YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Master Sgt. Rick Roberts watched his TV attentively in his Yokota west side garden apartment as Roy Jones Jr. beat John Ruiz last Saturday for the WBA heavyweight title in Las Vegas.

His interest was personal: In October 2001, while stationed in Florida, Roberts, a former three-time Japan Boxing Commission champion, once sparred with Jones for two rounds in a Pensacola gym.

“He’s a very nice guy, down to earth, very likeable,” Roberts said of Jones, the first fighter since the 19th century to win middleweight and heavyweight titles and just the second light heavyweight champion to win a share of the heavyweight title.

Roberts, assigned to Hurlburt Field, Fla., at the time, was training for a record 22nd defense of his JBC lightweight title when Jones visited the gym in Pensacola, his hometown.

Roberts was preparing for a November 2001 title defense against Yudai Shimada at Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall. Jones “was helping a junior middleweight get ready for a fight,” Roberts recalled, adding that he and Jones both sparred with the junior middleweight for two rounds each.

Then, a gym handler suggested that Roberts get in the ring with Jones. “I guess he had heard about the lightweight champion of Japan,” said Roberts, 37, of New York, who amassed a 38-4-2 record with 20 knockouts in a 15-year career in the Far East.

Roberts recalls the session vividly.

“He’s very fast, and of course, outweighed me by 40 pounds at the time,” Roberts said. He declined to speculate on how well he’d do against Jones in a real fight but said, “I think I held my own. I’m quite sure I held my own.”

Regarding his career, Roberts said a return to the ring is still up in the air. He hasn’t fought since losing a 12-round decision to Masakazu Satake on March 10, 2002, for the Orient & Pacific Boxing Federation junior-welterweight title at Tokyo’s Budokan.

“I’m going back and forth,” Roberts said, adding that he continues to work out during his off-duty hours at the Ishikawa Gym in Akishima, near Yokota, under the watchful eye of his longtime mentor, Seiichi Ishikawa.

JBC rules stipulate that no fighter older than 36 can be licensed in Japan. “It’s still a question mark. Will I get a license here? We’ll discuss it and see which way we’ll go.”

Roberts goes back to Korakuen occasionally to watch fights and admits the “itch” is still there.

“It’s always going to be there,” he said. “I know I’m getting older, but I know I still have a few fights left in me.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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