Boxing

Jones/Tarver II: Roy Jones Jr. will try to silence his critics

12.05.04 - By Paul Ruby - thepaulruby@hotmail.com - Plenty of reasons exist to dislike Roy Jones, Jr. - he fights cautiously and avoids spirited wars in the ring, he mouths off after beating pedestrian opponents, and his talent far exceeds what he’s accomplished in the ring. Still, Roy Jones is the best athlete in boxing today and quite possibly the most naturally gifted fighter in the sport. This Saturday evening, he will take on Antonio Tarver in a rematch of their November thriller on HBO Pay-Per-View.

In their first fight, Jones won a majority decision by scores of 117-111, 116-112, and 114-114. Of those, only the 114-all score was indicative of the tight ebb-and-flow of this battle. Personally, I scored the bout for Jones by a count of 7 rounds to 5 with the decision up for grabs going into the 12th. Antonio Tarver, on the other hand, vociferously disagreed with the judges and employed the age-old ‘look at my face and look at his face’ defense.

The fight was close and difficult to score. Tarver landed harder punches, but was inconsistent. Roy exhibited quick hands and good defense, but let himself get pushed to the ropes too often. Still, Roy Jones showed heart that few expected by coming out and dominating the 12th round when the result could conceivably have still been in question.

Perhaps the reason I’m most excited about this rematch is because both fighters did some things well in their first match, but also made a number of mistakes. The intrigue of this fight lies in each fighter’s game-plan, their ability to make adjustments, and their ability to keep their emotions under control. It will be just as much a chess match as a boxing match. Personally, I favor Roy Jones to emerge victorious. It will most likely be by a Unanimous Decision, but I would not rule out a stoppage between the 9th and 12th rounds. Honestly, I think Antonio Tarver had his chance to definitively defeat Roy Jones and, despite wide scoring the other way, he blew it. In their first match, Tarver came out and clearly won the first round and most likely the second. That’s hard to ignore given how rare it is for Jones to trail on the scorecards. In fact, he’s pitched shutouts in title-fights on more than one occasion- against Reggie Johnson and David Telesco, he won consecutive title bouts 12 rounds to zero on all three scorecards. For some reason, Tarver apparently took off round 3 and, in my opinion, couldn’t regain his early momentum during round 4. He also let Roy Jones dictate the pace and timbre of the closing stanza, which is a huge error in any title fight (ask Oscar de la Hoya). A fighter like Roy Jones can capitalize on any opening he receives, and Tarver gave him plenty.

The conflict in scoring their first fight essentially arose from one of the classic ambiguities of fight scoring. Roy Jones was clearly the more consistent fighter, but he was not always terribly effective. Antonio Tarver, on the other hand, appeared to take breaks throughout the fight, but was the more effective fighter in the ring when he chose to be. Tarver employed the Evander Holyfield method of trying to win rounds by going hard only in 30 second spurts towards the end of rounds. This worked in places because a tired Jones too often allowed himself to be pushed to the ropes and corners where the lankier Tarver did a good job of bearing down on Roy while not smothering his punches and negating his reach advantage.

The important question then becomes ‘What does each man need to do in order to win Saturday night?’

Roy Jones

Roy Jones, Jr. knows that he did not fight his best fight last November in many regards. Apparently, Roy had a harder time than anticipated making the 175 pound limit due to his previous fight taking place at heavyweight. Although Tarver is a physically larger man, Roy Jones has always led a clean and diligent lifestyle and, therefore, this was among the first times he ever had difficulty reducing his weight. I cannot envision weight being an obstacle for Roy this time. Roy has, for years, claimed himself to be the pound-for-pound king and I think he will be looking to re-cement that legacy after his lackluster performance last time out. His ability to do so should be evident as we reach the final third of the fight. If Roy’s hand-speed returns to its usual standard and he is not sucking wind like he was last fight, he should be well on his way to a victory provided he arrives with a solid game-plan.

Jones quite clearly made some tactical errors in their last bout. I feel Roy allowed himself to be pushed to the ropes too often by Tarver. Roy also tired earlier than usual and this particularly affected his lateral movement, which was below par by his standards. Tarver’s southpaw style was also an issue of concern for Roy. The conventional thinking is that against a lefty, it is advisable for the orthodox fighter to throw more right-hand leads than usual. Roy took this tactic perhaps too far in their first bout and needs to return to his bread-and-butter: the left hook. Honestly, this was a major point of confusion for me in their first bout. Roy appeared to be overly defensive with his left hand. While Tarver’s jab is solid, it is unspectacular and his best punch is by far his straight left. Tarver is not a big right hooker, so Jones’ respect for that punch was quite puzzling to me.

Roy Jones would also be advised to throw more effective counter-punches at Tarver in this fight, but he will need to work hard to keep his emotions in check. The first fight was billed as “It’s Personal” and, after a controversial decision, this fight will surely prove even more personal. Both men feel as though they have something to prove. Still, as the more experienced fighter, I would give Roy Jones the edge in this department. The wild-card, though, is that Jones has been frustrated by both taller, lankier opponents and by Southpaws in the past. Both serve to take him out of his in-and-out, quick hands game and cause him to throw either too many bombs or lead rights. Fortunately for Tarver, he is both lanky and left-handed, so he may well be able to frustrate Jones. Another stumbling block for Jones is that he lacks Tarver’s power. Contrary to popular belief, Roy is not a big puncher. Like Zab Judah, his remarkable quickness allows him to land power shots flush that few other fighters could. Still, he does not commit to punching by setting his feet as often as he should, so this could be a source of problems for him.

Antonio Tarver

Antonio Tarver is convinced he won their first fight. He knows he won it. This could work in one of two ways for him. He could either train hard and enter the fight with something to prove, or conversely he could get overconfident and wind up the loser. I would not be surprised by either one, but I suspect he’ll enter the ring with something to prove. The question then becomes ‘Will it be enough?’ Maybe, maybe not. There are a number of things Tarver must improve in order to win the fight (which will probably be easier for him to win than the decision). First, Tarver needs to capitalize on the few openings that Roy gives him. He looked lazy in taking round 3 off after winning the first two. He looked lackadaisical in taking the 12th round of a championship fight off.

I believe Tarver should not look to knock Roy Jones out in this fight, or it will be his own demise. Tarver is capable of winning rounds with sustained energy and an effective jab. Tarver throws combinations off his right jab very well. Tarver’s most effective ploy is to lure right-handers towards him and then nail them with a fairly compact straight left. During most of their first fight, Jones appeared too wise to fall into that trap and Tarver did most of his damage with Roy covering up against the rope. Given his height and reach, it stands to reason that Tarver should be more effective than Jones in the middle of the ring. This really was not the case in their first fight and probably will not be in their second given Jones’ speed, movement, and defense. Still, Tarver must work on establishing his jab. He would be advised to fight less erect than he did the first time around. Tarver may be able to cut off Roy’s movement while firing off his own jab if he can consistently move to his right and get outside Roy’s left foot. To be totally honest, this will be a difficult task because that is one of the moves that sets up the short straight left that is Tarver’s best punch. Roy will look to avoid that trap by utilizing his classic Roy Jones, Jr. pattern of movement.

Two keys to this fight exist for Antonio Tarver. First, he must sustain his effort and energy. Roy Jones rarely loses rounds and does not give them away, so Tarver must ensure that judges score rounds in his favor by fighting three minute rounds and not 45 second spurts. Second, and perhaps most importantly, Tarver must fight with his head and not with his heart. If he tries to walk out all pissed off and beat up Roy Jones, he’s going to getting beaten up himself. Jones is a master of getting his opponents riled up and out of their game. If Tarver is overly aggressive, Roy’s reflexes will allow him to duck under almost all of Tarver’s punches, get inside, counter to the body and head, and then retreat out, circle around, and repeat the pattern. That would certainly make for a long night for Antonio Tarver.

Conclusion

The mental aspect of this fight is just as intriguing as the physical one, in my opinion. The only thing that Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver share is a mutual distaste for one another (that, and they’re both from Florida). The man who conquers his emotions and fights with controlled aggression will have a major advantage in this bout. The other great advantage in this bout will go to the man who keeps his lead foot on the outside. If it is Tarver, he will set up his own jab and combination punching. If it is Jones, he will be able to pop in and out and score with both hands.

Roy Jones possesses too much talent for me to believe he will lose this fight. In their first fight, Tarver proved his most formidable foe (and, yes, I do remember that Griffin was leading on one scorecard at the time of Roy’s DQ). Tarver fought a great fight that night. He backed Roy straight up and landed good power shots when he had him against the ropes. He scored effectively with both hands and backed up much of his talk. That said, Roy did not fight a smart fight that evening. I put very little stock in the weight loss excuse; I simply think Roy had been a decade removed from his last reasonably competitive bout- James Toney- and simply got complacent. Roy showed more heart than many expected in that bout and did what great fighters do- he won a tough match when he was having a bad night. I think Roy will enter the ring with a better game-plan Saturday night. Buddy McGirt will prepare Antonio Tarver very well, but I think that Roy Jones will prove too talented and crafty for his less experienced foe. I fully expect Roy Jones to beat Antonio Tarver by a Unanimous Decision.

Questions, Comments: thepaulruby@hotmail.com

Article posted on 12.05.2004



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