Keeping up with the Joneses

1/29/2004 - Boxing

Roy Jones Jr., may be the best pound for pound boxer in the world. But the title for best byte-for-byte boxer in the world goes to a certain ear-biting former heavyweight, who happens to be linked to the greatest boxing game of all time -- Mike Tyson's PunchOut.

That honor may not belong to Iron Mike much longer, though, now that Jones has teamed up with EA Sports on Fight Night 2004. Due out in March, EA throws out the button-mashing controls we've all become accustomed to in previous boxing games and introduces Total Punch Control, a system that fully utilizes both analog sticks. No longer will the fastest puncher of buttons win. Preconceived combinations that got old quick are a thing of the past. As are generic blocking patterns. Instead, players will have new flexibility to react to an opponent's actions.

EA realized that in order to build a better boxing game -- a more realistic interpretation of the skills required in the ring -- they needed to start from scratch. The end result is a game that provides the refreshing combination of realism and fun. And a cover athlete that is the epitome of breaking the mold. Build a boxer from scratch and you get Roy Jones, Jr., the perfect combination of speed and power.

After going a few rounds with him in Fight Night, I can say he's a quick learner, too.

Jones grew up playing PunchOut and still plays video games with his sons, who often come out on top. But as we both had to adjust to the new control schemes -- in short, the left analog controls body movements and the right analog controls the fists -- it became clear that I was outmatched, now that the game favors those who actually know how to box.

Given his 49-1 record and the numerous titles he's held, it's safe to say: Advantage, Jones.

He was himself. I went big with Lennox Lewis. So, with no disrespect to John Ruiz, this was supposed to be a real heavyweight fight.

That is until the light heavyweight champ found his rhythm. He's hitting me with left hooks, bobbing and weaving, even head-butting me on occasion to keep me honest.

He's either so focused or so good at dodging that when I ask him a question it just hangs in the air unanswered, with the only sounds coming from the analog sticks banging like mad against the control pads. Soon, his body was at a 45-degree angle, practically leaning on me.

He's asking the EA guys to hook him up with an advanced copy. "I need to be good right now," he says. "I need to practice. I gotta be right from the get-right. So as soon as the game comes out, I can sit down and fight people."

They tell him he needs a special console for that, one he doesn't have.

So Jones takes his disappointment out on me. He lands a nasty left on Lewis, whose knees buckle in convincing fashion. Jones then finishes his self-created combo with a right uppercut. Only it doesn't connect because Lewis is already twitching on the mat.

"Ooh, I missed with a good one there," he says, more proud of whiffing than the previous punch that knocked Lewis down.

I was more fascinated with the blood spewing from the big Brit's mouth. Now, with EA paying more attention to the physics of boxing, the damage and deformities inflicted on the boxer all have to do with the actual force and locations of the different punches.

Blood, however, was nothing new to Jones. He's still talking about his would-be combo.

"Look what I missed you with," he continues as his calculated swing replays over and over again from every angle, his voice celebrating at high octaves now.

But Lennox is ready for more. And Jones is smiling even bigger now.

"I like it when they get back up," he says of all his opponents. "Because it doesn't really matter, the result's gonna be the same."

And it was. I managed to knock him down once, but in the end, he was as successful as the Total Punch Control -- he KO'd me in three straight fights, proving I was no competition for him, much like his real-life challengers.

Although, if all goes as he plans, Roy Jones might have a tougher foe in his face sometime soon in Mike Tyson. If not, PunchOut will still be good for something.

Matt Wong is a writer for ESPN Gamer.