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Third time's the harm

Stubborn Jones Jr. shouldn't be fighting Tarver again

Posted: Friday September 30, 2005 12:45PM; Updated: Friday September 30, 2005 12:45PM
Fans have gotten used to seeing Roy Jones Jr. (left) uncharateristically battered during his two fights with Antonio Tarver.
Fans have gotten used to seeing Roy Jones Jr. (left) uncharateristically battered during his two fights with Antonio Tarver.
Robert Beck/SI
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Some of boxing's most memorable moments have come in the third bouts of trilogies. Think of Tony Zale's textbook knockout of Rocky Graziano in 1947, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier taking each other to the brink and beyond in Manila in '75, or even last November, with Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales producing yet another brutal war.

But the third time is not a guaranteed charm. I may well be proved wrong, but I don't expect Saturday night's bout between Antonio Tarver and Roy Jones Jr. to be a rubber match for the ages. In fact, I wish the fight had never been made.

The first time these two faced off in November '03, Jones was 35, essentially undefeated in 49 fights over a 15-year professional career (his record marred only by a controversial DQ loss that he'd avenged with a one-round KO) and he was pretty much everybody's choice for the best fighter pound-for-pound in boxing.

By all accounts, Jones was the finest of his generation. Hadn't he just whipped John Ruiz to become the first former middleweight champ in modern ring history to win a heavyweight title? Wasn't he, really, bigger than boxing? He was a multi-faceted entertainer. He cut rap albums, played pro hoops, marketed clothing lines and, oh yeah, occasionally stepped into the ring to humiliate another opponent with a dazzling display of speed, power and improvisational moves that made almost every other fighter look fusty and hopelessly limited by comparison.

Tarver, also 35, was a relatively underachieving light heavyweight champ -- a southpaw at that -- with a record of 21-1. But he showed Jones, whom he had known since both were kids boxing in the amateurs in Florida, no respect. Though it was Jones who came away with the split-decision victory and the World Boxing Council light heavyweight belt, there were plenty of observers who thought that Tarver had won the fight.

The surprise of the first fight turned to complete shock in the second, held six months later. After an opening round in which Jones showed his familiar speed and flash, Tarver knocked him out with a single, explosive left hand in the second. The sight of Jones being counted out was a stunning one, a what's-wrong-with-this-picture moment.

Four months later, Jones was back in the ring, seeking to grab a share of the title from International Boxing Federation champion Glen Johnson. Jones looked terrible, and Johnson (a near journeyman at age 36, with a record of 41-9-2) went right after him. After banging the former pound-for-pound king around for eight rounds, Johnson knocked him out cold in the ninth.

It's easy to fall back on cliché in the description of action in the ring, to write something like "Johnson starched him." But in this instance, the term starched is horrifyingly accurate. Jones went down on his back and lay there, neck and legs taut and raised from the canvas, while he was counted out. He stayed down, not moving, for many frightening minutes.