- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Roy Jones Jr. has always been closely associated with his beloved hometown of Pensacola, Fla., but he hasn't fought there in 10 years. That's about to change.
Jones, the all-time great former champion in four divisions who turned 40 last Friday, will face Omar Sheika at the Pensacola Civic Center on March 21 in a light heavyweight fight, John Wirt, CEO of Jones promotional company Square Ring, told ESPN.com Monday, confirming a report last week on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
"We've done a deal with Sheika," Wirt said. "I think it's a great fight for Roy and we're excited to be able to do it in his hometown. I know Roy is excited to bring a quality event to Pensacola."
Although Jones (52-5, 38 KOs) lost a lopsided decision to champion Joe Calzaghe in New York on Nov. 8, he has no intention of retiring just yet, Wirt said.
"Roy hasn't fought in Pensacola since 1999 and he really wanted to bring a fight home to his fans," Wirt said.
In a twist, Wirt said the pay-per-view card would include mixed martial arts bouts along with boxing matches.
"We're working on that right now," Wirt said. "By combining Roy's boxing match and other boxing matches with MMA fights, we are planning on drawing from both boxing and MMA fan bases. We believe that the demographics of boxing and MMA are distinct, so we are trying to introduce boxing fans to MMA and MMA fans to boxing. That's the business model."
Boxing matches and MMA bouts have appeared together on shows from time to time, but not at the top level of either sport or on a pay-per-view basis.
"We believe the biggest market out there of boxing is MMA fans and this gives them an opportunity to see a quality boxing event," Wirt said. "It also gives boxing fans a chance to see some compelling MMA matches. We're still putting the rest of the card together but Roy believes this is a good business opportunity."
Wirt said the Florida commission has given Square Ring the green light for a show combining both sports. The MMA matches, Wirt said, will take place in a traditional boxing ring. However, he said a fifth rope will be added to the ring and the ring apron will be extended by a few feet to make it more unlikely that any MMA competitors, who often grapple on the ground, would fall out of the ring.
Jones hasn't fought in Pensacola since knocking out Richard Frazier in the second round on Jan. 9, 1999, in defense of the light heavyweight championship.
Sheika (27-8, 18 KOs), who turns 32 on Feb. 20, has been in numerous exciting fights and had several title opportunities. However, he is 0-4 in super middleweight world title challenges, suffering a fifth-round TKO loss to Calzaghe in 2000 and decision losses to Eric Lucas (2002), Jeff Lacy (2004) and Markus Beyer (2005).
Since losing to Beyer in September 2005, Sheika has fought just once, a fourth-round knockout of journeyman Tiwon Taylor in September 2007 on the Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor I undercard.
But the fight with Jones came together quickly, said Mike Borao of Sheika promoter Hirsch-Borao Promotions.
"I called John about a month ago and I just said that when Roy needs a comeback fight, why don't we do Sheika," Borao said. "Omar is a tough competitor who can't be in a bad fight. John said, 'Let me think about it,' and he called back a couple of weeks later and was interested. I spoke to Omar and we pretty much locked up as quickly as we could. We didn't want to lose the opportunity. Omar is pumped about it. He believes that with all the injuries he's had, his hand, his elbow, that he is finally healthy and ready to make the most of it."
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.