01.10.05 – By Lee Hayes: Tonight Roy Jones Jr. Will be facing his career nemesis in Antonio Tarver. They will be fighting their “rubber match” -which is more about the way Roy wants to end his career, than about establishing supremacy at 175lbs, considering that Roy still has a KO loss to Glen Johnson, whom Tarver sits at 1-1 with as well.
After watching the way Roy was violently knocked senseless by a single blow in their second fight, it’s nearly impossible to imagine Jones winning this fight. The disaster with Johnson just seals the coffin. Roy seems to be finished. Tarver on the other hand appears to be at the absolute pinnacle of his career. He was awesome in his one punch KO of Jones. Behind after the first round, Tarver’s trainer, Buddy McGirt told Tarver “you’re giving him too much respect”, to which Antonio replied vehemently, “don’t use that word…I ain’t got no respect for this man”. Then, he simply one punch knocked out a man that many considered untouchable.
A boxer that has basically lost about 15 rounds in 15 years and 40 plus fights as a pro. A guy that, if not consider the greatest fighter ever by all, is at least generally accepted as the most talented pugilist to ever lace up the gloves. It’s not like Jones chin was never tested. He’d been hit. He was generally good at avoiding too much punishment, but there were plenty of times when he got tagged. Hell, he even took some flush shots from John Ruiz, and he never even came close to going down. Could Tarver possibly hit harder than Ruiz? Or was it just a fluke shot like Jones claims, and even Tarver generally admits.
Is it even possible that Jones just got caught off guard that one moment in time. Just for one split second, maybe he got a little lazy because he had won that first round so easily, and because Tarver never came close to knocking him out in their first 12 round tussle. Was that it? What about Johnson then? Well, Jones never really offered much of an explanation for that fight for a long time. Even his trainer Alton Merkerson stated after the bout that Roy’s reflexes had began to deteriorate, and that he was “getting tagged with punches that he never used to get hit with”. Brutally honest, I had to agree. Still, there’s been a buzz around, and it’s not just Roy Jones Jr. saying it. Jim Lampley of the HBO commentating crew has openly stated that he felt Roy simply took that fight with Glencoffe too soon after such a violent KO. Larry Merchant agrees. Roy tried to shrug off the bad loss too quickly, probably because his pride wouldn’t accept the truth.
So why is Roy taking this fight? I don’t think I was alone when I was worried for his health as he laid on the canvas looking sad and injured, it reminded me of how I felt when I saw Joe Louis sprawled between the ropes with Rocky Marciano standing over him, all the while knowing that Marciano would have been lucky to last five against the Brown Bomber in his prime. It’s hard to imagine crowd favorite Johnson even winning a single round against a 1997-2000 version of Jones Jr. Let alone losing by KO. So why on earth is Roy Jones Jr., a fighter that has always been “safety first”, want to risk his health to fight Antonio Tarver again? His hall of fame credentials are sealed. In retrospect, 20 years from now, his feats will still make him debatably one of the top 5 greatest fighters of all time, along the likes of Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Willie Pep and Roberto Duran. He will probably always be considered the, or one of the most talented men to box, and for that matter compete in sports that ever walked the planet. He doesn’t need this risk. So what if Tarver bested him at the end of his career?
It’s incredibly ironic that Jones, who never could get a good grudge series going during the prime of his career (because he so soundly beat his opponents, there was never need for one) finally gets the needed heat and excitement out of a trilogy…and it’s at the end of his career when he’s far past his prime. The reflexes aren’t there like there were when he completely shut out Vinnie Panzienza, Bernard Hopkins or James Toney. Still, famed boxing trainer, Cus D’Amato used to tell his fighters that “every great fighter still has one last great fight in them”, and it’s possible in light of the feats of George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Daniel Zaragoza, amongst many others.
The question about Roy has never been his skill. It’s obvious he’s a nonpareil. You and I have never seen anybody like Roy Jones Jr., and I guarantee you that we never will again. The guy could play a full basketball game, record a rap record and fight his game cocks before dinner and fight the main event of a championship fight in the evening against a top 10 opponent, albeit his opposition has not always been A caliber. But, can he come back from two consecutive legitimate knock outs? I don’t mean the ref stopping the fight or a corner throwing in the towel. I’m talking about counted out, knocked out, sianora, adios, good night. I can’t think of a case off the top of my head, where a fighter went on to be knocked out in two consecutive fights, only to turn it around and avenge one. Maybe it’s happened, but I can tell you this much, it doesn’t happen very often. What we see tonight, should Roy Jones pull off the impossible could be like a pugilistic Haley’s Comet. Just like when Jones went up to the heavyweights and schooled John Ruiz. If Roy should somehow beat Antonio Tarver tonight, there can be no doubt about his greatness. He would have to be in contention with Sugar Ray Robinson, Sam Langford & Willie Pep and Joe Louis, as the top 4 or 5 fighters to ever live. That’s what makes this fight worth the PPV money. We could see something incredible.
On the other hand, Antonio Tarver probably looked better than in any fight I’ve ever seen him in his rematch with Glen Johnson. He fought a perfect fight. He threw incredible combinations and landed with wicked shots to both the head and body. It’s hard to imagine anybody without the iron chin and resolve of Johnson withstanding those shots. He boxed beautifully, and showed a style unlike any fighter I’ve ever seen. He still has pop in his left hand, but I think after watching his career it seem evident that Tarver is not likely to score too many one punch KO’s like the one he got on Jones, and that’s probably why he’s admitted it was just a perfect shot and not due to incredible punching power. I believe that the Tarver that fought Johnson in their rematch would probably beat the best Roy Jones I’ve seen over the past 3 years.
There are a few intangibles to the fight to weigh in to consideration. The most notable in my opinion is that Roy Jones Jr. has asked his father to rejoin his team and act as a co-trainer with Alton Merkerson. Something that seems bizarre to those that know the relationship between Roy and Roy Sr. and the cruelty with which Roy Sr. is notorious for. I believe that the reason Roy has asked for his father to come back is because all that cruel treatment that Sr. inflicted on Jr. is responsible for that alter ego that Roy calls “RJ”. The darker side or Jones that he says can come out and make him destroy an opponent. I believe that his father is responsible for that side of Roy, who really is a nice guy. Roy’s always been a man that tried to avoid hurting his opponent. Out box and humiliate? Sure. But he never tried to purposely harm anybody, and he was known for “carrying” the odd man, like Mike McCallum, just out of respect and decency. “RJ” only came out when Roy felt backed in to a corner. Like a dog, which is precisely how it’s been reported that Roy’s father treated him as. Jones can be vicious when he feels trapped. He felt so incredibly embarrassed for his DQ loss at the hands of Montell Griffin that he claimed to have brought “RJ” out of the closet and the results were both terrifying and yet somehow scintillating and beautiful at the same time.
We’ve yet to really see “RJ” since. If I’m correct and it really is Roy’s father, and his cruel sense of discipline, then Roy may really be in the best shape of his life for this fight. Roy Sr. has said he’s only there to tweak a few things and correct a few things he’s noticed that Roy’s gotten lazy on since he was young and in his prime. There have been many experts that have claimed that Roy has gotten exactly that, “lazy” since he realized long ago that he could have his way with even all-time great fighter like Toney, Hopkins, and McCallum. Roy knows what those things are, because he is the one that taught them to him, and if Roy is truly “fine tuned” as they claim, then it is possible that we could see what a “pseudo-prime” Roy Jones Jr. could do against a true prime Antonio Tarver. The results could potentially be fight of the year. Leave to Roy to pull this sort of an intangible out of his hat. What if he is going to allow his abusive father to come in and poke him like one of his fighting chickens, just so he can release the mean side of himself once again? What if he’s willing to himself through hell, by opening up all those old emotional scars from his childhood, just to create a rage inside that will fuel him to fight like he’s never fought before? It’s a long shot, but…it’s a shot.
After looking at all of the facts and likelihoods, I think the logical pick for this fight is Antonio Tarver. He’s on a roll. He’s confident (is anyone more confident currently in the game? The guys borderline like Prince Hamed used to be) and frankly, he’s pretty damn talented. Everybody knows that Tarver is murder in rematches, he’s proven it through out his career, but neither of these guys have had that career breaking trilogy that only a select few fighters are lucky enough to find. We really don’t know how well Tarver will do. Maybe he won’t train as hard as he did for the second bout, I mean he didn’t train that hard when he fought the first bout with Johnson. He beat Jones so easily in their rematch, maybe it will be he that takes the fight too lightly and under trains. Like I said, it’s unlikely. Tarver knows that Roy is his get out of jail free card in boxing. He’s free ticket to Canastota. He can become an instant hall of famer – when he was basically fighting in obscurity before he faced Jones the first time- just by beating Roy tonight. What a nice predicament to be in. He hasn’t even come close to the career that Jones has had, and he can get all the accolades for simply besting Roy at the age of 35, at the end of his stellar career. Tarver will most likely cash in on that meal ticket and win in a close fight. I think that’s the general feeling, but I have to say, even though I’ve criticized Roy in the past for not fighting a few guys and for boxing when he could have been more exciting and scoring KO’s, he’s been the most talented fighter of my generation. It’s been a pleasure to watch him since he was an amateur. I truly believe he is one of the greatest fighters of all time and although I think Tarver will win this fight. Regardless of who “should win” I will be cheering along side my wife, son, father and a few friends that in the hope chance we see a pugilistic miracle, and Roy Jones beats Tarver. I’m cheering for Roy and I’ll still be a fan of his win, lose or draw. Good luck to both men and I hope they have a good fight.
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