With summer having come to an end and the leaves beginning to change color in early fall, Roy Jones Jr. was the dominant force in boxing.
Jones had scored decisive decision victories over Bernard Hopkins and James Toney. Just three months before he dominated and knocked out a tough and determined Vinny Pazienza.
The year was 1995.
On this night, the undefeated Super Middleweight champion faced an opponent who was ranked No. 1 in the division, Tony Thornton. Thornton (37-6-1, 26 KOs) had his hands full with the man many regarded as the best fighter in the world and was tasked with fighting the champion in his backyard. Jones had what amounted to a home field advantage with the bout taking place in Pensacola, Florida.
Known as “The Punching Postman,” Thornton was the Clark Kent of boxers. A postman by day and fighter by night, the 13-year veteran had been in the ring with top fighters like Toney, Chris Eubank and Merqui Sosa.
In the prefight countdown, Larry Merchant described the moment when Thornton was asked, “How do beat a Roy Jones?” Thornton smiled and responded, “You tell me.”
Ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced referee Brian Garry and then the fighters. Thornton received polite applause then, when Jones was introduced, the packed house in the Pensacola Civic Center nearly blew the roof off.
HBO aired the bout live with Merchant, Jim Lampley and George Foreman ready to call the action.
Round 1 began with Thornton slowly plodding forward and moving his head side to side. Wearing blue trunks with white trim, the challenger was making a concerted effort to go to Jones’ body, firing right and left hooks to the midsection of the champion.
Jones was comfortable moving backward and countering with superior hand speed. Outfitted in aqua trunks with black trim, Jones leaped in and out and switched from conventional to southpaw. He made it look as easy as tying his shoes.
It was clear early on that Thornton was having trouble dealing with Jones’ hand speed and the unorthodox attack of the champion. Undaunted, he willed his way forward and continued to bang to the body.
As Round 2 began, Thornton continued his efforts to press the champion. Jones began unloading a left jab, constantly peppering his opponent who was growing increasingly reluctant to fire punches back.
Jones grew more active as the round progressed, leaving Lampley to pick up on the flow and pace of the action. “Now Roy gets fancy as he bolo punches with the right hand. Thornton not quick enough to stop Jones’ combinations.”
With just two seconds remaining in the round, Jones hurdled himself at Thornton with a sweeping left hook that strafed the veteran challengers jaw. The bell sounded as Thornton’s went down, his body descending backwards across the mat.
Thornton had toppled like a large oak tree, his back slamming onto the canvas, then sliding backwards towards the ropes from the impact of the blow. Thornton lay flat on his back with his head underneath the bottom rope as he stared up at the ring lights.
Lampley wailed, “Left hook! It was before the bell! It was before the bell!”
A man who had never been knocked down rose to his feet, noticeably stunned, yet was clear-eyed and ready to continue. After collecting the standing eight count, Thornton had 60 seconds to recover as the second round had ended.
The bell sounded to begin Round 3, signaling Jones to charge forward and go for the kill. Thornton was no longer punching leaving Jones an open path to unleash an arsenal that included straight rights and lefts accompanied by left and right hooks. The punches were neatly wrapped with both hand speed and power, coming at Thornton like a torrential rainstorm.
Lampley howled, “Thornton in trouble! Can’t punch back!” Garry, watching closely, jumped in and halted the onslaught at 0:45 seconds of Round 3. The TKO victory was Jones’ 30th consecutive win.
With the crowd on its feet and roaring its approval, Lampley continued. “Roy Jones utterly destroying an opponent who had never previously been knocked out in a 44-fight career.”
Merchant quipped, “That looked like a 44 punch combination.” Indeed, if you were counting, or trying to, Jones unloaded nearly 50 unanswered punches while Thornton took to the ropes and did all he could to survive. Jones wouldn’t let him out of the corner and then brought down the house.
His body no longer able to respond in the ring as he wanted it to, Thornton retired after losing to Jones. Tragically, in 2009, he was in a motorcycle accident that took his life far too soon. He was just 49. Promoter J. Russell Peltz said of Thornton:
“When people ask me what I think of Tony Thornton, I always tell them he was a wonderful fighter, but he was a better person.”
Jones, a remarkable athlete, fights on. He has won numerous titles and went on to fight at Light Heavyweight, Cruiserweight and Heavyweight. Jones was in the ring just weeks ago, on December 12, losing to Enzo Maccarinelli via a fourth-round knockout.