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Roy Jones Jr. and the Gentle Art
of Fighting Without Fighting
Nov 10, 2003: Alex Pierpaoli, Doghouse Boxing

It was more than talk that made this fight personal. Roy Jones Jr. was faced with a legitimate professional rival as well as the physiological challenge of dropping weight. Antonio “The Magic Man” Tarver, was the rival from Jones’ home state, who had known him from his youth and in some ways, was his disciple. Tarver proved himself a counter-puncher of Jones’ ilk and thus almost as boring, although he did put more of a hurt on His Royness than the world has ever seen. On Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada; Pensacola, Florida’s Roy Jones Jr. shrank himself back to the one hundred seventy-five pound limit and recaptured the WBC Light Heavyweight Championship by majority decision from his Orlando/Tampa rival, Antonio “The Magic Man” Tarver.

In the toughest fight of his 50 bout professional career, Roy Jones was repeatedly banged and battered along the ropes by the southpaw, Tarver. A graduate of the Roy Jones Jr. School of fighting, Tarver made Jones hesitate often with the same pressure of counter/feint, counter/feint that Roy uses against his opponents. Although there were many close rounds it seemed as though Roy Jones was in control of the action and at times even allowed himself to be hit in his own 21st century version of Ali’s rope-a-dope.

While Ali used the strategy to tire out murderous brawler George Foreman, Roy’s reasons for going to the ropes in the last forty-five seconds of many of the rounds may have had more to do with fatigue and borderline dehydration than the work of Antonio Tarver. Tarver did score with heavy shots during some of the rounds but was lulled into the same level of woeful inactivity and hesitancy that Roy brings out in most opponents. What happens in any Roy Jones fight is that an opponent learns early that Jones can hit you with snappy, stinging punches from unseen and unexpected angles. Very soon, throwing punches at all gives Jones the chance to catch you while you are trying to hit him. It’s the actively non-aggressive style of Roy Jones that creates a hesitation in opponents which leaves them open to his lightning fast power punches and it’s not all that much fun to watch.

Tarver forced the action in rounds one and two, successfully pressuring Jones with long measuring right hands and heavy hooks to the body. On occasion Jones was able to catch Tarver with bolting lead rights and chopping rights to the belly that spooked Tarver into pausing and waiting, pausing and waiting on the outside while Jones feinted at him. A master of distance, it took just a few rounds for Roy to find a comfortable spot where he could hit Tarver and couldn’t be hit in return.

But after round six, Tarver was able to come on strong again and keep Roy working, making him fight the full thirty-six minutes. Tarver’s cornerman, James Buddy McGirt exhorted his charge after a well fought eighth round. “You got this if you keep doing what you’re doing,” McGirt said. “Touch him. Touch him. Keep picking the lock.” McGirt’s strategy of a busy pressuring offense was effective when Tarver obeyed but it seemed Tarver needed to out-counter Jones. As if beating Jones with his own tactics might be more personally satisfying to Tarver than sticking to McGirt’s strategy.

However, Tarver was able to force the normally gregarious Jones from talking to admirers in the front rows and smirking at HBO’s Roy Jones Jr. Fan Club President Jim Lampley in between rounds. Although still on shaky ground in terms of broadcasting objectivity after Mosley-De La Hoya 2, the HBO Team’s continued love affair with compubox figures and house-fighter friendly commentary made the fight seem far more like a clear-cut Jones victory. In truth many of the rounds were very close with Tarver winning with late flurries while Jones controlled the bulk of the first two plus minutes.

Because he is so unwilling to absorb punishment himself, there are just so few hard punches landed in a Jones fight. Seeing Roy’s swelled left eye from Tarver’s right jab and the bump raised just in front of the ear on Roy’s cheek, it did appear that Antonio Tarver busted Jones up. Like Jones has in previous encounters, Tarver celebrated his own defensive prowess, citing his unmarked face as an example of how often he made Jones miss him, thus further evidence Tarver should have been awarded the decision.

With all the feinting, missing and hesitating in Saturday’s fight, Jones-Tarver 2 doesn’t seem likely to become anything more like Hagler-Hearns than the original clash of these two Floridians. As much as a rematch might be just what the public orders—and may deserve—I’m not sure I want to see these two stop, start and hesitate for thirty-six minutes of largely unfulfilling action.

Although he was never dropped or staggered, it was very refreshing to see Jones actually listen to advice from Alton Merkerson in the corner, and even more satisfying to hear Merkerson warn Roy that the championship rounds were needed in order to secure victory on the scorecards. These were all firsts in a Jones fight and for that we have all benefited from this self-imposed weight reduction of the world’s greatest fighter.

In the post fight interview, Roy was parched. His voice was husky and his forehead cracked with fissures of flesh drained of fluids. In describing how hard it was to come down and fight at this weight Roy looked and sounded old for the first time. When asked what was next, Jones left the door slightly open for a rematch but went on to talk about the one and only fight he still wants.

“If I don’t get Tyson I’m done,” Roy said to Larry Merchant.

As a fighter Mike Tyson has nothing left. When was the last time he looked decent in a fight? When was the last complete training camp he endured? Roy Jones will slap Tyson silly and the only good that will come from such a fight is the fiscal bounty the match would garner for the financially troubled Mike Tyson. Tyson’s name alone, and at this point that’s all Tyson is, should not give Jones any credit for beating a once great or legendary heavyweight. The only intrigue that can possibly be generated for this fight is the question of what happens if Tyson connects? It was the only appeal to Lewis-Tyson too and I don’t remember Tyson connecting much after round one.

The truth is simple; Tyson will not be able to connect. Against smaller men like Jones, Tyson is painfully inaccurate with his wide looping haymakers. A chunky Buster Mathis Jr. was able to make Mike Tyson miss like a toughman contestant as long ago as 1995 when Tyson’s reflexes were far sharper than they are today. There was a day when Mike didn’t throw wide looping haymakers but the 2003 version model Iron Mike does. All that Jones would have to do is steer clear of Tyson’s punches and peck at him with stinging blows from a distance. Mike would be frustrated and bored by round three and it is unlikely he’d be willing to hesitate on the outside, waiting for a punching opportunity.

When his frustration mounts Tyson melts down and all you Roy Jones lovers ought to think about what your man might look like if Tyson snaps on him and bites into one of those dimpled cheeks. “He ain’t pretty no more,” is the line uttered in Scorsese’s Raging Bull when LaMotta busts up and makes a young cutie middleweight prospect ugly. Tyson’s demons and assorted pathologies still pose enough threat of potential disfigurement should he snap and gnash his teeth at the world’s pound-for-pound best.

An easy DQ victory for Roy in his final fight, or a safety-first run & pot-shot points win over a Tyson that is just thankful for the payday, are not ways this writer wants to see Jones leave the sport.

The best and most satisfying possible fight—considering pre-fight antics, sound bites and especially in-ring action—is by far: James Toney versus Roy Jones Jr. 2 for Jones’ WBA Title. After his brutal undoing of Evander Holyfield, Toney has a virtual mandate to fight the WBA titlist. The fact that Jones beat Toney in 1993 is moot. That was a one hundred sixty-eight pound then and this is a two hundred plus pound now. Both men have older and very different bodies as well as vastly increased ring experience.

Forget Mike Tyson. The only streetwise ruffian that should stand in Roy’s heavyweight future is James “Lights-Out” Toney.

If one more fight is all Jones will give us let’s make sure it’s competitive and not some freakshow exhibition.

Alex Pierpaoli has followed the Sweet Science for the past 17 years and is an avid boxing fan/writer. He has a degree in English from the University of Maine. Send comments or questions to:

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