It feels like they all stick around too long. The champs, the chumps, the somebodies, the nobodies, the pugs no one knows and those on Wheaties boxes – all of them finally wore out their welcome in the squared circle. A boxer’s life is a short life, both sped up and slowed down, with a compressed beginning, middle and end. And when the end comes, facing facts is something few fighters comprehend. Yet only sadists can find satisfaction in another man’s fall, even if he’s rubbed us the wrong way, even if he is Roy Jones Jr.
Roy Jones (49-4, 38 KOs) and Antonio Tarver (24-3, 18 KOs) met for the third and final act of their trilogy in a fight called “No Excuses” at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Saturday night. The rubber match was the culmination of Jones winning, in controversial fashion, fight one, and Tarver clocking Jones the second time around. However this bout was freighted with baggage above and beyond a win or a loss, a big fat paycheck, or a proud man’s mental and physical health. Tarver-Jones III was supposed to determine Jones’ ranking, once and for all, in the historical pound-for-pound rankings. Was he an all-time great all the time? Or was he an all-time great some of the time?
It looks, generously speaking, like the latter is true.
In a one-sided match that saw neither fighter at his best, Tarver, wearing white trunks trimmed with blue, took the fight to Jones, dressed in black trunks with white trim, while Roy postured, posed and hotdogged – everything but fight – throughout the bout. Jones’ speed and athleticism were on display, as they have been over most of his career, but his unwillingness to mix it up, which some might call fighting smart, made for a deadly dull championship contest. Antonio initiated the bulk of the action, but finding no one to engage ended up cutting into Tarver’s game, so that at the end of 12, even though he got the unanimous decision (116-112, 116-112 and 117-111), Tarver looked less exceptional than he has in the past, perhaps less exceptional than he actually is.
Jones is, to his credit, still a masterful boxer, but he’s an even more reluctant warrior, and his legacy, such as it is, was not enhanced by Saturday’s display. He offered “no excuses” and seemed rather pleased with himself after the fight. It was Tarver, oddly enough, who was on the defensive. Talking about Jones to Larry Merchant, Tarver said, “He (Jones) was real crafty. This is a chess match. A mistake and I’m checkmate.”
Tarver wasn’t checkmate in Tampa. He won by a wide margin. He also solidified his claim as the best light heavyweight fighting today. But the rubber match between him and Roy fell way short of being a classic. It seemed more about one man’s ego run amok and another man’s inability to corner and shatter an illusion.
Jones may have redeemed himself in his own eyes – he didn’t, after all, get knocked out – but he has lost his last three fights, two by KO and last night’s fight by decision, so maybe it’s time to hang ‘em up and call it a day. He’s had a great career, an illustrious run, but it’s all over now. Maybe Roy will return to his broadcast duties at HBO and forget about stepping back into the ring. Failing that, HBO might consider letting others beside their expert commentators handle the matchmaking duties on their pay-per-view telecasts. We thank you for Roy Jones, but, thank you, we’ve had enough of Roy Jones. Maybe it’s time to retire the old musket for one of the young guns.