What? Roy Jones Jr. vs Antonio Tarver II
When? May 15th 2004
Where? Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Roy Jones was unquestionably the fighter of the 1990’s. A decorated amateur, he fought in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. He defeated Britain’s Richie Woodhall (now a regular boxing pundit on Sky Sports) on his way to the final. In the Olympic final, he suffered one of the most shameful decisions in Olympic (and professional) boxing history. He thoroughly outboxed his South Korean opponent Park Si-Hun but three of the five judges voted in favour of the hometown fighter. Park himself looked both shocked and embarrassed to have his hand raised in victory. The extent of the injustice was further highlighted by the fact that Jones was awarded the Val Baker trophy as the best boxer of the whole games.
Following his Olympic robbery, Jones turned professional in 1989 and began his career with a string of impressive victories- winning his first 17 bouts by KO. In 1993 he met fellow rising star Bernard Hopkins for the vacant IBF Middleweight title. Jones won a close but unanimous decision to capture his first world title. It would be the first of many world titles in four different weight classes.
For the next decade, Jones would prove to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. He defeated names like James Toney, Mike McCallum, Vinnie Pazienza and Virgil Hill and captured multiple world titles in the Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions.
His career defining moment however, came in 2003. Jones had turned professional as a 154 pound fighter in the light middleweight division. In 2003, he fought John Ruiz for the WBA Heavyweight title. On entering the ring that night, Jones was giving away close to 30 pounds in weight but used his incredible quickness and boxing skills to score a unanimous points victory. He is the only fighter to start his career at light middleweight and ascend to the realm of heavyweight champion. It is a truly unique achievement and in this era of supersized heavyweights, an achievement that is likely never to be repeated. At that point in his career, Jones was 49-1, his sole defeat coming in 1997 by way of disqualification for hitting an opponent (Montell Griffin) who had been ruled down. Jones had avenged that “defeat” by first round KO in an immediate rematch.
Following his historic victory over Ruiz, Jones would immediately vacate his heavyweight title and drop down two divisions, back to light heavyweight to face Antonio Tarver for the first time in November 2003. Tarver is probably best known to non boxing fans for his role as Mason “The Line” Dixon in 2006’s Rocky Balboa. In 2003 he was considered just another over matched challenger, given little hope of upsetting the former heavyweight champion Jones. However, the fight proved much closer than expected. Jones’ reflexes had noticeably slowed and Tarver had busted his face up quite badly. Although two of the judges awarded Jones a controversial decision (the 3rd scored it a draw) many in the arena felt Tarver had done enough to win and booed the announcement. The demand for a rematch was obvious and the fight was set for May 15th 2004.
In the six months between bouts, many excuses had been made for Jones’ noticeable decline the previous November. The biggest concern was that his muscle gain in moving to Heavyweight and subsequent weight loss to drop back down two divisions had harmed his famed speed and reflexes. But there was also a suggestion that he had simply overlooked Tarver and was under prepared. This, along with his stellar record and pedigree, led Jones to be installed as the strong pre-fight favourite once again.
Tarver showed his supreme confidence during the referee’s final instructions before the bell. As is tradition, the referee asked either fighter if they had any questions. Usually this is a formality with both fighters shaking their heads. Tarver however chose to engage in a bit of mind games, “Yeah, I have a question. You got any excuses tonight Roy?” The tone had been set.
The first round however began slowly. Both men were more comfortable as counter punchers. As a result the round contained a lot of stalking with neither man willing to make the first move. Crucially, Jones was the first to crack and for the latter half of the round adopted the role of aggressor. Tarver was content to bide his time and wait for the opportunity to land a big shot. He would not have to wait long.
Although he began the second round a little more aggressively, Tarver was still looking for the opportunity for a big counter punch. Just about halfway through the round, Jones looked to throw a lead right followed by a left hook, Tarver took his chance and landed a crushing left hook right on Jones’ exposed chin. Previously his famed reflexes would have allowed him to avoid the punch, but now Jones felt the full force of the blow. He went down hard, shocking those in attendance and watching at home. Incredibly he made it to his feet but was in no condition to continue.
The result stunned the boxing world. Jones had only ever suffered one previous knockdown, had never lost (apart from one DQ) and had certainly never been knocked out. This fight provided conclusive proof that the first fight was no fluke, the crown had not only slipped, it had well and truly been ripped from the head of Roy Jones.
Sadly, the fight would prove to be just the beginning of the end for Roy Jones. Almost exactly a decade after he should have retired, Jones continues to box at the age of 45 and has yet to officially call it a day. The last 10 years have seen a marked decline in his performance. Entering the second fight with Tarver, Jones’s record was 49-1. Including the second Tarver fight, his record since May 2004 is 8-7 with 4 of the 7 defeats coming by way of KO. His victories have been against a lower quality of opposition (and a faded Felix Trinidad in 2008) and yet talk persists of returns to the ring or circus level fights with UFC’s Anderson Silva or even Steve Collins.
The fight would prove to be the high point of Tarver’s career. Although he would go on to win a third fight with Roy Jones in less dramatic fashion, he would also suffer defeats to Bernard Hopkins, Glen Johnson and twice against Chad Dawson. His most recent fight came in November 2013, in an uninspiring Heavyweight debut. Although he has not officially retired from the sport, he is now 45 and like his former rival Jones, would be better off calling it a day.
Here are the extended highlights of the fight:
Michael McCarthy, Pundit Arena.
Featured Image By mborowick (Originally posted on Flickr as Bad Ass) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.