Jones - Tarver III: A must

24.05.04 - By Ben Dunn: Shocked. We were all shocked. Roy Jones Junior lost in unimaginable fashion. Comprehensively stopped in two rounds by the supremely confident Antoine Tarver, the new holder of all those belts Roy had held so dear for one uneventful mandatory defence after another.

Tarver leaving the ring as the new champ may not be as great an upset as Buster Douglasí similar dismantling of Tysonís aura of invincibility, or Aliís smashing of Foremanís immortality, after all, their first highly competitive contest had resulted in a heavily contested decision in favour of Jones. But the manner of the end, a counter left thrown with power and accuracy, leaving Jones in no fit state to continue, was beyond even Tarverís wildest dream.

But if the result falls short of Aliís great upset win, Tarverís one-liner during the refereeís instructions will come to be ranked alongside Aliís taunting of the equally mythologized Foreman. The refereeís customary closing inquiry, ďAny questions, gentlemen?Ē was greeted by Tarverís immediate response, ďYeah. You got your excuses ready Roy?Ē and from there it was but a few minutes before Jones visited oblivion.

Only Roy Jones Junior himself knows if this smart remark riled him enough to throw his customary caution to the wind, but it certainly looked that way as he dominated the first round with speed, power and accuracy, looking as aggressively sharp as he ever has. But that was it, a final three minute flurry, before Tarver saw out the storm and caught Jones coming in with a clean shot to the point of the chin, leaving the former champion stumbling around, incapable of beating even the slowest of counts. The inconceivable had become reality. The most gifted fighter of a generation had finally been humbled.

The immediate aftermath left Jones and his team speaking of retirement, while Tarver, basking in the limelight of what will certainly be his defining moment, spoke excitedly about jumping up to the heavyweight division. Presumably he has his envious eyes set on Ruiz, the current holder of Royís old WBC belt. For fight fans, however, the post-fight pause-for-thought encouraged an analysis of the Roy Jones Junior mythology.

What is undeniably true is that Roy Jones Junior has been the most gifted fighter of his generation. Since defeating Bernard Hopkins to win his first world title as a middleweight in 1993, through his defeats of Pazienza and Toney, up until his Heavyweight title win against Ruiz last year, Jones has been heralded as an all time great, even to the extent of being considered Sugar Ray Robinsonís equal. But after this defeat and, perhaps more importantly, his reaction to his first genuine loss the popular support for this highest of accolades should be put into perspective.

The defeat has shattered Jones assumed position of supremacy - he must now realise that he is not Superman, as Don King was so keen to call him - and how this affects his standing will be seen in what comes next. If Jones follows his immediate reaction, and enters into retirement, then a parallel can be drawn between the unsatisfactory end to his amateur career at the 1988 Seoul Olympics - where he was scandalously robbed of the gold medal by an appalling hometown decision - and the unsatisfactory end to his professional one. Only this time, Roy Jones will find no sympathy, nor support as an innocent victim, because as an epilogue the implications of the Tarver defeat will only add to the accusations which have hounded him from the start of his excursion into the paid ranks.

By avoiding a rubber match, in which he will be, at best, an even money bet, he will further fuel the belief that he would never risk his skill in a pick-em fight. But worse, if he were to fight on against anyone other than Tarver, his greatness would be tarnished forever, as avoiding the first genuine challenge of his career would bring the mythology crashing down.

In essence, both fightersí futures are tied to the rubber match. Tarver has nowhere to go because nobody needs to fight him. His name, despite this win, is not big enough to generate the money he wants, unless of course, he fights Jones. An option is a fight against Joe Calzaghe, but his manager, Frank Warren, is unlikely to allow Joe to cross the Welsh border into England, far less let him travel to America. So, in spite of his wild forecasts after the fight, Tarverís name remains low-key. He canít bring a financial reward to any other opponent, even if he has pulled off the unimaginable; heavyweights will gain as much respect, and make as much money fighting among themselves. While at lightheavy there is only Jones.

So they need each other. Tarver, to cement his place and elevate his name, needs to win the trilogy, whereas Jones needs to prove he has heart, and is able to come back from adversity. Ray Robinson achieved this feat as an ageing fighter, no longer at his lightning best after being almost unbeatable for the first part of his career. And if Jones wants to be justifiably mentioned in relation to the greatest, he needs to face Tarver again as, win or lose, he will forever put to bed accusations insinuating he lacks the heart of a great fighter.

Article posted on 24.05.2004

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