Today while running on the treadmill I watched the first two fights of the three fight series between Antonio Tarver and Roy Jones Jr. It is crazy to think of these fights as approaching twenty years old with the first fight occurring in November of 2003. I was twelve at the time and a big fan of Antonio Tarver who won vacant IBF and WBC light heavyweight championships when Roy Jones Jr. vacated to chase a title at heavyweight. The confident Tarver was met by Jones Jr. in his aim to reestablish his championship claim at light heavyweight following his WBA heavyweight championship victory over John Ruiz. Jones Jr. had to shed the muscle he had generated to bulk up to heavyweight and struggled mightily to make the 175 pound limit to face Tarver. The two encounters saw Jones Jr. in his toughest fight of his career to that point and a devastating knockout in the rematch. Here I will share my thoughts on these two important encounters of the early 2000’s.
Tarver vs Jones I “Now its personal”
Tarver came out of the gate very strong to begin this bout. Behind a quick southpaw jab he was able to corner Roy Jones Jr. and unload with both hands. Though he outworked his legendary opponent, most of the shots were partially blocked or rolled so they weren’t damaging blows but point scoring ones. Tarver took an early lead with the first two rounds banked and this allowed him to get a foot hold of confidence in the fight. Jones Jr. showed why he is a legend in his comeback in the fight when he won six of the next eight rounds. While Tarver took an early initiative, Jones Jr. established himself after seeing what Tarver had to offer and took over the fight with hand speed and body punching. A consistent and accurate right hand kept Tarver reluctant from throwing and a pattern emerged in the fight. When the action was in the middle of the ring Jones Jr. was largely able to fight at his own pace with a lot of feinting and posing from both men. Tarver was only able to let his hands go in moments where Jones Jr. went to the ropes or the corner or when the sticks clapped to indicate ten seconds remained in the round. While Jones Jr. was afforded the ability to fight at a measured pace he had two major struggles. Tarver’s defensive posture and jab prevented Jones Jr. from taking over the fight and really pouring it on. Did he win a lot of consecutive rounds in the middle of the fight? Yes, but he did not piece up Tarver and hurt him, he disarmed him and created hesitation. The other struggle was the fatigue stemmed from losing the weight but this was much less pronounced as Tarver failed to press the pace and force an advantage. After ten rounds I had the fight scored 96-94 after Tarver’s initial lead of 20-18 after the first two rounds.
The drama up until the tenth round had existed mostly from the competitive nature of the fight given the level of invincibility that Jones Jr. had displayed throughout his career. After nine rounds Jones Jr. was thoroughly in control having won six of the initial nine rounds and on the verge of securing a victory on the scorecards. Buddy McGirt in the corner of Tarver was begging him to let his hands go and not to wait and to stop showing respect for the legend. In the tenth round Tarver hunted Jones Jr. down and attacked the tiring pound for pound great. He made an emphatic statement and kept himself alive on the cards. The eleventh round set the stage for an exciting conclusion as the mostly strategic fight turned into a brawl down the stretch. Roy Jones Jr. had his finest hour in the eleventh round when he stemmed the tide Tarver appeared to build in the previous round and he looked like he had saved up for this. When it seemed like Tarver showed he was on the level with Jones Jr, Roy just took over with straight right hands and combinations to the body and took the eleventh round going away. Both men headed into the twelfth round after inspirational speeches from the corners and fought to leave nothing in the ring. A back and forth collision occurred in the final with Tarver starting off strong and Jones Jr. took over by the end of the round. When the bell sounded it was Antonio who celebrated but it was Roy who got his hand raised.
I had scored the fight 116-112 for Jones Jr. and the official cards read 114-114 and 116-112 Jones Jr. and 117-111 Jones Jr. for a majority decision victory. For Roy Jones Jr. this would turn out to be his high water mark as he went from the best fighter in boxing to knocked out back to back and suddenly off of his perch. It was our first chance to really see Jones Jr. under fire as pro as many of his biggest fights came easy and we never got to see him go into old age winning with veteran craft. Jim Lampley and George Foreman on the HBO broadcast team were excited to see Jones Jr. show this ability to do this. Larry Merchant commented that he felt this was the most exciting fight of Jones Jr.’s career. This fine wine aging was soon to be spoiled during the rematch and follow up events.
Tarver vs Jones II “More than personal”
The rematch took place in May of 2004 and is famous for Tarver’s prefight quote. With Referee Jay Nady bringing both fighters to the middle of the ring for the usual final instructions Tarver when asked if he had any questions exclaimed, “you have any excuses tonight Roy!”
Jones Jr. came out aggressively to start the fight. Whereas it was Tarver who sought the early momentum last time, it was Jones Jr. who led the charge early. Jones Jr. backed Tarver up and threw combinations unlike the first encounter that saw more single shot sniping. Despite the offensive pressure and winning the first round, Jones Jr. neither hurt Tarver nor seriously pierced his defensive guard. A lof Tarver’s success hinged on his composure, his timing and his defense. Despite Jones Jr. having significant advantages, Tarver’s strengths butted up well against Roy’s style.
In between rounds Mcgirt confronted Tarver about showing too much respect to which Tarver replied, ” don’t say that fucking word, I don’t respect him!” Jones Jr. Pushed the action once more and scored a hard right hand down the middle and a second later a missle of a left hand detonated on Roy and sent him to the canvas. Jones Jr. rose bravely to his feet but was in no shape to continue and the fight was called off. Tarver reclaimed his titles with a dramatic knockout, perhaps the most significant of the 2000’s.
I was a little annoyed to see so many comments under the video saying lucky punch. Explanations of his head was down and he didn’t see the target were leading points of evidence. These were backed by snarky remarks in various forms of, “well he didnt train to throw that specific punch”. Besides the fact that so many big plays happen in sports that are so off the script and cannot be drilled I call bullshit because that would make so much of sports merely luck. Second of all many boxers can do drills without looking. Case in point, numerous boxers hit the speed back looking away for show and others can hit a double end bag while not looking directly at it or at all. Skilled boxers can identify patterns and establish timing.
Jones Jr. was more aggressive in the rematch and was opened up more frequently. He also started cocking his right hand more and the exchange that saw him on the canvas occurred several times prior. The difference, Tarver did not strike. Antonio studied Roy, saw an opportunity ans scored. Tarver did not need to see the target, he merely had to anticipate it. To me that is not luck.