The dull thump that ricocheted through the new FedExForum in Memphis last Saturday night was the sound of the overhand right that sent a boxing legend to the canvas and chopped his legacy down to size. Roy Jones Jr., long regarded as pound for pound the best fighter in the world, had been pulverized by Glen Johnson, a dented tomato can with exceedingly sharp edges. What had been billed as Jones's comeback fight--one that would restore his credibility and his IBF light heavyweight crown--played out more like a valedictory.
To be fair, the 35-year-old Jones had entered the ring still trying to makes sense of the knockout punch by Antonio Tarver that separated him from his light heavyweight title on May 15 in Las Vegas. "It came out of nowhere!" recalled Jones at the prefight press conference on Sept. 22. "I felt as if I'd driven through an intersection and been blindsided by a drunk running a red light." Tarver's "lucky left," as Jones called it, had accounted for the only real loss in Jones's 15-year pro career. His only other defeat, a disqualification against Montell Griffin in March 1997, was brutally avenged with a first-round KO five months later.
Having already won titles in three weight divisions (middle, super middle and light heavy), Jones outboxed WBA heavyweight champ John Ruiz in March 2003 and then, in November, outpointed Tarver to regain the WBC light heavyweight belt, one of the three he'd relinquished when he fought Ruiz. After Tarver hammered him in the second round of their rematch, Jones was left without a title for the first time in a decade.
For years Jones has been accused of fighting forgettable opponents for painless paydays. Some critics had even called for "Roycotts" of his bouts. If the going ever got really tough, they predicted, Jones would punk out. So had he punked out against Tarver? At last week's press conference, the question provoked a terrible sulk. "People criticized Christ, and look how good he was," Jones said. "If Jesus is fair game, you know Roy Jones is."
Tarver's trainer, Buddy McGirt, was convinced that the divine Roy was on a quick and irreversible slide. "He's lost something that has nothing to do with reflexes or will or power," McGirt said last Thursday. "In its place is a growing doubt. When a fighter starts calling the other guy's punches lucky, he's avoiding the fact that he can't pull the trigger anymore."
Against Johnson, Jones promised he would shoot to kill. "If he acts crazy, he'll go early," Jones said. "If he acts like he has some sense, I might let him go a few rounds." Johnson was such an afterthought that his name was omitted from the arena's marquee, and his picture was left off the media credentials. Instead the plasticized passes showed Jones standing beside a heavy bag.
Johnson took it in stride. "I'm not claiming I'm the best this or the best that," he said. "I'm the guy who's willing to fight the self-claimed best."
Two weeks older than Jones, he won his first 32 pro fights before getting stopped in 11 rounds by middleweight king Bernard Hopkins in 1997. Eight more losses followed, to such ring immortals as Sven Ottke, Syd Vanderpool and Omar Sheika. "When you fight in another guy's hometown," Johnson explains, "judges steal victories from you." He won the vacant IBF 175-pound title in February with a decision over Clinton Woods, whom Jones easily dispatched in 2002. Jones may have expected Johnson to roll over too.
From the opening bell Johnson (4192) stabbed Jones (4930) with unerring, snappy left jabs to the head and kept him against the ropes. The infinitely more gifted Jones looked logy, clumsy, tentative--he finished the night with 270 punches to 437 for Johnson. A murderous right staggered Jones in Round 5, and that crushing right in Round 9 sent him toppling. He didn't get up for more than four minutes.
Tarver looked on wide-eyed from ringside. "Roy's only a shell of himself," he muttered. "Oh, well. That's one legacy gone." ‚ñ†
The Long Road Back
In his first fight in more than seven years Riddick Bowe stopped Marcus Rhode in the second round last Saturday. Here's a look at how five other heavyweights fared in comebacks after long layoffs
Muhammad Ali, 43 months
Stopped Jerry Quarry in Round 3 of a 1970 bout; won the title in '71 with a 12th-round KO of Jimmy Ellis.
George Foreman, 120 months
Scored a fourth-round TKO over Steve Zouski in 1987 and at 45 became the oldest to hold a heavyweight title when he KO'd Michael Moorer in the 10th round of a '94 bout.
Joe Frazier, 66 months
Smokin' Joe's comeback lasted only one fight, a 10-round draw against Floyd Cummings in Chicago in 1981.
Larry Holmes, 38 months
Ended the first of his three retirements by stopping Tim Anderson in the first round of a 1991 bout; outpointed for the title by Evander Holyfield in '92 and Oliver McCall in '95.
Mike Tyson, 50 months
Floored Peter McNeeley in the first round of a 1995 bout; knocked out Frank Bruno for the WBA title in '96.
Johnson sent Jones sprawling in the ninth round and savored the moment.
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