Is Roy Jones Jr. the greatest fighter pound-for-pound?
Or the greatest waste of talent round-for-round?
Is Jones a great fighter who loves to dance?
Or a great dancer who hates to fight?
Is he simply so good that he makes his opponents look bad?
Or were they simply bad to start with?
Perhaps no boxer has ever been subjected to such adulation and such criticism at the same time. This is a man who was named fighter of the decade for the 1990s, yet also has been accused of throwing away his chance for true greatness by failing to meet great fighters or carve out momentous victories.
Jones, the undisputed light-heavyweight champion, will face Julio Gonzalez of Huntington Beach in tonight's main event at Staples Center. It's the kind of fight that figures to bolster the argument of both sides.
Jones (44-1, 36 knockouts) is a 20-1 favorite to retain his title against the unheralded Gonzalez (27-0, 17), a hard puncher, but a slow mover who appears to be in over his head against Jones.
Promoter Bob Arum calls Gonzalez "the best light-heavyweight in the world, with the exception of Jones."
Kids, and promoters trying to sell tickets, say the darndest things.
The reality is that, although Gonzalez packs a powerful punch and showed earlier this year he can take one as well, getting up after three knockdowns to defeat Julian Letterlough, he probably never will get the chance to demonstrate his strength against Jones. With hand speed that leaves opponents looking at a blur as they get a taste of his gloves, and foot speed that leaves opponents swinging at thin air, Jones is not about to stand around and compare power with Gonzalez.
"I don't get caught in the hoopla of trying to be the toughest guy," Jones said, "of trying to prove who is the badder guy. Don't get me wrong, I'll fight. I'll fight toe-to-toe to the death if I need to. So far, I have never needed to."
So Jones probably will put on a ballet performance tonight, pile up the points and, when it is over, his supporters will say he was too good for Gonzalez and Jones' detractors will say he should have been fighting a more talented foe.
Jones' supporters can look at his list of opponents and point to 12 former, current or future world champions, including Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Virgil Hill, Reggie Johnson, Vinny Pazienza and Mike McCallum.
Jones' detractors can point to all of his fights of the '90s, supposedly his decade, and dare anyone to point out a memorable match, a memorable punch, a memorable moment.
His biggest blow was an illegal punch, landed against Montell Griffin when Griffin already was down in a 1997 fight in Atlantic City. That resulted in a disqualification for Jones and his only loss. Jones got a quick rematch and got his revenge, knocking out Griffin in the first round five months later in Ledyard, Conn.
So is Jones a great fighter?
"No," said a man who should know, hall of fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who has worked the corner of many world-class fighters over the last three decades. "To be a great fighter, you have to be in big fights. It's not Roy's fault. He came along at a bad time. It's unfortunate. He may be the most talented. I feel sorry for him because he doesn't have anybody to fight.
"I don't think he ducked anybody. He has more consecutive victories over world champions than any other fighter, but the public doesn't know who they are."
Steward also has a problem with Jones' style.
"He's a very defensive fighter," Steward said, "because he's afraid of being hurt, so afraid that he may never attain greatness. You've got to get in there. He has tremendous athletic ability, but he has never developed into what the public expected of him as champion."
Jones says his defensive style is necessary because his hands are brittle.
"My hands ain't that healthy at all," Jones said. "A lot of times, I get a guy in a pretty good situation, but I've got to chill out. . . .
"If I keep on, my hands would be so broke up, I wouldn't be able to fight any more. I can't do that. I'm trying to get myself to last through this game. I used to mess with my hands, but I realized, if I kept up at that pace, if I ever got in a big fight, I wouldn't have any guns left."
Fair enough, a win is a win, but that doesn't explain why Jones has lowered the level of opposition so much in recent years. He has fought a policeman, a mailman and a schoolteacher. His last four fights have been against David Telesco, Richard Hall, Eric Harding and Derrick Harmon.
Jones' supporters are quick to point out he is stuck in a division that has historically suffered from a lack of talent.
But the public doesn't buy that argument. And fans haven't shown much interest in buying Jones' fights either. He has been on pay-per-view telecasts only four times in his 12-year career, drawing 320,000 for his match against Toney, but never more than 150,000-175,000 for the others. The national media has even stopped following Jones around.
And a group on the Internet has organized a Roy-cott, asking fans not to buy tonight's telecast to protest Jones' lack of tough opposition.
"I'm glad they ain't got nothing better to do than to try to start a Roy-cott," Jones said. "If they had something better to do, they wouldn't be messing with Roy. If that's what makes them happy, come on, I can take it. If they ain't killed me this far, they are not going to kill me now. I live for God and God only. I don't live for people. They can do whatever they want to do to me. It don't bother me."
Redemption could be on the way. Jones seems on a collision course with Felix Trinidad, the hottest fighter in boxing and the man many feel is truly the best pound-for-pound.
But whoever Jones fights, it will be his way. When a reporter asked him if he would consider getting off his toes and slugging it out with an opponent, Jones replied, "If someone said they wanted to see you do an interview over a volcano, would you do it?"
In tonight's opponent, Gonzalez, Jones will be facing someone who can't move much faster than flowing lava, but feels he has the tools to erupt against Jones.
"I'm going to put a lot of pressure on him," Gonzalez said. "I am taller [by three inches], and I have longer arms. I have to use my physical skills. I have to try everything because Roy Jones is the greatest fighter out there. If that doesn't work, I will have to figure out something in my corner with my trainer."
Good luck. Probably Gonzalez's best chance for victory is to emulate Griffin by getting on his knees and hoping Jones hits him illegally. Don't laugh. It's the only thing that has worked against Jones so far.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Staples Center, tonight, 6
* Light-heavyweight: Roy Jones Jr. vs. Julio Gonzalez.
* Featherweight: Erik Morales vs. Injin Chi.
* Welterweight: Andrew Lewis vs. Ricardo Mayorga.
Tale of the Tape
ROY JONES JR. JULIO GONZALEZ 44-1 (36) Record (KOs) 27-0 (17) 32 Age 24 173 Weight 174 1/4 5-11 Height 6-2 74 Reach 79 38 Chest (normal) 39 40 Chest (expanded) 41 15 Biceps 14 12 Forearm 11 32 Waist 34 22 Thigh 21 15 Calf 14 15 Neck 17 7 Wrist 7 11 Fist 12