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Tarver vs. Jones

Nov 4, 2003 7:01 AM

He’s the best, the best in a long time probably. Some of my gurus think he’s the best of all time, and yes, that includes Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali and Butterbean.

Now he says he’s angry and he’s going to take it out on Antonio Tarver next Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Maybe.

Roy Jones Jr. should win. He could win by spectacularly quick knockout. You don’t need me to tell you that he’s quick, accurate, has every punch in the book, can’t be hit and all that.

He looks like a lock, right?

Wrong.

Tarver can fight. Tarver is not in this just for the payday. This is his shot at glory and fame. He’s beaten such as Reggie Johnson, Eric Harding and Montell Griffin — same as Roy did. And those were Roy’s biggest victories as a light-heavyweight. In my way of convoluted thinking, Tarver thus is Jones’s biggest challenge at light-heavy.

Tarver, remember, was a blue chip amateur, a dominant world champion. Of all the guys on the 1996 Olympic team, he was the one who was supposed to strike gold. He lost a close decision to Vasilliy Jirov, the future cruiserweight champion.

He is a tall southpaw with good power, not great, in both hands. He can box, he can move. He is a dangerous counterpuncher.

Jones claims to be something of a Jekyll-Hyde. There’s Roy Jones Jr., he says, his normal state. But every now and then, he says an ugly, angry side comes out — "RJ" he calls this persona — as it did for his rematch with Griffin. "RJ" felt Griffin was taking too much credit for the only victory over Roy Jones Jr., the one by disqualification.

Avoiding his usual caution, RJ struck quickly. Griffin, it should be pointed out, was able to land a solid left hook counter. RJ acted as if he didn’t feel it and swarmed all over Griffin, stopping him in the first round.

Jones says "RJ" will definitely be in the ring Nov. 8.

"I can promise you right now," he said on a press conference call, "I’m not going to be careful — I know it’s the wrong thing to do, but I can’t help it."

Tarver blithely dismisses Jones’s schizzo claims. "They’re both getting knocked out at the same time," he said.

Do not for one moment believe the smokescreen that Jones was angry at Tarver for calling him out at the post-fight press conference following the Ruiz dismantling. Do not believe that having to run extra miles and having to diet in order to get back down to 175 pounds has brought out the RJ in Jones.

There’s a history between the two young men — and they are both in their mid-30s — from Florida, dating back to the Sunshine Games of 1984 when Jones won a split decision.

Tarver has been so ticked at both RJ and Roy Jones Jr. that he was threatening to pull out of his biggest payday (about $1.4 million against Jones’s HBO-guaranteed $5 million) over what is boxing protocol. That may be an oxymoron to some, but it is customary for the champion to enter the ring second and to be introduced last. Jones was insisting these honors belonged to him, that he "outranked" Tarver by virtue of a bogus WBA heavyweight title belt, or by somehow retaining his light-heavyweight titles after he gave them up.

Jones may not know it, but that insistence (which will be worked out by a coin flip, winner getting his choice of entering last or being introduced last) puts him on the side of one of the most disgusting episodes in ring history — when Gerry Cooney was given the honors vs. Larry Holmes.

That was strictly a racist deal. But Muhammad Ali, the biggest name in the game, was undefeated, still recognized as the champion by many because his title was illegally stripped from him, entered the ring first and was introduced first when he faced Joe Frazier in 1971.

This could well be the only time Tarver will have the opportunity to be treated as a champion and he was ready to pull the plug on the fight. He thought it not only "a matter of principle," but he was not about to let Jones intimidate him. However, wiser (greedier?) heads in his camp said the main thing was to get an apparently overconfident Jones into the ring. His great young trainer, Buddy McGirt, said all that mattered was whose right hand was raised AFTER the fight.

Ah, Buddy McGirt. The main reason Tarver has a real chance against Jones, RJ and whoever else climbs in the ring, first or second. At the end of his injury-wracked but brilliant career, with only one arm and no legs, McGirt wanted to move up in weight and fight Jones. He saw something, he said. He knew how to fight this guy. Luckily for him, some schlub beat him before Jones could hurt him. But here’s McGirt, now with a stronger, taller, more powerful body to send out into battle.

The odds make no sense. The week before, Floyd Mayweather Jr. — the only fighter out there with natural talents to compare with Jones’s — was only minus 5.00 (bet $5 to win $1) against Phillip N’Dou, who was plus 3.50 (bet $1 to win $3.50). Jones was minus 9.50, Tarver plus 6.50 and, whatever happened Nov. 1, you can’t tell me GOING IN that N’Dou had better credentials than does Tarver. No way. The line is way too high. Jones SHOULD win. But listen to Tarver: "He’s a great fighter, but so am I. He makes a lot of mistakes. He gets away with it because of his natural ability. But one mistake might be his last."

Stranger things have happened.