- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

When heavyweight champion Larry Holmes was put on the canvas by one of the hardest punchers in the division, Earnie Shavers, he said his legs felt like Jell-O, and his eyes were glazed. But Holmes said there was a voice inside his head telling him, “Get up, get up! He’s taking your championship. Your championship.”

And Larry Holmes got up and managed to survive the round and go on to beat Shavers and keep his heavyweight crown. He did so because he had been through some tough times before in the ring, and had learned how to survive. He wasn’t an artist. He wasn’t a showman. He was a fighter.

Roy Jones Jr. always has been an artist in the ring, a boxer with such great skill that his supporters often touted him as one of the greatest fighters of all time.

But when it came time to really be a fighter — to stand up and survive — Jones was exposed. He always has been the Harlem Globetrotters of boxing, fighting a list full of Washington Generals throughout his career while entertaining people with his boxing skills.

Antonio Tarver was no Washington General.

Tarver (22-1) sent Jones (49-2) crashing to the canvas with a sweeping left hand in the second round of their light heavyweight title fight Saturday night at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. He got up at the count of seven, but he failed to show referee Jay Nady he could continue, stumbling around until Nady quickly called an end to the fight.

Faced with the same situation, referee David Pearl described after the Shavers fight what Holmes did: “An ordinary fighter would have stood there dazed and helpless, waiting to be knocked down again. But as stunned as he must have been, Holmes reacted the way a smart seasoned fighter should have.”

When Jones was knocked down, the voices he heard in his head might have included the following: “This has never happened before. All those stiffs I fought never tagged me like this. I’m in a real fight. What do I do now?”

This was only the second time Jones had been knocked down in his 15-year pro career. Stiffs like Clinton Woods and Richard Frazier and most of the laundry list of forgettable opponents he has faced over that time — at one point so bad that it inspired calls for a “Roycott” of his fights — never put him on the canvas.

A fighter’s legacy is defined by how he responds in situations like these — and who he responds against. Sugar Ray Leonard made the move from artist to fighter when, bruised and battered, he came back in the 13th round to stop Tommy Hearns.

Jones, who was fortunate to win a decision against Tarver in their first fight, had nothing to call on to respond when faced with the prospects of a devastating loss. His supporters will argue that at the age of 35, having been through 25 world title fights, Jones had accomplished all he could, and that he had become bored.

Now he knows what it was like to watch his fights all these years.

There are very few moments in Jones’ career where you could argue that he was tested. There was his showdown against James Toney in 1994 in a middleweight title bout, but it turns out that Toney didn’t train and had to drop at least 30 pounds in a short amount of time to make weight. He made a comeback nearly 10 years later as a cruiserweight and now competes as a heavyweight, with the division finally at such a low level that Toney can compete. Then there was his supposedly historic defeat of World Boxing Association heavyweight champion John Ruiz in March 2003, but Ruiz was — and is — a complete fraud as a heavyweight champion, and Jones knew that as long as he could use his boxing skills, it would be a one-sided affair. John Ruiz wasn’t going to test Roy Jones.

The one fighter all these years who would have given Jones a test — and maybe created a legacy for the fighter — was the one he barely defeated in a decision at RFK Stadium on May 22, 1993. Jones beat Bernard Hopkins on the under card of the Riddick Bowe-Jesse Ferguson heavyweight title fight, but the two never met again. They came close in recent years, but could not agree on financial terms.

If Jones continues to fight, he probably will do so as a heavyweight, because the division is so pathetic. And Tarver, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs more than 200 pounds, also may move to the heavyweight division, because, while pathetic, that is where the money is.

As far as his legacy as one of the all-time great fighters, that came crashing down in Las Vegas on Saturday night, when a voice inside Roy Jones’ head asked him, “Well, Roy, what are you prepared to do now?” and he didn’t have an answer.

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