Roy Jones Jr. has to Earn a Rematch: If He Wants to Fix His Future, He has to Fix His Past

24.05.04 - By Jason Peck: The thoughts of the boxing community immediately turn to a rematch; they need to definitive proof that Tarver defeated Roy Jones Jr. But if such a rematch happens, it should not be guaranteed Jones. A rematch is something he must earn. It is, after all, only poetic justice. Prior to his loss, Jones made a point of avoiding difficult fights and another point of dominating mismatched opponents. One wonders what would have happened if Jones had never vacated his titles to fight Ruiz, thus forcing hi to reclaim them from Tarver.

No, his loss was far from an upset. Tarver had already battled Jones in a controversial decision, and proved his salt in doing so. Despite the rapid vocals of Jones' hardcore fans, Jr's future was hardly secure. An "upset" is still something like Tyson-Douglas, where the latter pulled a victory from nothing, or Forest-Mayorga, where HBO commentators had to convince audiences that upsets are possible just to keep them from leaving.

This marks a new era in Jones' career, at long last the point where he's the one with something to prove, and can no longer duck the tough fights.

And those next few fights must be tough, Jones can no longer duck the criticism either. Over the years he built a credibility that relied on established superiority. When a man is supposed to be that good, when people say he is that good, how can he not be incredible. You could almost think that in dispatching Clinton Woods or John Ruiz he defeated serious threats to his career record, and not bother to look at his opponents. Now that there is a crack in the armor, fans will look through it, and may not like the man inside

The real strength of Jr. was his ability to reach out to those who didn't particularly follow boxing. When he fought John Ruiz, he played off the popular notion that heavyweights represent boxing's elite-- the best and brightest warriors on the planet. From time to time that may have been true, but I've seen flashlights brighter than Ruiz.

The Tarver loss brings this fight up to an examination, and forces even mainstream boxing "fans" to reexamine whether it really is such a big deal to defeat a man who weighs a few pounds more than you do.

Any suggestions for a comeback? I've got a few and they aren't pretty. Years of trash-talking and hype have left Jones with few places to go. But if he really wants to reclaim his dignity, he has to fight for it, and the best way to do so involves looking backwards to the fights he should have fought, and the unfinished business he left behind.

If he wants to fight light heavyweights again, I suggest he take on Dariusz Michalczewski, who Jones dodged for years. This time they might have something in common; Dariusz lost big as well. Both are damaged goods with something to prove.

If he wants to fight a little higher, I suggest he take on James Toney. Jones beat Toney years ago when Toney was a mere super middleweight, a 168-pound shadow of his current self. But Toney is obviously something else now; fifty extra pounds suit him just fine, as his resounding victories over Vassily Jirov and Evander Holyfield have shown. At 35, Toney's career is taking off. At 35, Jones' is plummeting. Surely Toney would not hesitate to avenge his loss. I'd imagine Jones would like this one too; he claimed an inadequate performance in the first Tarver fight on account of losing weight, but never claimed a bad performance on account of gaining it.

But perhaps Jr. is now looking for a way out, an option that has also been suggested. If so, I suggest he take a lesson in graceful exits from Oscar De La Hoya.

Say what you will of De La Hoya, he understands the truth of boxing, that every fighter can win in one of two ways: triumphant victory or glorious defeat. He plans to retire after his last fight with Bernard Hopkins, one he can easily lose. But as Ready as Oscar is to retire, he will not retire gently, and his retirement will retain the grace due a true champion.

A boxer can win in defeat, that's a valuable lesson. But take De La Hoya one step further to what Jones' next move ought to be: Bernard Hopkins, Jones' other arch-nemesis.

The last time they battled was in 1993, when Jones squeaked out a tough tactical victory. By all rights a rematch was due to Hopkins (and the fans, let us not forget that) but Jones, claiming that he had proved himself, immediately retreated to a weight class that didn't have Bernard Hopkins in it. Hopkins claimed his titles and became the first undisputed middleweight champion since Marvin Hagler. By this point the has more title defenses than any other middleweight in history, but the only battles he has with Jones are when the boxing experts struggle to determine the best pound-for-pound fighter alive.

The rematch has been halted due to pressure on both sides. Jones says it's all about money; Hopkins won't split the purse 50-50. After all, Hopkins says, what do I have to prove? Jones has always had the upper hand, for he has always had the bigger name and reputation. But now he has no excuse, and both fighters may finally get the closure they need to prove their status as the best boxer alive. I hope this one will happen, but no rush. Maybe Jones can't beat the clock, but 39-year old Hopkins already has.

Regardless, the fights will be tough. Jones certainly can't go back to fighting the Clinton Woods of the world anymore. The evidence suggests he might want to fight heavyweights again; that might be a feasible option, because with his rank dropped down he could fight a weaker heavyweight without a belt to prove his salt. But if he goes further than that, he runs into trouble.

Jones already called out new champion Vitali Klitschko; that might be possible, but Jones' hit-and-run strategy might not be so effective when Vitali (with a 30' reach) can merely reach across the ring and hit him. And the outcome of Vitali's last two fights (victory by KO) when compared with the outcome of Ruiz's last two fights (not worth mentioning) suggests that perhaps Vitali hit's a bit harder than Ruiz. And the way that Vitali absorbed Corrie Sanders' left hooks in the face suggests that he might be able to take punishment batter than Ruiz. So he's out.

Tyson? Please. Roy couldn't beat him and knows it; otherwise his price tag for a Tyson fight wouldn't have been $100 million, a price so comically high he might as well have asked for "a million bazillion." But the best evidence of Tyson's superiority over Jones is demonstrated in a quote he made to the New York Daily News: "If that little man can do that to Roy, just imagine what I can do to him."

Ah, boxing. You have to love it. In every other sport, the odds hold true, and the winners can be picked in advance. The team is baseball that wins is the one with the most money to hire the best players, and any variation occurs between seasons, not between the games. But in boxing, even the underdog can unseat the champion and shock the experts. No match is truly secure, and for the first time Roy Jones Jr. knows it.

Article posted on 24.05.2004

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