Roy Jones, Jr., once the best boxer in the world, officially applied for a Russian passport. He discussed Russian citizenship over a cup of tea with President Vladimir Putin in Crimea.
“I feel very popular in this country, like Michael Jackson in America,” stated Jones. “Russians’ attitudes cannot but inspire love, that’s why I want to be with this [sic] people.”
Jones is in Crimea to attend a boxing card on Sunday. He explained with a passport “it would be a lot easier for me to come and go, because people love sport here, and so I love this place.” Putin agreed Jones would be very popular at sporting events in Russia.
“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,” Putin exclaimed. “If you intend to tie a significant part of your life to activities in Russia, we will, of course, be happy and we will gladly grant your request for Russian citizenship.”
Jones fought as perhaps the best light-heavyweight in boxing history. He defeated the likes of Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, and Virgil Hill between 160 and 175 pounds before moving up to heavyweight to wrest a title from beltholder John Ruiz in 2003. Despite his prime occurring more than a decade ago, Jones continues his career in the ring with two fights scheduled over the next month. He wants to keep his U.S. citizenship and use his status as a sports star to “‘build a bridge’ between the United States and Russia,” where he has fought three times in the last five years.
The relationship between Russia and the West dipped to Cold War levels after Russian forces invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. The U.S., EU, and NATO do not recognize the annexation and still consider the Black Sea peninsula a part of Ukraine. East Ukraine is still a warzone as pro-Russian rebels and Russian soldiers battle Ukrainian forces for control.
Jones is not the first celebrity to drool over Putin. Mickey Rourke, who dabbled in boxing in the midst of an acting career, stood in line for two hours to purchase a Putin t-shirt.
“If I didn’t like him, I wouldn’t buy the T-Shirt,” he said. “I have met Putin a couple of times. He is a real gentleman, very cool, a regular guy. I have a Russian girlfriend, you know, that’s all I care about. Her father is a good person, her mother is great, her babushka is wonderful. To me it is all about family, I don’t give a fuck about politics.”
Steven Seagal is also a close friend of Putin, who he considers “one of the great living world leaders.” He attended Moscow’s massive WWII victory celebration back in May.
French actor Gerard Depardieu moved to Russia to avoid an enormous tax hike for millionaires in France. Putin presented him with a Russian passport in January 2013 as they two dined in Sochi.
“I love your president Putin and that is reciprocated,” he told Russian journalists.