There was a sustained roar, equal parts delight and surprise, as
Roy Jones Jr. collapsed to the canvas, flat on his back. The
suddenness of it, for one thing, was breathtaking--a single
punch, out of the blue, a looping left hand that Jones,
certainly, never saw. On the button. But also contributing to the
turbo-strength clamor of the crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events
Center in Las Vegas last Saturday was the quick recognition that
boxing's most entertaining condition, instant chaos, once more
It happened halfway through the second round of Jones's rematch
with Antonio Tarver, a respected light heavyweight who had flown
under Jones's radar for years. Even after Tarver lost a majority
decision to Jones in November, a fight many thought Tarver had
won, he remained relegated to wannabe status. Jones, who has been
carrying the best-fighter-pound-for-pound mantle on his shoulders
for a decade, was given the champion's seemingly automatic
exemption: Something--whatever--had gone wrong. Perhaps Jones,
who had joined the heavyweight ranks in March 2003 to casually
pick off a title there, was debilitated by the 25-pound weight
loss the match with Tarver required.
Tarver, 35 (the same age as Jones), has labored without much
prestige, fighting, as he said last week, "along the back roads
of Philadelphia, fighting at the Blue Horizon for peanuts." Two
losses in his first 23 bouts didn't help, but he's always
deserved more than peanuts (he recently filed for bankruptcy) and
excuses from beaten opponents. So during ring introductions at
the Mandalay, when referee Jay Nady asked if either boxer had any
questions, Tarver snarled and said, "You got any excuses tonight,
The fight was too short to say Jones has finally and instantly
become an old fighter or that Tarver succeeds him on the throne
as boxing's best. But the course of the last two fights suggests,
at least, that Tarver has Jones's number.
In this second one Jones seemed in charge, as usual, pecking away
in the middle of the ring. But Tarver had been instructed not to
be dazzled by Jones's fantastic hand speed and instead to reply
with force. He should just do something, not stand in awe. Here's
what he did: As Jones prepared to unveil a characteristic riff
(he shot out a punch, prelude to some wonderful combination, no
doubt), Tarver responded with a quick left. "Turned out to be
shorter than his," explained Tarver, "right on the kisser."
Jones fell, stumbled to his knees, rolled to his side and finally
arose at the count of nine but not in good enough shape that Nady
believed the fight could go on.
Tarver, whose gift for highly annoying gab is what lured Jones
into a fight in the first place, was able to summarize the action
with a 1950s kind of brio: "The script can only be written in the
squared circle." Damon Runyon would have kept that line.
In fact, there no longer is a script. Jones muttered some vague
complaints after the fight to HBO about middling motivation,
uncertain prospects. Heavyweights, he said, are all he could get
up for, and why did he ever take this fight in the first place?
A third fight might not happen, and Tarver, while not on the back
roads of Philly again, will have to follow Jones's lead and visit
the heavyweight ranks to make serious money or headlines. He's
talented and tall enough (6'2") that the prospect is feasible.
In any case, with that short left hand, Tarver restored the sense
of unpredictability that boxing needs; he created the uncertainty
that makes it important. The roar at Mandalay had hardly subsided
before people looked at each other and asked, Now what?
On the morning of the Roy Jones-Antonio Tarver bout, promoter Don
King announced Felix Trinidad's comeback fight, an Oct. 2 date
with Ricardo Mayorga. Trinidad, off two years since failing to
get a rematch with Bernard Hopkins, was coming back for an
eventual shot at Jones (oops). The former welterweight said his
weight during retirement was "in the frontier of 200 pounds."...
Zab Judah, five weeks from his rematch loss to Cory Spinks, gave
an indifferent performance on the undercard, barely beating aged
veteran Rafael Pineda.