ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- As the sport continues to drift and descend further and further away from the mainstream, Roy Jones Jr., a super-middleweight with an entertainer's soul, has crossover dreams.
On the eve of Jones' International Boxing Federation title defense last night against prohibitive underdog Vinny Pazienza, the people from Nike were in the last negotiating stages of a deal that would lift Jones into their accesorized kingdom -- joining Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and other pop culture stars.
Boxers, of course, usually fit more comfortably into scandalous headlines and probation terms than into sponsorship campaigns. Anger sells fights, not sneakers.
But, the combination of Jones' hand speed and grace in the ring and his quick-witted public personality, has set him apart from his more sullen compatriots.
"Well, somebody has to be different," Jones said. "Michael Jordan plays basketball with creativity. That's what I try to do. I fight with creativity."
Just about Jones' only problem, as evidenced by having to take a $3 million-$2 million split with Pazienza, who has almost no chance to even be competitive, is the current lack of top, crowd-pleasing competitors.
Jones, 26, swept the ring with then-IBF champion James Toney in a lopsided unanimous decision victory last November, and even if Nigel Benn or any of the other middleweight or super-middleweight champions would agree to fight him, Jones is clearly the class of the class.
Until a genuinely threatening opponent for him can be found, Jones can satisfy himself with the potential endorsement deals.
"The Nike contract is much much better than anything in boxing," Jones said.
"Most of the guys want to talk bad about people, talk on TV, do that kind of stuff. Nobody likes to lose, but if I did lose, you saw what happened to me in the Olympics. You've got to be able to win as well as lose. That's a great champion. Sugar Ray Leonard lost, but lost as a great champion. One thing I didn't like was [Julio Cesar] Chavez, because he didn't lose as a champion.
"I think because of what I'm doing, a lot of guys will start to follow. If I can get Nike, stay a free agent, that'll encourage guys to act better."