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Welcome mat out wide for
favorites Toney, Jones

Sep 21, 2004 4:20 AM

There will be many returns next week, but I’m not sure all will qualify as happy.

James Toney, out with a torn Achilles heel that forced cancellation of an early year meeting with Jameel McCline, comes back to face a pudgy nonthreatening cruiserweight named Rydell Booker on Thursday (FOX network). Don’t let the zero at the end of Booker’s record fool you, he can’t fight.

Period. Exclamation point!

Toney, for all his skills, is still more mouth than talent. He wins even if his leg falls off. If both go, it’s pick ’em. He’s not even the man with the best heavyweight history returning this week. Saturday, on a native American reservation about 30 miles outside of Oklahoma City, Riddick Bowe comes back after 7½ years of mumbling incoherently, trying to join the Marines, kidnapping his first wife and their five kids and doing time.

Bowe is 37, I think, and the man who beat Evander Holyfield in his prime. Not like Toney, who beat the ashes of the Real Deal. Bowe, with only one official loss (to Holyfield in the second bout of their trilogy), returns against who knows what. The first opponent named was Jeff Lally, who had lost nine in a row by knockout. There have been a whole string of subs of the same ilk.

This is a free country, I believe, so I’m not going to be the one telling Bowe to try some other occupation. Same way I wouldn’t appreciate it if he told me I was too old to write. I wish him luck, but it does not make me happy that he is trying this comeback.

Finally, we get to the only one that still counts. Roy Jones Jr. Boxing’s longtime best will be making his first start since Antonio Tarver, with a single left hand, removed Jones’s aura of invincibility last May 15.

The line I’ve seen has Jones as a 7-1 favorite over Glencoffe Johnson, who holds one of the light-heavyweight titles that Tarver didn’t bother paying the sanction fee. Johnson (49-9-2, 27 KO) has lost a bunch of fights to good fighters (even Bernard Hopkins). At 36, Johnson is a year older than Jones.

Roy has been accused of taking soft assignments against cops, garbage collectors and postmen. Now he’s got a journeyman in front of him in Memphis (HBO telecast with the tape delay of Hopkins-de la Hoya).

I would have expected Jones to get back on the horse and look for a rubber match with Tarver. But he wants parity and thinks getting a 175-pound title will accomplish that. I’m not so sure. Tarver could have some interesting alternatives — from Hopkins to Toney.

In any case, if Jones is trying to restore his lost glamour, beating Glen Johnson won’t do it. He might have been better advised to just hang ’em up and get on with raising fighting chickens. After losing to Tarver, there was not even the chance of a meaningful heavyweight fight. So he has to eventually face Tarver. Do we really think Jones needs someone like Johnson to regain his confidence?

Johnson is no slouch. If Jones truly has gone down, if his legs are gone, then the older man can perhaps trap him on the ropes and do some damage. However, even at 7-1, I wouldn’t bet on it.

I think Jones has a pretty good chance of beating Tarver in a third fight. This from a man who bet on Tarver in each of the first two. Tarver was a good bet then. If he shows up as only a 7-5 dog in a third fight, he may not be. Remember, Tarver too is 35 and he has spent his time since May fighting bankruptcy and his "promoter" Joe DeGuardia.

Johnson-Jones (hey Bob Arum, the champion’s name comes first) is the only one of this troika that interests me. Toney is fighting a bum. I’m not sure I want to watch ol’ Bowe, but there is always a chance that Jones can dazzle, even if only for a few rounds before settling into a monotonous pace.

Maybe we can have some fun next week, since Oct. 2 is a day for betting on the fights.