Posted: Friday September 30, 2005 12:45PM; Updated: Friday September 30, 2005 12:45PM
I can't think of another truly great fighter who was knocked out so definitively twice in succession at the end of his career. Of course, those two devastating losses were not, it seems, the end of Roy Jones Jr.'s career. He has chosen to return to face Tarver again.
Coming from Jones, who, since he started boxing has always made a point of avoiding danger -- of hitting without getting hit, of attacking without putting himself into harm's way -- it is a dismaying choice. Tarver (who since stopping Jones has lost a split decision to Johnson and then beat him handily in the rematch) appears to be better than ever.
There is no reason to believe Jones is anywhere near as good as he once was. Factor in whatever damage he might (must?) have suffered in his two concussive losses and you have a scary, disheartening situation.
It may be melodramatic to mention this, but the Tarver-Jones bout, to be held at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., and aired on pay-per-view, is taking place on the same day that Leavander Johnson is to be buried in Atlantic City, N.J. Johnson, who held the IBF lightweight title, died of brain injuries suffered in his 11th-round TKO loss to Jesus Chavez on Sept. 17. He was 35.
In HBO's video preview for the Tarver-Jones III, Jones speaks of how a fighter has to be prepared to die when he enters the ring. "It's kill or die," says Jones. That is an unhappy thought on the eve of this match.
Could Jones win Saturday night? Of course. It would be foolish to write off a fighter as gifted and experienced as he is. But I don't think he will. I think Jones has lost just enough of his otherworldly speed that he will be unable to dictate the pace and pattern of the fight as he once used to do with such nonchalance.
I also think that the two knockouts have left their mark on him, psychologically and -- more troubling -- physically. It is hard to imagine any fighter left separated from his senses twice like that bouncing back ready for a give-and-take war. And make no mistake: Tarver will be tough and ready and more than eager to test Jones's chin.
Then again, Roy is Roy. Boxing writer Carlo Rotella, one of the sharpest observers of the sport today (if you haven't read Rotella's 2003 collection of essays, Cut Time -- which was just released in paperback -- for heaven's sake, stop reading this and go right out and buy a copy!) points out that Jones is an aficionado of kung fu movies. He loves to watch them before bouts. And in kung fu movies, Rotella observes, it is acceptable for the hero to be crushed once, even twice, as long as he rededicates himself to the Way and returns, maybe armed with a secret new weapon, stronger than ever.
Maybe Roy Jones Jr. is making his own movie. I just don't see it having a happy ending.
Under the radar alert: Even as Jones and Tarver are squaring off on pay-per-view, Showtime viewers Saturday night will be treated to what on any other evening would be a top attraction: James Toney will be back in the ring for the first time since serving a 90-day suspension for steroids after beating World Boxing Association heavyweight champion John (the Quiet Man) Ruiz in April. (That bout was declared a no-contest.) Toney (the Anything-But-Quiet Man) faces Dominick Guinn. On the undercard (under-under-the-radar?), IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd will take on challenger and family friend DaVarryl Williamson. The winner will be thinking Klitschko. ...
Thanks to a number of attuned readers who suggested additions to my woefully short list of boxing-related songs.
Jacob Eckber of Denton, Texas, reminds me that the Fugees contributed the great Rumble in the Jungle to the soundtrack of When We Were Kings. Says Jacob, "awesome."
Toby of Newmarket, N.H., offers up I'm a Fighter, off the 1985 Van Zandt album.
And Tom Benson of Lake Mary, Fla., sent along the lyrics from Warron Zevon's Boom Boom Mancini. You gotta love any song that contains the lines, Hurry home early, hurry on home/Boom Boom Mancini's fighting Bobby Chacon.