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March 21st, 1997. Two undefeated fighters met on this day in a very memorable world title fight as reigning WBC Light Heavyweight Champion and 6-1 betting favorite Roy Jones Jr makes the 1st defense of his WBC crown against 1st time world title challenger, Montell Griffin.
Prefight records; Jones 34(29)-0, Griffin 26(18)-0.
Going into the fight, Jones was a Triple Crown World Champion at Middleweight, Super Middleweight, & Light Heavyweight.
Both fighters have similar backgrounds; trained by their fathers from a very young age and practically grew up in boxing gyms thus both had become highly ring savvy. Additionally, both had unorthodox styles and very good counter punchers.
Going into the fight, Jones had notable victories over Thomas Tate, Merqui Sosa, Eric Lucas, Antoine Byrd, Tony Thornton, Glenn Wolfe, Jorge Castro, Vinny Pazienza, Jorge Vaca, Mike McCallum, Bernard Hopkins & James Toney.
On the other hand, Griffin’s 2 biggest wins were decisions over the great James Toney in 1995 & 1996.
For the 1st time since his pro debut in 1989, Jones was truly challenged as Griffin utilized an effective jab early in the fight with consistent body work to set up his counter punches, coupled with his crouching stance that made him difficult to be hit even with Jones’ unparalleled hand speed.
Jones found himself in uncharted waters during the first few rounds as he was outhit and outboxed for the first time in 35 pro fights, and he was unable to land cleanly due to Griffin’s sharp defensive abilities.
Moreover, Jones’ unwillingness to take punishment allowed Griffin to pin him on the ropes where his body work is most effective, and his counter left hooks most accurate.
By the mid rounds, Jones gradually stepped out of his comfort zone and landed somewhat more precisely; even managed to knocked Griffin down for the first time in his pro career. However, Griffin continued to trouble Jones who still had difficulties landing clean power punches - a problem he’s never faced before.
In the 9th frame, Jones was finally able to wobble Griffin with a huge right hand and would follow up and while being cornered Griffin decided to take a knee voluntarily. However, as Griffin was kneeling on the canvas Jones hit him two power shots that knocked Griffin out cold as Tony Perez counted to 10.
Jones raised his hands, believing he had the fight won.
However, the replays clearly showed that Montell was down for a few seconds before Jones landed the two illegal knockout blows thus the fight was ruled a disqualification in favor of Griffin; as Jones suffers his 1st career setback in 8 years and lost his WBC title.
Interestingly, Griffin’s corner at this time included the legendary Eddie Futch who had twice trained fighters to pull off upsets against undefeated fighters;
1)In March 1971, Futch trained Joe Frazier who go on to upset 31(26)-0 Muhammad Ali via UD15 whilst scoring the famous knockdown with his vaunted left hook in the 15th frame.
2)In November 1992, a prime Riddick Bowe with Futch as his new trainer beat 28(22)-0 Evander Holyfield via UD12 and became only the 2nd fighter to floor Holyfield.
Only this time, Griffin’s victory was via DQ with Eddie Futch in his corner.
CompuBox Stats indicate that Griffin outlanded Jones by about 30 punches, with a greater accuracy rate of 47% over Jones’ 30%. This is also the first time that Jones have been outlanded in a fight.
August 7th, 1997. Both fighters rematched a few months later with Griffin defending his WBC title this time. Having learned from his mistake, Jones decided to take risks this time and made it clear from the get go of his intentions to finish the fight early.
Griffin on the other hand believed he would thrive just as he’s thrived the first time.
In one of his best performances, Jones easily destroyed Griffin scoring 2 knockdowns in 1 round; both times with his patented left hooks. He knocked Griffin into the ropes with a hard lightning quick left hook where Arthur Mercante Sr ruled it a knockdown as the ropes held him up.
Not long after that, Jones threw a devastating leaping left hook that landed flush on Griffin’s chin, who courageously tried to beat the count but without his legs under him he fell back onto the canvas on the opposite end of the ring!
Jones captured his revenge in a highly emphatic fashion.
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Never stop punching guys!