For most of Saturday night’s fight, Antonio Tarver looked like a guy trying to feel his way through the dark. Fists spread out wide in front of him, he cautiously plodded forward in the general direction of an elusive Roy Jones Jr., pawing with his right jab as though he was trying to reach out and see if there was something in front of him blocking his way.
On a night when Roy Jones Jr. showed flashes of what he used to be, he also proved that you can’t bluff your way into a championship. In the end, his fight game proved to be more vaudeville than back alley, more drama than barroom brawl.
Playing to a wild crowd of 20,895 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Jones wiggled his hips, made faces, touched his shoes with his gloves and generally out-performed Tarver.
He just didn’t out-fight him.
In the end, Tarver won a unanimous decision that few could argue with. Even Jones admitted that on that night, Tarver was again the better fighter.
“Tarver would have given me all I could handle in my best days as a light-heavyweight,” Jones said shortly after the fight.
“Tonight, I really had to dig deep,” said Tarver, who rocked Jones in the 11th round. “I let him know my will was stronger than his.”
Someone who watched the rubber match up close was former light-heavyweight champ Glen Johnson. Fresh off a knockout win over George Khalid Jones in an IBF eliminator fight the night before in California, Johnson, who lives in Miami, flew in for the fight because he needs to remind Tarver that he’s still out there, still waiting for a chance to complete his own little trilogy with Tarver.
Like Jones, Johnson went 1-1 in his first two fights with Tarver. He won a split decision in their first meeting last December, while Tarver won the rematch this past June.
Dressed in a dark, pinstripe suit, Johnson didn‘t show any war wounds from the night before. Talking while waiting for the Jones-Tarver post-fight press conference a little after midnight in the catacombs of the Forum, he said the only thing that surprised him about the fight was the lack of action.
“It was an entertaining fight, but not an exciting fight,” he said. “I was surprised they didn’t [mix it up] more. It was supposed to be a grudge match, but instead, it was a dance lesson.”
Johnson would like to do a few steps with Tarver if he’s up for it.
“It’d be a different fight between us because Roy Jones has a different style than I do,” he said. “Tonight (Saturday), Roy didn‘t do too much to impress anyone.”
“I’d love to fight Tarver a third time. He said he was going to do it and I expect him to do it.”
If Johnson has to resort to calling him out to get another fight, he’s ready to do it.
“If there is not a Johnson-Tarver III,” he said, “Tarver is definitely the coward, not me.”
Acknowledging Johnson at the press conference, Tarver joked that maybe he had earned himself an easy fight.
“My last 12 fights have been against top contenders,” he said. “Can't I get a soft break?”
He certainly earned it.