Several winters ago I sat in my mothers living room with my sister Toni laughing and talking about our youth. My sister (god Bless her) is a year younger and always had to bore the brunt of being my “kid sister” for I was in my own small way a bit notorious. We laughed at how self-absorbed and obnoxious I was, my athletic prowess and even things that at the time weren’t very funny at all. In the middle of this reminiscing Toni said “guess who I ran into at the mall today?” For adults who’ve moved away the hometown mall during holiday season is always a haven of intrigue. Kind of a mixture of discomfort and delight, we miss the familiar smells and sights yet we hope we don’t run into someone who reminds of who we “were”. To be reminded of who you were is the function of past, and it is never more probable than at the hometown mall.
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My sister went on to tell me that she ran into an old rival, someone who despised me and wanted very badly to shut my big mouth. She humorously replayed the conversation, his transparent attempt at small talk knowing full well what he really wanted to know. Time has a way of humbling us all, when you get to be my age everything around the corner is like a boogieman reminding you of fallibility you learn to adjust. When he finally asked so how’s your brother? With mocking concern my sister relished in telling him what he didn’t want to hear. I laughed good and hard at her imitation of his facial grimace and the deflation in his tone and posture.
I felt like a 50 something Ali, wracked with Parkinson’s yet still being able to muster enough strength to say of Joe Frazier “He’s still ugly”. The point is, we all have our nemesis, someone who wouldn’t piss on us if were on fire. Someone that we would fight long after we should know better, someone we would never trust because long ago when we were both fragile the wound was inflicted. It’s in our DNA; one of the first things we learn in life is that not everyone is going to like you. Boxing is an endeavor where a nemesis is essential in order to gauge the intangible makeup of those we bestow the word “great”. How does a fighter of unparalleled skill elevate himself without that one man defiant (and talented) enough to say “ you aint so great and I’m gonna prove” it. Antonio Tarver is such a man, and despite what transpires on Saturday night he will always have distaste for Roy Jones Jr. As all great nemesis should.
From the moment Roy Jones hand was raised at the Sunshine State games in 1983 the venom began its slow boil for Antonio Tarver. This was as pivotal a moment in boxing lore as Robinson’s brush-off of Basillio or Dela hoya’s running past a prone Vargas. The cut was long and deep. To hear him talk up Roy’s accomplishments in promotion of this fight is to hear a politician doing the cold-blooded job of campaigning- trust me if anyone lacks respect for Roy’s resume it’s the Magic Man. For you see, your nemesis believes that all that you have is by deceitful means (see Jones’s risk reward ratio) and therefore should rightfully be his. Antonio Tarver is working at a maniacal clip, despite the predictions because he is feeling the onset of an old familiar cloud. That Roy has made his disappearance, his legacy, his hand, his health and his state of mind “the story” isn’t lost on the savvy Tarver. Imagine the great Roy Jones accepting financial parity with a guy he previously starched with one punch. Hell, imagine Roy Jones mentioning the name of a guy he previously starched with one punch. Such is the plight of the great nemesis; indignity is a dish they will gladly eat cold just to for a chance to hit you again. When Tarver vows to close the book on Jones he isn’t talking about boxing, he’s talking about in his life. Roy even holds an analyst job that by all observations would be better performed by Antonio.
The Nemesis is noble in that he points out our hypocrisies and often represents that segment of the population that by cynical nature don’t believe the hype. Tarvers whole career was not based on being inspired watching Jones fight in the Olympics on TV. That was for HBO cameras, I would guess that his feeling was closer to primal than that, more like “I want what he has”. Isn’t that why most of us fight in life, why we are willing to get nasty and compete? “I want”. Many of us are married to women that we first saw walking with some other cat, what was your initial thought fella’s? “I’m inspired”? Puh lease! . It was “I want”! And more importantly “damnit I deserve”. Fighters like Tarver rise from the ashes to provide balance in boxing most of them have towed a harder road than the idols they pursue, and finally assault.
Tarvers struggles with substance abuse and career stagnation are as essential to his role as Jones foil as his lanky southpaw stance. Tarver, like Basillio before him reminds us that artist like Jones and Robinson if only for the pompous way that they disregard decorum and process sometimes need an ass kicking. On Saturday night Antonio Tarver will still carry into the ring scars of not being welcomed with open arms into a promoter driven industry. Marvin Hagler will be with him in spirit, as well as the guy who worked in a Philadelphia slaughterhouse while young Cassius Clay bewitched an adoring public. It’s no secret that as fans we are often drawn to fighters that we see ourselves in, which is why boxing is often broken down along ethnic lines. Antonio Tarver is appealing to that part of us that hate perfection because we are far from it, he appeals to that nemesis in us all. Those parts of us that don’t wish old rivals well during the holiday season and don’t mind saying it.
Tarver’s role as Jones nemesis will ultimately lead him to Canastota if he continues to define himself beyond Saturday night. All great boxing nemesis reduce singular talents (like Leonard and Ali) as uninteresting and gray without their presence. Stylistically oppositional, the nemesis is always programmed to detonate his rival at his weakest point. Tarvers left hand was primed to meet Roy’s leaping power shots just as sure as Frazier’s left hook was bound to catch Ali’s head pulling back. Evander Holyfield could absorb Tyson’s barrage, counter him and more importantly out bully him. Most great nemesis have the perfect style to inflict the most damage to the object of their disdain. They allow us to live vicariously through them and gain our own bit of emotional vengeance against the primadonna’s that have irritated the hell out of us in the past.
When Antonio Tarver enters that ring in Tampa on Saturday night understand this boxing fans. This is neither about his legacy nor his ability to make money in boxing this is about Roy Jones. If somebody has to tell you that it’s not about this or that (fill in the blanks) most of the time it is. Roy Jones is the symbol for anything that may not have gone right in his career, deserved or not. Roy Jones is more than just another steppingstone-Roy Jones is not someone he can do without, Roy Jones is his obsession. And for that we thank him, for without the passion and intensity of the nemesis what would boxing be?
Am I qualified to say anything negative about Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward? Hell no. But since I’m typing; the comment “I train tall fighters to beat short fighters” is a bit…. much. Didn’t help Hearn’s did it? If Vivian Harris had gotten by Muassa his height wouldn’t have kept Ricky Hatton at bay. Manny is feasting on an era of short fighters who are coming in way too heavy. Much has been made of Samuel Peter’s inability to double jab and get inside Vlad Klitchsko’s great reach last Saturday night. This may be true but Peter like Tua before him is just way too heavy to be effective. Short pressure fighters expend more energy, to be heavy wont improve your chances of staying low (moving your head) and letting your hands go like need be. Eddie Futch objected to Riddick Bowes weight (and he was tall!) and Freddie Roach is constantly prodding James Toney about the same issue. None of Manny’s “tall” heavyweights would have kept a 202 pound Frazier off of them nor a 218 pound Kevin Rooney version of Mike Tyson. Manny’s “old school” he knows a 5’11-6’1 guy weighing in at 230-240’s is a sitting duck that’s why it’s so easy to make the call. Calvin “Risin Stock” Brock is conditioned and busy enough to prove my theory correct.
Cotto a STAR
Boxing is like any other entertainment medium, where the term “star” doesn’t always mean the “best”. Miguel Cotto has what makes any other leading man a “star”- power, character, and most importantly vulnerability. Hell, we wont really care about Floyd Mayweather jr. until he slows down and starts to show what? That’s right- vulnerability. Trust me, Cotto will be packing them in to MSG with 5 losses on his record and those who are yelling “exposed” will be plunking down 50 bones to see it.
Prayers of Safety and long life to all those entering the ring this Weekend
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