In the last minute of the last round of Saturday's WBC welterweight championship bout at Las Vegas, Colin Jones of Wales, nearly blinded by sweat in the 106� desert heat, showed his teeth in a rabid wolf's grin at Milton McCrory's corner, then closed again with McCrory in a slamming, toe-to-toe exchange that had started with the bell for the round.
And the bell that ended it was a signal for chaos as the ring filled with the red T shirts of Jones's men, the red and yellow of McCrory's, and both boxers were lifted high in victory. Was it conceivable—and, yes, it was more than conceivable—that the draw the two had fought to in March as they went after the title Sugar Ray Leonard had vacated was going to be repeated?
For long minutes, both bands of partisans roared in triumph. Then another bell and the verdict: a split decision for McCrory. The Detroit fighter had won by virtue of the courage he displayed against Jones's onslaught in the 12th, an attack that could not compensate for Jones's curiously lackluster eighth round.
Back at winter's end, on March 19, Jones had come to Reno as an unknown outsider—you could have bet 6-1 against his beating McCrory. It is boxing history now, how after a slow, bewildered start, Jones reversed the tide in mid-fight and, but for a strange lack of concentration in the last round, might have taken the title outright instead of coming away with a draw.
No such generous odds prevailed around the Dunes Hotel this time, even though Jones was still a 2-1 underdog. McCrory, 21, belongs to that extraordinary seminary of fighters that goes by the name of the Kronk Boxing Team, and it seemed almost all of Kronk's 25 frontline boxers were in Las Vegas last week. They worked out each day along with McCrory in a makeshift gym at the Dunes. There was no shouting, and no music, only controlled, modulated instructions by assistants of the Kronk's director and McCrory's manager, Emanuel Steward. In Steward's suite one day, he was running yet again a videotape of the first Jones-McCrory fight. At the start of Round 2, Steward leaned forward. "Watch now," he said. "Just about a minute after the bell. There! You see it?"
One could detect a slight pulling back, a flinching by McCrory as he delivered a right. To McCrory and Steward, this was the moment when Jones-McCrory I had gone wrong. McCrory's first 17 pro fights had ended in KOs, but the last four had gone the distance.
"I had to move away in those four fights," McCrory said. "Fight one-handed. Usually it was in the sixth or seventh the hand would go, but with Jones it went in the second. I kept throwing it, but never with full power. Even blocking shots was hurting my right wrist. But the power is back now."
McCrory was confident of this because of the therapy he has been receiving from Dr. Anthony Daly of Los Angeles, who diagnosed the problem in the wrist as tendinitis. "This fight won't go the distance, man," McCrory predicted. " McCrory won't just be a jabber and a runner in this fight. McCrory's Force is with him." Steward was even more positive. "He'll knock this kid out in five," he said. "I have no major concern over this fight."
Nor did any of McCrory's fans show concern in the first four rounds. Although McCrory failed to show the early zip he had in the first match, suddenly, only seconds before the end of the first round, Jones was wide open and McCrory put him down with a classic left and right to the chin. It was the first time in his pro career that Jones had been knocked down, and it was not serious enough to keep the Welshman from winking at his corner as he rose at once. But a loud chant of "Iceman! Iceman!" went up. "Iceman gonna be crowned!"
However, Iceman McCrory (as his fans like to call him) was not entirely fulfilling his promise to refrain from jabbing and running. When he did come forward, Jones slipped many of the left jabs and hooks that McCrory was throwing at his head and body while at the same time plainly trying to get inside to negate McCrory's two-inch-reach and five-inch-height advantage.