Reality sets in for Jones, while Bowe fights on

Posted: Tuesday, September 28, 2004

By now, reality should have set in for Roy Jones Jr. and his brain cleared enough to realize his sometimes brilliant career is over.

Hopefully, he's not still woozy from the punch that knocked him cold and left him on the canvas Saturday night with his eyes closed for a frightening four minutes. Hopefully, he remembers the beating that left him with a concussion and sent him to a Memphis hospital for tests on his brain.

Great champions can lose fights and come back, of course. But Jones would be wise to avoid that temptation after being knocked silly for the second straight fight, this time by a boxer who wouldn't have even touched him in his prime.

Fighters like Jones, 35, rarely understand when the end comes. They live in the past, remembering a time when youth was on their side, their skills were at their peak and everything seemed so easy.

Riddick Bowe is one of them, trying to make a comeback with the threat of brain damage always just one big punch away.

They don't realize that inevitably time will pass them by, just as it does any athlete. The reflexes slow, they're a step slower and things that used to seem to happen in slow motion suddenly speed up.

In most sports, the penalty for hanging on too long is mere embarrassment. The image of Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield and falling down on the basepath in the 1973 World Series comes to mind.

With fighters, it's different. The risks are a lot more real than whiffing at a baseball.

Think of an aging Muhammad Ali taking punishment round after round at the hands of Larry Holmes, and then look at him today. Remember one-time heavyweight champion Greg Page coming back and nearly losing his life in a makeshift ring in Kentucky for a few thousand dollars.

Now look at Jones, whose fall from the top of boxing's best pound-for-pound fighters to basically being a shot fighter was not only shocking, but shockingly quick.

It was only 18 short months ago that Jones moved up in weight to win the heavyweight title, joining Michael Spinks as one of the rare light heavyweight champions who managed to turn that trick.

Jones dropped back down back to light heavyweight for his next fight, and Antonio Tarver gave him such a bad time that many thought Jones was dealt his first real loss. Jones tried to write it off as a bad night, but the next time the two met, Tarver starched Jones with a left hand in the second round that sent him crumpling to the canvas.

Saturday's fight against Glen Johnson was supposed to be an easy way to pick up a title again, and set Jones up for a lucrative third fight with Tarver. Johnson had the IBF title, but had won only three of his last seven fights and surely wouldn't give Jones much trouble.

Not only did Johnson give Jones a fight, he dominated it. He was leading on all three scorecards and beating Jones to the punch when he landed an overhand right and a short left that knocked Jones out cold in the ninth round.

Tarver was at ringside to watch Jones in anticipation of a third fight that now likely will never happen. Tarver tends to talk a lot, but Jones would be wise to listen to the advice he offered afterward.

''I want to see the man go on and enjoy his life after boxing,'' Tarver said. ''We don't need to see Roy Jones go through the things he went through tonight, the things he went through on May 15. Let the man ride off into the sunset.''

In boxing, it's rarely that easy. The same night Jones may have been riding off into the sunset, another fighter of note was riding in the opposite direction.

Bowe was on a tribal reservation, where fans sat outdoors in folding seats in a park and drank tall cans of beer to watch him make an improbable comeback after eight years away from the ring.

The reality for Jones is that he's finished, done, through. He's rich, has nothing left to prove in boxing and can return to his well-paying job from HBO as a ringside commentator.

The reality for Bowe is that some day, probably soon, he will run into a fighter who punches back and his comeback will be over.

The only thing true boxing fans can hope for is that both face up to their individual realities before someone really gets hurt.

Tim Dahlberg is a columnist for The Associated Press.



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