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Original Issue


His Act Got Old

Roy Jones Jr. did lots of clowning and little damage and was soundly beaten by Antonio Tarver in their rubber match

Roy Jones Jr. seemed to be encouraged by the result, which was an improvement over his last one only to the extent that he did not end up on a gurney. It was another lopsided loss, very nearly a knockout, but there Jones was, saying how good he felt, how much fun he'd had and how many more fights he plans. Instead of settling for this semivaliant effort as a sendoff, a patch job on a legacy that was showing some holes after three straight losses--two now to Antonio Tarver after last Saturday night's light heavyweight championship fight in Tampa--Jones was promising a return to greatness, a resumption of that era when he won titles in four divisions and went 14 years with only one loss, by disqualification. "I think I'm still going," said Jones, 36, with more smiles than you'd expect from a guy who'd lost at least eight of 12 rounds on all three of the scorecards.

This plan ought not to be encouraged, because every round Jones fights exposes a vanity that has, in the absence of the real goods, become just plain irritating. That vanity, a selfishness that is part of any fighter's repertoire, was high entertainment when Jones won fights. His novelty punches, his stunt work, his wriggling mockery of every inferior opponent were great fun as long as his astonishing athleticism allowed him predictably to prevail. But style without substance is just tiresome.

And if ever there was a time for substance, Saturday night was it. Jones had long been given a pass on his career, which included precious few important fights and a lot of handpicked opponents. How many boxers have fought more off-duty civil servants (a policeman, a mailman) than Jones? This was forgiven because his talent and grit were nonetheless undeniable. But presented with the challenge of fellow Floridian Tarver, Jones has faltered again. He won a close decision in their first fight, two years ago; lost the rematch on a quick knockout; and then, gearing up for the rubber match, got coldcocked by Glen Johnson. It's been more than a year since that knockout, and Jones needed a decent effort to forestall the usual eulogies.

He seemed dedicated to that idea, training in unusual (if maddening) silence, even reuniting with his father, Roy Sr., after a decadelong estrangement. "Daddy asked to come back," he explained. And Roy Jr. certainly was in condition, long comfortable at light heavyweight after briefly, and historically, holding the heavyweight title. But from the beginning of Saturday's fight, Jones seemed much more interested in showing his exasperating bag of tricks than in truly trying to beat Tarver.

He did the usual shimmies, the old no-handed defense and, in a move that was clearly, and sadly, choreographed, touched his right foot with his glove and in the same motion threw a punch. None of this was particularly effective against Tarver, who repeatedly caught Jones against the ropes and battered him there, amassing a huge lead. But it all reminded you of what was so bothersome about Jones's career: It was always conducted more for his amusement than for our satisfaction.

Tarver nearly sent him packing--for good, we would imagine--when he caught Jones with a long right hook in the 11th round. Jones was as out as a fighter can be without his toes pointing up, but he recovered and actually stalked a baffled and apparently exhausted Tarver back into the ropes. The damage to Jones was huge, though, and it solidified the impression that he really was, finally, through. Not that Jones saw it that way.

"Let's do it again," he said, infuriating to the end.

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Short Jabs

Olympic light heavyweight gold medalist Andre Ward won a one-round knockout on the Tarver-Jones undercard.... "You got more money than me," Tarver told Jones after their bout, "but I'm not mad at you." Each boxer made more than $5 million.... The Tarver-Jones fight kicked off a frenzy of promising bouts this fall, the next being the rematch of this spring's spectacular dustup between Diego Corrales and José Luis Castillo. That's on Oct. 8. Then, on Nov. 12, it's Vitali Klitschko versus Hasim Rahman in a heavyweight showdown that should firm up the top of the division.




Tarver's shots connected often, while Jones's antics (below) got him nowhere.



 [See caption above.]