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Illusions of Grandeur; "Magic Man" Tarver makes Jones disappear
By Jim Cawkwell (May 22, 2004) 
Photo © German Villasenor
Boxing is our business, and business, at the moment, is very good. The state of Nevada needed a big positive to overwhelm the controversy of last week’s Marquez-Pacquiao bout; the effect of which has not diminished for myself nor I’d bet for the vast majority of concerned observers. That much needed positive event occurred on Saturday the 15th of May. And while the indiscretion that took place at the MGM Grand the previous week is not forgotten, its position has been temporarily usurped by a somewhat higher drama…if you can believe that. This time there was no point in scouring the rules and regulations of the Nevada state athletic commission and no need to question the validity of our scoring system or pour scorn on the subjectivity of judges.

Instead, newly crowned light heavyweight champion of the world Antonio Tarver found the answers to a great many of our questions at the end of his left hand. That punch, so replayed, reviewed and now revered was responsible for the shocking drama of which I speak. I myself sat fairly motionless for a good half hour, completely awed and reeling from what I had just witnessed. Roy Jones.jr, the greatest boxer in the sport for at least the last ten years had been legitimately beaten. No, not beaten….destroyed!

Such destruction has encouraged many to proclaim a complete unraveling of Jones’ legacy, and while I cannot bring myself to dismiss him so quickly, there were several factors which indicated the possibility of this happening. Not least of which was Jones comparatively poor showing against Tarver last November. We had come to expect great feats from the fighter dubbed “Superman” in the press and his lackluster performance inspired conflicting opinions in the boxing community. Some were more than ready to blame Jones’ punishing training regime, implemented to shed more than twenty pounds of what was essentially muscle following his heavyweight excursion. Others though smelled blood, only a trickling but one which may signal the gradual bleeding dry of the game’s most talented fighter. Jones’ trainer Alton Merkerson had given indications in the press that his fighter’s time would soon be coming to an end.
And Jones’ past hints at retirement were another unsettling addition to a growing list of points which indicated that something may be amiss.

But there was plenty of damage done before a fight with Tarver ever became a reality; damage which has slowly led to his downfall. Jones had unjustifiably played the victim in his career for far too long, perpetuating tales of injustice done to him during his Olympic exploits and his first encounter with Montell Griffin. While the former cannot really be called into question, I can’t help but think that Jones could have, and perhaps should have done more to furnish his legacy before now. Roy Jones being sensationally knocked out in two rounds on Saturday night should be huge national sporting news, but it really is not. Perhaps this is because despite all his talents as a boxer, he has never fully captured the imagination of the public. Even the invention of “RJ,” Roy’s considerably more aggressive alter ego as it were also meant little as it was seldom utilized throughout his long career. His stubbornness at the negotiating table became a hallmark of his persona and his safety-first approach there often leaked into his fighting style.
For Roy, it was about the money and respect that was due him as he continually sought out the greatest reward for the least risk.

Jones certainly beat great fighters in his time, and though his legend cannot be denied, it could have meant so much more, an amazing concept to grasp for many people.
This is a man who continually used his WBA heavyweight title winning effort against John Ruiz as a reference to his greatness. My own sense of logic does not allow me to accept Ruiz as a legitimate champion. Perhaps, several years after Ruiz’s retirement, in some unpredictable and hysterical bout of sentimentality, or indeed intoxication I may be able to assemble some sympathetic appreciation of Ruiz. But until such a day arrives, my sentimentality reaches only so far. That is to say that; as unworthy as Ruiz is, only Jones’ immense talent sees him deserving of a four weight championship accolade.

I wish that Jones had not been so content to rest on his laurels. I wish he had sought out only the best available competition in the world and laid them all to rest instead of the many farcical mandatory mismatches we were forced to endure. I wish he had fought fighters such as Dariusz Michalczewski before Germany’s “Tiger” got old and disinterested. I wish that his colorful rants were not punctuated with excuses as to why he believed he had the right to negotiate himself out of harm’s way and yet still be paid a king’s ransom. But, you can wish in one hand and crap in the other and see which one gets full first.

Antonio Tarver did something about those negatives, something no man had been able to do in the fifty professional fights of Roy Jones.jr’s career. He removed Jones as the world’s domineering light heavyweight and pound for pound force whilst Jones was at his best by his own admission. Strange really, when Jones came in at apparently seventy percent of his best he lasted twelve rounds. Still, there were literally no excuses that could preserve Jones’ reputation this time. The fighters were the same age and Jones’ weight was made properly. Not even a plague of gym-eating locusts could have prevented Jones from getting himself in adequate condition to end Tarver’s garrulous bragging.

But none of it mattered. Tarver’s nights work was perhaps one of the easiest of his career. And if Jones retires and Tarver finds himself unable to secure mega-money-making opportunities in the ring, he could always land himself a part on the screen. His “Any excuses tonight Roy?” line followed by his prompt knockout of Jones couldn’t have been more dramatically scripted by a Hollywood writer, and it was all the more astonishing given that he achieved it faster than even he believed he would.

The “Magic Man” has conjured himself a piece of history. Some may argue that he dealt with Jones so conclusively that another fight would be unnecessary. I would argue that an honorable reign as pound for pound champion for so many years is more than enough currency to buy Jones another chance. But if Roy proves too reluctant to try and reconcile this defeat in a third fight, Tarver’s next trick will be to become all that Jones would not. There was never any doubt as to Jones being the most skilled boxer of his time, but Tarver has a chance to become a fighter who is not only revered and respected but maybe most importantly of all, loved by the fans.
If Tarver can achieve this he will have gained something that in my opinion Jones has never been able to claim.

Jones takes one last smattering of credit in defeat. He arrived in perfect condition and he came to win. His loss was not met with a barrage of excuses….he took it as a true champion should. And so the torch has truly been passed. But Tarver must not rest; he must not condemn this monumental victory to being remembered as the single high of his career. He certainly has no problem whatsoever when matters turn to self-promotion, but he must forge ahead now into the challenges that will excite the public. He holds the unprecedented distinction of being the man who beat the great Roy Jones; and as such his every move will be scrutinized and evaluated.

Roy Jones has the chance to show us in defeat that which he never would as the champion. But should he exercise his right to choose not to as it were, an era will end without true punctuation. In any event, the era of Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver has begun, so let’s sit back and enjoy the show.

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