Roy Jones: Gambling On Victory

18.08.05 - By Cris Neill: There's an old saying in gambling: never bet what you can't afford to lose. There's always an element of gambling in a boxing match - you can never be totally certain what your opponent will bring to the table, but you make sure that by training hard and getting mentally focused, that you stack the odds as much as humanly possible in your favour. Sometimes, as with any form of gambling, a boxer will think with their heart, not their head, and allow pride to write a cheque that their body can't cash in the ring. That seems to the consensus for why Roy Jones has decided to get back into the ring with the Antonio Tarver, the man who obliterated his reputation as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. But is this correct?

Roy, whatever else may be said about him, isn't stupid. He has managed his career astutely - too astutely, some would argue, to be regarded as an all-time great.

Many boxing fans and critics contend that we haven't really seen a true test of Roy's heart - he's never got involved in the kind of wars that for many pundits, are the proving of a great champion. In a sense, this is understandable - he was deeply affected by the fate of middleweight contemporary, Gerald McClellan, who was battered into senseless blindness by Nigel Benn in 1995. For this reason, a lot of his opponents seem to have been picked with self-preservation in mind, rather than the prospect of a genuine contest.

It would be foolish to suggest that on October 1, we are going to see a reincarnation of a prime Roy Jones. At the age of 35, his power, speed and reflexes will inevitably have started to decay. But the fact remains that he has pressed for this fight, and from what we know of Jones, he isn't given to impulsive actions or grandiose gestures. To put it more clearly, there is no way that Jones will have signed up for a third fight with Tarver unless he was absolutely confident he could beat him. A lot of boxing pundits would contend that in this instance, Roy is letting his pride, rather than his head, dictate his actions. From what we know of Jones, he isn't that kind of fighter. He is first and foremost a boxer, a strategist. And as a strategist, he will have asked himself the question: why was I beaten by Tarver and Johnson? I believe he'll focus on two things - his physical and psychological preparation for the fight. It's an established fact that he had to shed 30lbs following his fight with Ruiz. He wasn't losing fat of course, but muscle, which takes a far heavier toll on the body. It was pretty evident, minutes into the first Tarver fight, that something wasn't quite right. Jones looked tired and jaded. He plodded around the ring, flat-footed. He looked as if he'd aged 10 years. Following the fight - which I think in fairness Tarver edged - Jones said: "I was in a bad way. I was expecting to fight Tyson but had to get down to 175 [lb] for Tarver. I didn't take no supplements, no iron, no potassium, no nothing. I just ran to get the weight off - and I starved. I wanted to get it over with." Critics may dismiss this Jones simply making excuses after the event, but undeniably, he lacked snap and physical presence in the ring. It's therefore reasonable to assume that this time around, Jones has approached his training much more carefully, and prepared to be solid and strong at 175lb.

Then there's the issue of psychological preparation. Boxing, more than any other sport, is about getting it mentally right, and it can't be denied that post Tarver 1, Roy has lacked confidence and authority. This in part, is due to the fact that his aura of invincibility has been destroyed - Tarver and Johnson showed no signs of being over-awed by the man formerly touted as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Jones has tasted the sting of being knocked out, of crushing defeat, and it will take mental tenacity to overcome this. Allied to which is the fact that Jones has been fighting for a long, long time. He started boxing at the age of 10, and his ring career has stretched 26 years. That's bound to take a heavy toll on even the most gifted of athletes, and Jones has been discussing retirement as far back as 1997. It seems as if for his past three fights, he simply lacked heart. However you want to put it - he lacked heart, the Eye Of The Tiger - he didn't have the attitude of a genuine contender. He looked burned out.

Which brings us to Tarver II. It doesn't look as if Jones can offer any excuses here. He was beaten fair and square, by what some describe as a lucky punch, depending on whether you're a Jones or Tarver fan. As Jones said himself after the fight: "It happens." What's less easy to explain away is his loss by Glen Johnson, a fighter whom Jones would have comfortably have danced rings around in his prime. All that can be offered is that quite simply, Jones wasn't the fighter he used to be. He lacked handspeed, footwork and technique, which can be traced to a combination of three things - a lack of physical and mental preparedness, and age.

So why has Jones been clamouring for a third fight with Tarver? He doesn't need the money, and despite the fact that Tarver is a deeply personal opponent, he is unlikely to want to risk getting knocked out again in the name of pride. We know from his previous fights that Jones is not a gambler. Which leads to the conclusion that he (rightly or wrongly) believes he can train for the fight and defeat Tarver. Of one thing we can be certain. Jones won't have spent the past 11 months in idleness. He's an intelligent man, and a dedicated athlete. He will have been training hard, getting mentally and physically primed for this fight. He will have been analysing and re-analysing Tarver's style, and will have devised a strategy which he (rightly or wrongly) believes will be the beating of the Magic Man. Which isn't to say that even if Jones's strategy is sound, it will enable him to pick Tarver to pieces. Tarver will likewise to formulating a game plan which he believes will be the undoing of Jones. But when a fighter of Jone's ability gets his act togetherůmaybe we can expect to see flashes of the old magic on October 1.

Article posted on 18.08.2005

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