook Griffin. As Griffin was now in full reverse, Jones landed a myriad of right hands and left hooks.
With no place to go, Griffin took a knee near the corner against the ropes. While on a knee and before referee Tony Perez stepped in, Jones landed another right hand immediately followed by a vicious left hook to Griffin’s jaw. Griffin slumped face first to the canvas as Perez counted to 10. As Jones walked around the ring hands above his head, the HBO team was exasperated. Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and Gil Clancy all recognized immediately that Griffin was on a knee when the final two punches landed.
Lampley quickly threw it over to Harold Lederman for a rules interpretation. Lederman immediately weighed in, “Jim, in my mind, there is absolutely no question that Tony Perez has just cause to disqualify Roy Jones Jr. In my eyes, absolutely he fouled him. Griffin seemed to be down on one knee and Jones knocked him out when he was on the floor!”
Merchant then communicated to the fans watching at home that there was a discussion in the ring led by New Jersey State Commissioner Larry Hazard. Merchant’s voice then reached a near shouting level, “We are being told that Roy Jones is going to be disqualified and lose his title!”
Ring announcer Mark Beiro then announced to the crowd and all of those in television land that Jones was indeed disqualified and Griffin was in fact the new champion.
Clearly, Griffin was on one knee at the time Jones struck him. Jones would argue that he couldn’t tell if Griffin was down and was about to fire back at him and didn’t feel the referee anywhere hear him. He told Merchant immediately after the fight, “I wasn’t sure he was down. I didn’t have time to think and see whether he was down. I thought he was down and he might come back at me. I wasn’t looking at his knees. I was looking at his face.”
An immediate rematch was agreed to by both camps. The Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Connecticut would host the rematch on a Thursday night, August 7, 1997. The bout was aired both live on closed-circuit television and HBO’s pay-per-view arm, TVKO.
Promoted and billed as “Unfinished Business”, a sell-out crowd of 4,500 fans would see Griffin make his first title defense as a five to one underdog. Lampley, Merchant and Big George Foreman were ringside to call the nights action.
The 28-year-old Jones (34-1, 29 KOs) had promised revenge, vengeance and relentless aggression. At 27, Griffin (27-0, 18 KOs) looked to repeat all that had worked in their first meeting.
After ring announcer Michael Buffer’s introductions, referee Arthur Mercante provided instructions at mid ring. Jones, wearing black trunks, charged at Griffin from the opening bell. His first punch, a solid left hook, threw Griffin backward. Griffin, decked in all red, tried to steady himself and fire back. Jones then launched a second left hook and continued to press the assault.
Just 20 seconds into the action, a third left hook rocked Griffin from one side of the ring to the other. Mercante immediately ruled it a knockdown. The ropes clearly kept Griffin from not only going down, they kept him from being launched into the fifth row at ringside.
After Mercante’s standing eight count, Jones again went on the attack. His primary weapon continued to be the left hook as he fired it repeatedly. Jones continued to stalk as Griffin was in full retreat looking to counter where he could.
With 40 seconds remaining in the first round, Jones launched a howitzer, a leaping left hook that landed flush on Griffin’s chin. Griffin lurched backward and landed flat on his back. His head tilted forward, he frantically looked for the referee as his face was a mask of bewilderment.
Foreman shrieked, “Whoa what a left hook! What a left hook!” As Griffin tried desperately to get to his feet, he clearly had no balance as he went back down face first. Again he tried to rise as shades of Trevor Berbick was on the minds of boxing fans everywhere. Griffin’s sense of balance had left his body as he staggered to his feet and again crashed to the deck.
As Mercante feverishly rushed to grasp Griffin while signalling a halt to the action, Lampley screamed, “And that’s that! Jones gets his vindication via a first round knockout!”
The bout was over at 2:31 of the very first round.
As Jones celebrated, the four-time champion was hoisted skyward in the ring by friends and supporters. Griffin made his way to his corner where he sat on his stool still dazed.
After the beating, an animated Jones would say, “”I’m still number one! I came here to get one thing. You can beat me, but don’t steal something from me. If you take something from me, I’m coming to get you.”
Lightening did not strike twice as Jones got his revenge.