Jones never saw it coming

Sports Views

Posted: Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Roy Jones Jr. never saw it coming. Most fighters, even the great ones, never do.

It was always so easy for Jones, who was blessed with the kind of supreme boxing skills that come along only once a generation or so. They stole a gold medal from him in the 1988 Olympics, but he was going to do it his way as a pro.

For the better part of 15 years, Jones did just that. He fought on his own terms, against the opponents he wanted, taking few risks and making a pretty nice living along the way.

His talents were so great that most proclaimed him the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

As the victories piled up, Jones believed it himself. He was too good ever to be beaten.

Then Antonio Tarver's left hand crashed into the side of his face Saturday night and changed everything.

Jones never saw the punch. Perhaps more importantly, he never imagined the consequences.

Of the thousands of punches Jones has given and taken during his career, one punch that came out of nowhere may turn out to haunt him even more than the robbery he suffered in Seoul.

Because of one punch, the great Roy Jones Jr. suddenly doesn't look so great anymore. Because of one punch, the record he so carefully built up will now be scrutinized a little closer.

And the questions of how Jones went about it all will grow.

It may not be right, but boxing by its very nature can be a cruel business. Jones found that out in the Olympics, and in the final part of his career he'll learn the lesson again.

Need some early proof? Just listen to Tarver, who couldn't resist taking a shot at Jones long after he had knocked him out.

''He was pampered, and babied up in the ranks,'' Tarver said. ''He's been sleeping on silk sheets as long as he can remember.''

To be fair, Jones has done things other fighters couldn't dream of. Before Tarver beat him, his only loss in 50 fights came when he was disqualified for hitting Montell Griffin while he was on one knee, a defeat he avenged by knocking Griffin out in the first round of the rematch.

And it was only last year when Jones became only the second light heavyweight champion to win a piece of the heavyweight title when he won a decision over John Ruiz.

But that was out of character for Jones, whose whole career seemed predicated on maximizing his money while minimizing his risks.

Yes, he beat James Toney and Bernard Hopkins early in his career. For the last decade or so, though, Jones has been a reluctant fighter at best, content to make $5 million or so a fight against the likes of a Clinton Woods or a Glenn Kelly.

He was far more talented than any of the journeymen contenders who climbed in the ring with him, but still Jones often carried them the full 12 rounds. His explanation was he didn't want to hurt anyone, but, as Mike Tyson is quick to say, boxing is a hurt business.

That's why the public never really embraced Jones, who was a mediocre pay-per-view draw at best. There were 10,318 people in the stands at the Mandalay Bay hotel-casino Saturday night only because a lot of tickets were given away.

Jones never seemed bothered by that, never seemed to care what people thought. He would arrive an hour late for a news conference or not show up at all, and rarely did much to promote any of his fights.

Because of that, the crowd Saturday night came to root for an underdog rather than cheer a ring legend. When Jones went down, the arena erupted in gleeful pandemonium.

They saw a new champion who eagerly seeks out the responsibilities of being a champion, not one who barely tolerated them.

''There's a new face in boxing,'' Tarver said. ''I want to get out and show people that boxing is alive and kicking.''

Just what Jones thought about it all was hard to tell. He may have a job as a color commentator for HBO, but he blew off the postfight news conference instead of talking. He did say in the ring after the fight that he won't fight Tarver again but would like to fight as a heavyweight once more.

That hardly seems likely now. With his chin exposed by a 175-pounder, there will be little appetite among boxing fans to see him against Tyson or Vitali Klitschko.

Jones is 35 and rich, so he could retire, but that's one thing fighters rarely do when they should. The best Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield come to mind tend to fight far longer than they should in the futile and sometimes frantic search for the skills they once had.

Jones still has many of those skills, but there's no doubt he's a step slower and his hands aren't quite as fast.

The sad thing is Jones could have been one of the greatest ever. Had he taken big fights and big chances, he certainly would have been. Even his win over Ruiz wasn't met with much acclaim, mostly because boxing fans thought he beat a stiff.

Now Jones has nowhere to go and no one to fight.

Tarver said as much before the fight in words that turned out to be strangely prophetic.

''His whole legacy is on the line whether he realizes it or not,'' Tarver said. ''We are stuck together like Siamese twins in history.''

Unfortunately for Jones, Tarver was as on target with his mouth as he was with his left hand.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg@ap.org.



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