Tarver vs. Johnson: It's A Blessing These Two Are Getting Together

17.12.04 - By Chris Ireland - - Am I the only one having a hard time accepting the fact that Roy Jones will not be in Saturday's fight? Sure, I got tired of the melodrama of Jones referring to himself in the third person, teasing us with false promises of another move to heavyweight, and the dismissal of his competition. That got old quick. But one couldn't ignore the fact that Jones was dominant, and alas, dominance is more satisfying to boxing fans than parody. Parody has all but ruined the heavyweight division, with its endless list of Don King paper champions. Roy, or "RJ" depending on what mood he was in, lost his grip on the division in May to Antonio Tarver. Many were glad that the Jones era was done, yet almost everybody had a hard time adjusting to a Light Heavyweight division without Jones as its king. Then, in September, Jones lost again to borderline journeyman Glen Johnson by KO, eliminating his status as a contender to Tarver's new crown. So there we were, left without the once untouchable Roy Jones. Then, fight fans got lucky.

It was a blessing that Tarver and Johnson decided to come together. And wasn't it refreshing, when both fighters dumped their bogus titles? Potentially, the Light Heavyweight division could have turned into the next Heavyweight division. Tarver and Johnson could have gone their separate ways, both claiming superiority, defending their meaningless alphabet titles against dubious opponents, all while we were left to figure out who was better. Man, are we lucky they're getting together. Now there's a chance that dominance in the division will once again be established. Tarver and Johnson may not be as untouchable as Jones was when he ruled the division, but fight fans may be able to enjoy the birth of a new superstar Saturday night. And, unless Glen Johnson starts calling himself "GJ" or Antonio Tarver decides to promote a new rap album, those watching at home won't have to deal with tiresome taunting of opponents or annoying split personalities.

If there is going to be another talker in the division, it will certainly be Tarver. However unlike Jones, Tarver manages to flap his gums in a more classy way. Tarver uses his opportunities to speak as a way to thank fans, and make his case for pound-for-pound status, instead of yelling, "Pensacola in the house!"

Okay, okay, Roy Jones wasn't totally annoying. At times his arrogance was charming and intriguing, and there is no doubt that the division will miss him. But it can't be ignored that Glen Johnson, a quiet man who has been through a long, tough journey to get to this point, is a nice change of pace. Glen seems like the kind of guy who is just happy to be in this situation, but not to the point where he's there to pick up a pay check. He's worked too hard for that.

It's hard to figure it which fighter, Johnson or Tarver, showed more skill in knocking out Jones. Was it Tarver, for ending it dramatically in the second round, emphatically ending Jones' supremacy? Or was it Johnson, who fought with the perfect gameplan of pressuring Jones into corners of the ring, and fighting at a rabid pace? Tarver became a big name in the sport after his first fight with Jones in November of 2003, when Tarver lost a close majority decision. It was the first time a fighter had pushed Jones that hard. However, if there was one mistake Tarver made, it was that he waited until the last thirty seconds of every round to pressure Jones into a corner and attack. During the other two-and-a-half minutes Tarver fainted Jones, and allowed himself to be slightly outworked. Johnson on the other hand fought his guts out every second of every round. Many argue that it was Tarver, and not Jones' draining his body to back get down to Light Heavyweight after fighting at Heavyweight, or Jones' age, that started Roy's demise. And, as a result, Johnson fought a shadow of Jones, meaning Tarver's close loss and quick KO to Jones was legit, while Johnson was dealing with a shot fighter. The bottom line is Tarver was the man who started the theory of Roy Jones fading, and Glen Johnson confirmed it.

The only real way to find out who really finished Roy Jones is to see who wins this Saturday. And though it is unlikely that either fighter will have a reign as long as Roy's, since they're both into their mid thirties, it will be interesting nonetheless to see the two best Light Heavyweights in the world collide.

Picking the winner in this fight is tricky to do. One thing that can't be done is dismissing Johnson because of his record (41-9-2). In nine losses, over half were because of bogus and/or decisions against fighters on their home turf. It may be a smarter move to analyze Johnson's ninth round KO of Jones from September, that should give you a good look at his typical gameplan. If you want to see what Tarver brings to the table, pop in the tape of his majority decision loss to Jones last year instead of his early KO of Roy in May, so you can get a better look at what Tarver's tendencies when a fight goes into the later rounds.

After taking a close look at the two fighters, I concluded that the edge this Saturday may actually belong to Johnson. Clearly, from what I have seen, Johnson has an advantage in stamina. In his fight with Jones, Glen averaged around 49 punches per round according to CompuBox That's pretty close to his usual average. Tarver in his first meeting with Jones, let an exhausted Roy outland him in power shots in the last two rounds, 26-17 according to CompuBox, when the fight was Tarver's to be won. The big difference in the two's performances (Johnson in September, Tarver last November) was that Tarver only pressured Jones in the last thirty seconds of every round, while Johnson did this consistently, seemingly keeping Jones in the corner all night. That translated into more punches thrown by Johnson.

Tarver, however, does have a few major advantages in this fight. "The Magic Man" has displayed terrific power in the past, posting 18 KO's in 24 fights (75%). Johnson on the other hand has a KO percentage of just over 50% in 54 fights. This could mean major success for Tarver, because even though Johnson has displayed a solid chin in the past, he was stunned by Jones a couple of times in September. Whether this means Tarver will be able to put down Johnson is unknown. It all depends on if Tarver wants to throw enough punches in order to be effective.

I see this fight going one of two ways. Either Johnson will pressure Tarver like he did Jones and take a decision, mainly because Tarver won't throw enough punches to keep Glen at bay, or Tarver will display his excellent power and dominate Johnson. The problem is Tarver really hasn't shown the explosive ability to launch an all-out assault on his opponent, unlike Johnson, who threw 76 power shots in the first round against Roy Jones in September. My end conclusion is that Johnson will get off to a fast start, taking a lot of the early rounds by outworking a fainting and posing Antonio Tarver. As we hit the middle to late rounds, Buddy McGirt will tell Tarver he needs to do something quick. "The Magic Man" would turn up the heat, stunning Johnson on several occasions. If Tarver doesn't score a late KO, there will most likely be a very close decision.

In any event, fight fans are lucky this fight is going to happen. We can all wake-up Sunday morning knowing who is the king of the Light Heavyweights. Title belts won't taint the division no matter who holds them, because we know we saw the two best in the world go at it, and one emerged victorious. And hey, if we have a draw Saturday, it may be the start of a great Light Heavyweight rivalry. So to those who will be watching at home, enjoy a real struggle for supremacy on December 18. While your watching, take satisfaction in the fact that no crooked sanctioning bodies will be involved. And watch the birth of a new face to the division. Man, is it a blessing these two are getting together.

Article posted on 17.12.2004

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