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Three weeks ago, on a crisp October morning, Ed (Too Tall) Jones sat in a restaurant near Times Square alternately forking down a plate of tuna fish and draining a pitcher of iced tea, palming the pitcher like a basketball in his right hand. The 28-year-old former Dallas Cowboy defensive end had just finished another training session in the Times Square Boxing Club, a defiantly grimfaced gymnasium just around the corner on New York's 42nd Street. At 6'9", 250 pounds he dwarfed the booth in which he sat and seemed, at that moment, to be the largest man on earth, almost as imposing as the air of calm and confidence that he evinced.
Here was a man who had succeeded in every athletic endeavor he had ever undertaken. A fine high school first baseman in Jackson, Tenn.—he had offers to sign a professional contract—he was also a tremendous basketball player, a high school All-America with scholarship offers from most every major college. "I had a real good outside shot and could crash the boards real good," Jones said. Choosing football over basketball at Tennessee State, he learned the game from scratch—he had played it only briefly in high school—and by his junior year the pro scouts were aware of him. Dallas took him in the first round in 1974. Then he became an All-Pro. And now, in the fall of 1979, boxing was to be the fourth and final measure of the man. "This is my last go-round in professional sports," he said. It would begin soon, in a ring in the Pan-American Center in Las Cruces, N. Mex., where he would meet one Jesus (Yaqui) Meneses, the 20-year-old son of a corn and cotton farmer in Obreg�n, Mexico. Jones placed his fork down and stared impassively across the table as a question about fear was posed.
"Of what?" he said.
"Of being knocked out."
"No. My only problem will be going in there overconfident. I'm the type who doesn't believe you can hurt me. This cat's got some knockouts. But I will walk into that ring saying, 'If he hits me with his best shot, he won't hurt me.' Sure, football prepared me. Guys will say, 'Ah, he had a helmet on.' But that's a bunch of bull. I know a lot of guys who get knocked out with helmets on. Man, you get some hard shots in football. But I've never been knocked out. Never been close. I could get overconfident and get tagged. But still, again, he won't hurt me. I guarantee he can't hurt me. If I had to go against Earnie Shavers tomorrow, I wouldn't be scared, and he's the hardest puncher in the business."
If character is an accumulation of painful experiences, as someone once suggested, then Jones was a better man last Saturday night than he was last Saturday morning. He beat Meneses on a majority decision that afternoon, winning the bout on points scored in the first four rounds, but not before Meneses hit him with two stinging left hooks in the sixth and last round, one a flagrantly illegal blow while Jones was down. Those punches left Too Tall walking like a giraffe with arthritis and plunged the fight into a swirl of controversy and confusion before a crowd of 9,100 and a nationwide television audience.
It all began when Meneses hooked Jones on the side of his head. The blow staggered Jones, leaving him off balance, startled and apparently hurt. Meneses then plowed into Jones, shoving him back with both hands. No offensive lineman ever had it so easy with Too Tall. He toppled backward, falling in his corner on the seat of his gorgeous burgundy-colored velvet trunks. Meneses loomed over him and, while Jones sat there, bent down and crashed a second hook to his cheek, snapping his head hard to the side. "Estaba bien excitado," the contrite Meneses would say. "No pense." (I was totally excited; I didn't think.)
At once Referee Buddy Basilico leaped in and ordered Meneses to a neutral corner. Basilico had seen the illegal chop, but at the time had thought it was "too light to affect the outcome of the fight." It was only later, after he had gone to the CBS truck to watch the replay, that he realized the strength of the blow. "In the ring I didn't think the second blow was devastating," he said, "but later I saw it was."
After ushering Meneses to a neutral corner, Basilico returned to Jones, who was still on the canvas. Basilico heard Bobby Serrano, the timekeeper for knockdowns, calling out "six...seven." As Serrano reached eight, Jones precariously gained his legs. "I'm not a physician, or anything like that, but Jones was in a semiconscious state," Basilico said. "You could just see it in his eyes."
As Basilico stood in front of Jones, Too Tail's trainer, Murphy Griffith, suddenly leaped upon the apron of the ring, outside the ropes—where it's illegal for a cornerman to go—and twice tried to flash what appeared to Basilico to be a capsule of ammonia under Jones' nose. Basilico twice pushed Griffith's hand away. Griffith would contend later that he was merely trying to wipe Jones' eyes with a piece of gauze. But Basilico, a former New York referee now working out of Las Vegas, scoffed at that explanation. "It looked to me like he had the capsule under his nose," Basilico said.