Imagine you’re a typical soft American egghead like Barack Obama or John Kerry and Russia keeps brazenly defying all your hopes in the Middle East by flying military equipment and personnel through Iraqi airspace to Syria to aid President Bashar al-Assad, and you aren’t able to convince Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to block the Russian flights and Russia’s foreign minister is telling the press the flights “will continue” no matter what the U.S. or Iraq does anyway, meaning right under your nose Russia is consolidating the strongest foothold it’s had in the Middle East in decades. What do you do, short of declaring war?
Perhaps if they get desperate enough Obama and Kerry could send Roy Jones Jr. in to cool the situation off. After all the former four-weight boxing champion is on record saying he believes sport, and in particular boxing, can “build a bridge” between the United States and Russia. Plus, the Florida native is now officially a citizen of Russia. On Saturday the Kremlin announced that Jones had been granted Russian nationality and a passport. Now all peace-loving people of the world can just sit back and let Jones’ “boxing diplomacy” do its work.
The declaration of Jones’ new status comes a little less than a month after he expressed his desire for citizenship to Russian President Vladimir Putin over a cup of tea in Crimea, this before running off to make a special appearance at a boxing event in Sevastopol called “The Battle of Mount Gasfort.” Jones told the president, and lover of all the manly arts, that Russian citizenship would make it easier for him to do business in the country, his business being promoting fights, opening boxing schools, and, apparently, developing his rap career. He told the press afterwards he hopes to earn a modest “two or three billion dollars” through his Russian ventures.
Crimea, you remember, is the portion of Ukraine annexed by Russia last March, and Sevastopol is its largest city. Ukraine and most of the international community consider it part of Ukraine; the Russians, meanwhile, claim Sevastopol as part of its Crimean Federal District. They consider Sevastopol and all of Crimea liberated; the Ukrainian government considers the region merely “temporarily occupied.” You say potato …
So here comes Roy Jones Jr., one of the greatest American boxers of the second half of the 20th century, who boxed for the United States in the 1998 summer Olympics in Korea, and a man with absolutely zero diplomatic credentials or experience, sipping tea in an occupied city in an annexed region with the president of the country doing the occupying and the annexing, begging for citizenship even as that president and his country are providing military support to a dictator in the Middle East against whom Jones’ home country has aligned itself. And still some people say the world isn’t a wonderland of possibilities.
And why shouldn’t Jones get a shot? Maybe the U.S diplomatic corps, flummoxed thus far, should let a freshly minted Russian citizen with a gift for self-promotion take a crack at the Russian question. If we know anything about the mischievous Mr. Putin it’s that he is susceptible to the charms and influence of women and men (particularly men) who make their living being tough (or at least acting tough), like action “star” Steven Seagal, female boxing champion (and possible Putin sweetheart?) Natascha “The Sledgehammer” Ragosina, MMA god Fedor Emelianenko, and now Jones. John Kerry, with his lean frame and mopey patrician face, does nothing for a man like Putin. Vlad likes men of strength and muscle. At Jones’ tea party with Putin last month, the president fawned over the boxer: "You were highly successful in boxing, like no one else ... I don't think there have been any others like you in the world. I hope you will succeed in business here in Russia.”
We also hope Jones succeeds in business there in Russia. More than that, though, we hope he succeeds in building a bridge between his two homelands, a task that has eluded and undone so many seemingly more capable men before him. Like Dennis Rodman curating basketball games in North Korea in the name of global understanding, Jones could prove to be just the kind of outside-the-box choice needed to stir the collective hearts and minds of a dictatorship and crack open the great diplomatic fist of the modern Cold War. So where Rodman failed may Jones succeed. And if he doesn’t we can all take heart knowing there’s always going to be a few American “tough guy” celebrities waiting in the wings to do their patriotic duty and declare their love for Vladimir Putin to the world. Maybe this time next year Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst will be bringing peace to the Middle East. Or maybe Sean Hannity will have solved the problem of the Crimean Peninsula. Perhaps the hero will be actor and former boxer Mickey Rourke, who told reporters last year he found Putin to be a “real gentleman, a very cool regular guy [who] looked me right in the eye.” No doubt he heard music playing.
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