When super-middleweight champion Roy Jones Jr., turned his advertised ring war with James Toney last November into a virtuoso performance, boxing writers were quick to anoint him the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Vinny Pazienza, a two-time former champion who never met a myth he believed he couldn't puncture, seemed almost gleeful to find himself fighting Jones in Atlantic City's Convention Hall tomorrow night.
"Obviously, Jones is a great fighter," said Pazienza, a 10-to-1 underdog. "He's fast and he can hit. But 'pound-for-pound' doesn't mean anything except in grocery stores and delis. You need a special scale to measure a man's heart and guts."
Despite Pazienza's bravura, a number of knowledgeable boxing men believe the unbeaten Jones (28-0, 24 KOs) may be too good for his own good, with no real challenges left at 160 or 168 pounds.
"He reminds me of a young Muhammad Ali," said veteran trainer and ringside analyst Gil Clancy. "He's got so much talent, he can break the rules.
"He leans back to avoid punches rather than slip them, and he lunges past the other guy's punches to throw his own and gets away with it. He's just a natural."
Added Sugar Ray Leonard, the flashy former champion with whom Jones is often compared, "He does everything instinctively. I'm not sure he knows what he's doing; he simply does it."
Like the way he knocked out Thomas Tate in May, 1994. Jones, 26, moved in with his left hand extended. When Tate prepared to counter with a right, Jones quickly delivered a vicious left hook that finished Tate in the second round.
"My left hand won the race. Very fundamental," Jones said. "Beat the man to the punch."
Jones lacks the boy-next-door charisma of a Leonard and the brash boastfulness of a Toney or Hector Camacho, but he fully believes in his boxing talent.
Asked if he is more deserving of being called the best "pound-for-pound" fighter than Pernell Whitaker, who has won titles at 135, 140, 147 and 154 pounds, Jones replied phlegmatically, "Pernell is a great boxer, but I can box and punch. That's why I'm the most complete fighter today."
This lofty goal was set for Jones from the time his father, Roy Sr., an undistinguished middleweight in the 70s, first laced gloves on his chosen son as a 4-year old.
"Big Roy's" obsessiveness helped to mold a future champion, but also led to a bitter separation.
Roy Jr., who fired his father as his trainer in 1993 and cut himself free of all promotional ties, recalled the trauma of his childhood days in Pensacola, Fla., when he was consistently whipped for not meeting Big Roy's expectations.
As he told Boxing Illustrated, "Most days, we'd train from 4 in the afternoon 'til 10 at night, and even longer on weekends. I'd try to fight him, but just get pushed around. I went to bed crying three out of five days. I even thought about killing myself.
"From the age of 10 to 15, I had welts on my legs and butt all the time. I could take the beatings. But it was more than that. A lot of times he'd slap me just to embarrass me. He thought it would make me mentally strong. But I knew some day I'd have to get away from him."
Roy Sr. does not deny the beatings, saying they were justified.
"It takes years of hard work to build a fighter, even the Alis and Tysons," he said. "You just don't pick things up naturally. The only way Roy knows what he does is because of the way he learned it. It's been drilled into him.
"He didn't get no tanning he didn't need. In the gym, you'd see me with a bat to keep the bluff on him. If I gave him three beatings, he needed five. That's the only reason he is where he is."
Perhaps it was his father's fixation that has kept Jones from bonding with any of the high-powered promoters -- Don King, Bob Arum and Dan Duva.
"It shouldn't be that these guys are making more money than the fighters," said Jones, who earned an estimated $3 million for his lopsided victory over Toney.
After that fight, Jones ;severed relations with Arum.
"Nobody will look out for your interests as well as you will yourself," Jones said. "That's why I try to stay on top of my business."
And it is also why Jones refuses to look past the gutty Pazienza.
"Guys like Tyson and Toney claimed they were unbeatable," he said. "But they learned that you can't underestimate anyone.
"I hope Pazienza makes it a tougher fight than people expect. It will bring out the best in me. I'm never satisfied. I know I can still get better," said Jones, still trying to bury his past.
Who: Roy Jones (28-0, 24 KOs), Pensacola, Fla. vs. Vinny Pazienza (40-5, 37 KOs), Providence, R.I.
What: For Jones' International Boxing Federation super-middleweight title.
When: Tomorrow night, 9
Where: Atlantic City (N.J.) Convention Center
Tickets: $300, $200, $100, $50
TV: TVKO pay-per-view, $24.99