Only Human Roy Jones regained a championship belt but lost his aura of invincibility

November 17, 2003

Maybe now, finally, Roy Jones has created some real intrigue.
Whether it was his panic diet (he needed to lose 25 pounds to
return to his light heavyweight domain) or age (he's 34, after
all), Jones ran into more trouble than he had expected in a
tightly contested title bout against Antonio Tarver last Saturday
at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Suddenly his supernatural
talents in the ring were no longer a given, no longer the
reservoir from which he had drawn one casual victory after
another. Finally, for whatever reason, Jones looked human.

Now he's back on our level, or at least Tarver's. The 34-year-old
Tarver stretched Jones the full 12 rounds and won the crowd, if
not the decision, in a fight that was scheduled as little more
than a $5 million time killer-grudge match for Jones. The
fascination, such as it was, centered on Jones's daffy decision
to dip back into the 175-pound ranks, after having put on 25
pounds of muscle to win the WBA heavyweight title earlier this
year. Otherwise, why would anyone bother watching?

But Tarver pushed the action, almost from the opening bell,
forcing Jones into the corner in nearly every round, at which
point he rained blows upon the fighter everybody acknowledges as
the world's best, pound for pound. "If he's Superman," said a
completely unmarked Tarver afterward, "then I've got kryptonite
in my fists."

Two of the three judges were not persuaded by Tarver's flurries,
apparently feeling that Jones's power in the center of the ring
carried the day (the third judge scored it even), and allowed
Jones his homecoming victory. But fair or not, the decision could
not erase the images of Jones struggling to keep Tarver off him,
absorbing more punches than he ever had before.

That was simply the result of his "sweating off 25 pounds," Jones
said, "[which] was tougher than I thought." He put forth the
notion that he won not because of his otherworldly ability but
because of his courage. Had he not, in fact, dug down in the
final rounds, long after his stamina had deserted him, he'd have
lost not only his light heavyweight bid but also his heavyweight
title (which will go vacant if he loses at any level).

In the past Jones has exercised an exuberant arrogance, creating
obstacles just to keep boxing interesting for himself, and us. He
once handicapped a bout by playing in a professional basketball
game the day of the fight. And what else was moving up to
heavyweight to fight John Ruiz about except to create drama where
there would otherwise be none? For that matter, he said he
slugged it out with Tarver just so they wouldn't end up
counterpunching and "just looking at each other and [making] you
all bored."

Now, as the talent gap is being bridged, there may be more drama
than is good for him. He talks of one last fight at heavyweight,
preferably with former champ Mike Tyson, before he goes out.
That's all that interests him, if the money is right. Of course,
if Tyson watched Tarver pummeling Jones and getting away with his
life, well, that might interest Tyson too.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Tarver (left) hit an exhausted Jones almost at will but had little impact on two judges. COLOR PHOTO: FRED PROUSER/REUTERS (TYSON)

Short Jabs

There are impediments to a Mike Tyson-Roy Jones fight, even aside
from the considerable quirkiness of the principals. It's believed
that promoter Don King has rights to a Jones fight left over from
the John Ruiz bout. Jones would have to work with King, and well,
Jones works with nobody. As for Tyson (above), he hasn't fought
since defeating Clifford Etienne in 49 seconds last February. He
filed for bankruptcy in August and is suing King for $100
million, claiming he was swindled out of a fortune.... Winky
Wright scored a lopsided win over Angel Hernandez on the
undercard of the Jones-Antonio Tarver bout and may be moving on
to bigger things. Not fighting Shane Mosley or Oscar De La Hoya,
though; Wright says super middle kingpin Bernard Hopkins has
verbally agreed to a match next year.