Sharkie’s Machine: Roy Jones Jr. v Antonio Tarver - "Best Pound For Pound?"

11.11.03 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr.: Congratulations to WBA Heavyweight Champion, Roy Jones Jr. for winning the Light Heavyweight titles. I have to tip my hat to Roy Jones, who after 14 years, was finally in a tough, competitive and exciting fight. With most of Jones recent fights televised on PPV, this was the first time I got my money’s worth. Tarver proved to be a cut above Jones usual suspect opponents so I salute Jones for finally providing this fan with some value for the cost of watching him fight.

I realize that it’s politically incorrect to not think the world of Roy Jones Jr. Anyone who criticizes Roy is immediately dismissed as a ‘hater’ by his cadre of ever loyal fans. Considering the low quality of opponents Jones has built his record on, I think he is fair game for critical evaluation. Especially since he calls himself the best pound for pound fighter in the world. To his credit, he answered the question that lingered for a decade; how would Roy deal with adversity? He took his lumps and never went down. I respect him for that.

Jones last “big fight” was long ago, against James Toney in 1994. And it wasn’t very competitive. Jones dominated Toney in every conceivable way that night. At that time, I thought Jones was the most amazing fighter I’d ever seen. James Toney was a damn good fighter too, one of the best in that era. Jones took him to school. After that fight, Roy’s ego got so inflated that it became hard to listen to him talk without wanting to puke at his self-aggrandizing attitude, which is annoying. But, being humble is not a requirement for champions. These days, being humble won’t get you much press either.

Jones vs. Tarver was difficult to score. Tarver landed the better shots in lesser increments but Jones held his own and even pressed the action late in the fight. I always thought that the challenger had to convincingly take the title from the champion. That is, unless the challenger is Roy Jones Jr., who is the exception to every rule in Boxing.

Jones got the nod over Antonio Tarver on the Judge’s scorecards. Most fans in attendance didn’t think Jones won at all. Chants of Boos rained over the arena when the Judge’s scores were announced, rendering Jones the winner by decision.

Judges Glen Hamada (117-111 for Jones) and Dave Harris (116-112 for Jones) saw it as a dominating performance by Roy. Even while Jones was missing so many punches and looking clumsy doing so, he was racking up the points with these two Judges. Jerry Roth scored the bout even at 114-114. The disparity in scores raises eyebrows and turns casual fans into non-fans. When Roth’s score was announced first, I knew Tarver was about to be KO’d by the other two Judges. Had Tarver won, Jones would have gotten a rematch according to the contract. Tarver will not get a rematch, though he sure deserves one.

It was a close fight. But it shouldn’t have been. I bet Tarver’s trainer, Buddy McGirt would agree to that. There were some greatly entertaining moments too, like when Jones started to showboat and Tarver mimicked him, drawing laughter from the audience.

Ultimately, Antonio Tarver gave the fight to Jones by NOT fighting when he had to—in the last round, where Jones at least gave the appearance of taking the fight to Tarver. Tarver enabled Jones to steal his way to victory. As hurt as Jones looked and as tired as he clearly was in the later rounds, he was ripe for being knocked out Saturday night in Vegas. But Tarver was too patient. Patience is good, but when you wait more than you fight, you better be making a huge impact when you do let the leather fly. I was impressed with Tarver’s ability to hit Jones but was unimpressed with his lack of persistence. It had to be driving his trainer Buddy McGirt out of his mind.

There were moments when Jones was right there for the taking and Tarver just took a page out of John Ruiz’ strategy for losing; just stand there and look at Roy. That can’t win against a man who makes the crowd ohh and ahh every time he throws a punch, whether he lands or not. Roy makes that whizzing sound with his mouth. It sounds like the speed of an arrow in flight. With the right Judges in place, it scores points. That is, if you’re a superstar like Roy Jones Jr. If Tarver had aimed more at Roy’s mouth, maybe Hamada wouldn’t have heard Roy winning the fight so decisively.

Look at Glen Hamada. The man has the smallest slits for eyes. You can’t even see his eyes. His hearing must be astounding though. Every time he heard a whizzing noise—that meant Jones was scoring. Hamada may be Dave Harris’ mentor. Nothing else rationally explains his score.

Maybe if Tarver were more famous and knew how to make that whistling sound every time he threw a shot it might have been a draw. Oh, but it was a draw—on Jerry Roth’s scorecard, 114-114, which was closest to reality. Did the inconsistency of the scoring make you wonder anything?

Tarver messed up good and proper in this fight by doing very little in the final round. But if you had to be either fighter in that ring, which you rather have been, the puffy faced, swollen eyed guy who looked exhausted and was missing most of his punches but makes that cool sound—or the guy with the unscathed face, who looked fresh the whole fight and broke his opponents guard every time he tried?

I give Tarver a lot of credit. He fought better than I expected he would. For as overrated as I feel Jones is, I thought he was a talented fighter who could, at anytime, be explosive in the ring. I expected Jones to catch Tarver early and knock him out. I recall the last time it was “personal” for Roy, against Montell Griffin. He knocked Griffin out in the first moments of the first round. Jones was mad. I guess after fighting ten less then stellar opponents, even a Superstar like Jones can get rusty.

This fight was billed as, “It’s Personal.” I thought Jones really had it in for Tarver. It was personal, so much so that Roy was going to lose all that weight he put on for Ruiz and go DOWN to Light Heavy and pummel Tarver, bypassing any defense of his WBA HW Title. It was clear from the first couple of rounds that Jones was going to be in for the fight of his professional career—at Light HW.

I’ve watched Jones fights for years. Usually disappointed in his selection of opponents or “mandatory match ups.” Jones always looked invincible against the likes of a Ruiz, Woods or Glen Kelly, where Roy was practically untouchable. Against Antonio Tarver, I never saw Jones throw so many punches that missed so badly—that is, when he was even punching. But to Jones credit, he kept moving and taking pot shots (that mostly missed) while Tarver seemed to be on a lunch break for too long in too many rounds. When Tarver did throw, he was more effective in connecting, especially when he’d get Roy up against the ropes, where Jones usually made his typical B class opponents look foolish.

Tarver showed that he is a member of the A class of today’s fighters. He is the first fighter to make Roy Jones look so beatable. Or maybe Roy’s skills are on the decline? Listening to Jones talk himself up, you’d never think so.

Tarver’s trainer, Buddy McGirt must have been going insane watching Tarver squander so many opportunities to finish Roy off. I wasn’t surprised. That is the way Tarver fights, in spurts.

Tarver was losing every round to Eric Harding in their rematch in July of 2002 until he caught Harding with a big shot that hurt Harding so much he couldn’t recover. That turned the tide in Tarver’s favor and he won by TKO 5 against the man who had won a unanimous decision over him in 2000. Harding lasted ten spirited rounds against Roy until he quit due to a supposed bicep injury.

The way I saw this fight, Jones won four rounds at best. He never hurt Tarver, but Tarver did hurt Jones a few times. At one point, Jones was looking wobbled but Roy used it by tauntingly wobbling, leaving Antonio wondering if it would be wiser to stay away from a game of Possum instead of coming forward and finishing him off. Tarver didn’t take the bait and consequently, Roy took the win.

* * *

Now there is all this business of Roy’s constant boasting that he’s the best fighter, pound for pound in boxing. He has a lot of supporters in the Boxing media too who list him as the #1 P4P fighter. If fighting a long string of mediocre fighters makes you the best in the business, there must be a lot of “Greatest Pound For Pounders” out there that we’re just are not aware of. Shane Mosley was one—until he faced Vernon Forrest. After Forrest dispensed with Mosley, Vernon was NOT bestowed that honor though. Hmmm, I wonder why? Maybe Vernon didn’t have enough Star quality?

Though some fight fans follow the views of Max Kellerman and his patron, The Ring Magazine, that certain fighters are the best, because they say so, there are some of us that actually have a realistic criteria for what makes a fighter great, let alone the best, pound for pound.

It’s not just how many wins over losses you amass but WHO you fought to amass those wins. Did the fighter consistently prove triumphant in the face of adversity and still rise up and win? Did they fight the best possible opponents? Were their opponents questionably ranked, according to a bogus, shuffling ranking system that is subject to changes based on influential promoters and other questionable practices? We’ve seen it all before. How about Mike Tyson being ranked higher than Evander Holyfield—who beat Tyson twice! The Ring had Derrick Gainer ranked #3 in his weight class. But those of us who saw his last gutless performance against Marquez have to wonder how much substance there is behind all the hype?

Great fighters fight great fighters in great fights.

Apparently, with the right connections in the media, you don’t have to fight the best to be considered the best, not in this era where promotional hype exceeds substance. Even though Jones won the decision over Tarver, the image of him as the greatest fighter in the world suffered immensely after Saturday at the Mandalay Bay.

In order to overcome adversity, you have to be battle hardened. That comes from fighting top quality opposition, something that Jones has not done in a long, long time. Unless, of course, you consider John Ruiz a great fighter.

Jones must have underestimated Tarver’s ability. Regardless of the excuses about his weight, Jones said he would, “Beat Tarver’s ass before he retires.” He won the decision but he surely didn’t, “beat Tarver’s ass.” If anything, Roy was looking pretty beat up after the fight was over. Their faces told a different story than the scorecards.

If Jones is “the Heavyweight Champion of the World” as he so often claimed after beating the woeful John Ruiz, why go DOWN to Light Heavyweight? The reality is Ruiz was an easy target for Jones to get a HW Champion belt, the grandest prize in Boxing. That Jones was able to bypass other deserving contenders and get a shot at Ruiz title is a topic too lengthy for this article. But what does it mean when you are so reluctant to defend your title against anyone that wasn’t hand picked for you to beat?

With the three most recognized Sanctioning bodies, the IBF, WBC and WBA, each with their own version of the titles for each division, the titles themselves are fairly watered down in value. Since the varying titleholders rarely fight each other it is difficult to say who is the best in any division. There’s an obvious way to clean that mess up—but the powers that rule Boxing have no interest in such efforts. I say let Lennox Lewis (WBC), Chris Byrd (IBF) and Roy Jones Jr. (WBA) engage in an elimination series. Whoever wins would be the universally recognized champion. Even invite the NABF, WBO or other various organizations to participate. Why not? It’s supposed to be about competition, isn’t it? Too bad Lewis and Jones seem disinterested in continuing. If they don’t want to fight, they should retire. Leave the fight game for those who do want to fight.

Fighters who find ways out of big fights ought not be candidates for labels of greatness. Consider how Jones supposedly hurt his arm in a motorcycle accident coinciding with the possibility of having to defend his title against Vitali Klitschko? Once Klitschko was scheduled to fight Lennox Lewis instead, Jones arm miraculously healed.

Jones has not been shy about proclaiming his greatness at every opportunity. He even made a rap song about how great he is called, “Y’all Musta Forgot.” His mantra, “I’m the best fighter pound for pound in the world. I’ll fight anybody, anytime, anywhere. Pensacola in the house!” rings hollow. How long could Jones live off his win over Toney? Being the best P4P fighter sure has its perks.

Antonio Tarver has only recently been highly considered as a fighter. With rising-star trainer Buddy McGirt in his corner, things could only get better for Tarver. Was it just a lucky punch that felled Eric Harding? I thought so. Was Griffin too far past his prime to matter? I thought so. In the current era, the LHW division is possibly the least glamorous division in all of Boxing.

Antonio Tarver has no one to blame beside himself for not winning this fight against Jones. Had he kept the pressure on, chances are, he might have knocked Jones out by the ninth round. But, Tarver took a passive approach and paid the price. That his were the better punches and that he landed more, threw more and finished the fight without so much as a blemish on his face had no reflection in the scoring. Glen Hamada, who looks practically blind with those squinty eyes, scored the fight 117-111 in favor of Jones. If Boxing had a legitimate Commission or League, Hamada would be investigated for fraud. Even those who think Jones won don’t think it was that lopsided a victory.

Lets face the facts; the only way Tarver was going to win was by knocking Jones out. Anything less would leave it in the Judges hands, where too many times, winners lose and losers win. When I think of this fight, all that comes to mind is Tarver wailing on Jones up against the ropes and a swollen faced Jones looking staggered in the late rounds, breathing heavily through his mouth and looking drunk from being hit so much. Arguments can be made that Jones earned the win because he stayed busy, even if he wasn’t effective, while Tarver rarely sustained any pressure after the early rounds.

HBO apparently loves Roy Jones Jr. They have paid him handsomely for fighting some questionable contenders in some horrible mismatches for years now. All through the fight, Lampley, Lederman, Foreman and even Merchant seemed mighty impressed with Roy—even when he was only punching air.
* * *

Now Jones is talking about one last fight—against Mike Tyson. If he can’t fight Tyson, he says he will not fight anymore. You have to wonder if the beating Tarver issued him influenced the decision to limit himself to only fighting the washed up Mike Tyson. Didn’t he learn from Lennox Lewis that Tyson does not want to fight champions any more? What would be the value of a Jones vs. Tyson fight now other than filling Max Kellerman with joy and enriching Jones and Tyson with more millions? Mike is a shadow of what he once was and should be easy for Roy to beat if he can stay away from Mike for the first two rounds, after which Tyson will be out of gas and easy for Roy to pick apart for another ten boring rounds. It will be Jones by UD12. How exciting.

Before Roy retires, I’d really like to see him fight either Bernard Hopkins or James Toney in long overdue rematches. Both are big talkers, same as Roy. Both have lost to Roy by decision a decade ago. Both are still around. Either would be considered a Super Fight for Jones. Hopkins has been so inactive lately; Roy might have a slight edge, though I’ve never seen Hopkins in less than excellent condition coming into a fight. Weight could be a big issue deterring any Hopkins Jones rematch. But Toney is now campaigning at Heavyweight and has stayed active against better competition than Jones has fought. I seriously doubt Roy could beat either of them today, especially James Toney.

With a lot of uncertainties following this fight with Tarver, the only thing I’m certain of is that Roy Jones Jr. is NOT the best Pound for Pound fighter—not even in Florida.

Agree or disagree?

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Article posted on 11.11.2003

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