Jones-Tarver: Does The Champion Have A Chance?

05.11.03 - By Janne Romppainen: As the WBC and IBF light-heavyweight champion of the world Antonio Tarver defends his titles against Roy Jones on next Saturday, 8th of November, the situation will be perhaps only of a kind. It is not very usual that the champion enters the ring being the underdog on betting. When this bout was first announced, the betting offices made Jones, the challenger, the 9-1 favourite. This is not yet the record though. When Mike Tyson challenged Bruce Seldon for his WBA title back in 1996, the bets were even bigger against the defending titlist. But this is probably the first time when the challenger faces the man that clearly is the best fighter of his division and yet if the champion wins, it will be considered as a huge upset.

This is only possible, it seems, when Roy Jones is included. The reigning WBA heavyweight boss has been so overwhelming in the past years in his own division that the people have continuously wanted for him to find new challenges outside of it. Last March he also did just that by fighting John Ruiz for a heavyweight title. Jonesí performance there was so convincing that now it is even harder to picture anybody below 220 lbs beating him. So even though Jones faces the best contender that the 175-pounds class has to offer, which, interestingly enough, is something he has never done before, few think his reign could come to an end.

The fight that finally takes place on Saturday was planned to happen first time three years ago. Back then, the former Olympic representative Antonio Tarver was one of the most promising up-and-comers of the field with a 16-0 record. To get a title shot against Jones all he needed to do was to get past Eric Harding. The things didnít turn out as he had wanted however. Harding was never known as a big puncher but he busted Tarverís chin, knocked him down and defeated him solidly on points after twelve rounds. Harding got the title shot in 2000 and he actually gave Jones one of his most difficult fights ever before being forced to quit after ten rounds. Tarver came back from the setback with three solid victories and in 2002 he fought Harding again. Again, Hardingís skilful boxing gave him trouble early but on fourth round, the southpaw Tarver caught him with a perfectly timed counter left. After that, it was all Tarver, the fight was stopped in the very next round.

Many suspect that if Tarver does possess a threat, it is just because of that left hand. After all, Jones himself wasnít able to knock Harding out which Tarver did in convincing fashion. Tarver is tall, at 6í2, rangy and well-schooled boxer. He likes to fight at his own measured pace, snap out his jab and find counter opportunities for his left that has brought him seventeen knockout victories in total of 21 wins against only one loss. Harding does have some weaknesses especially in his defence. At times he seems to be easy to hit and his punch resistance has also been a question mark. His hand-speed is pretty good but compared to Jones he will look slow. Also fighters with good footwork have given him trouble, Harding of course being the most obvious example. All these factors will play against him in this fight since Jones in known as both a mover and a banger.

As for Jones, his record stands at the moment at 48-1, 38 knockouts. He is now returning to the light-heavyweight since vacating the titles to fight Ruiz. Before the Ruiz bout, Jones had defended his WBC light-heavyweight title for eleven times after winning it in a rematch from Montell Griffin and he had collected the other belts in the progress. In his last fights before going up in the weight, Jones had defeated Julio Cesar Gonzales, the conqueror of Dariusz Michalczewski, Glen Kelly and Clinton Woods respectively. Even though the opponents apart from Gonzales were not top-class, Jones gave the impression that though he is already getting up in years, being 35 next January (Tarver is the same age), he still was as sharp as ever. The display against Ruiz confirmed that too: Jones is still as fast, as mobile, as powerful as what we have used to.

An interesting factor in this fight is how Jones will approach it. Will he go out early and try to take Tarver out soon? After all, Tarver has been a slow starter in the past and his punch resistance might not be the best. Will Jones try to exploit that and finish the fight before Tarver has a chance to become a threat? That scenario is possible but pretty unlikely. Jones, like Tarver, loves to counter-punch rather than lead. He keeps his distance, lets his opponent come forwards and then jumps in, usually behind his amazingly fast left hook, and follows up with quick combinations. Especially later in his career Jones has often been reluctant to try to finish his fights early but instead he has systematically broken his opponents down.

Jones shouldnít have concerns about his talent, it has been proven many times. However this time there is the weight factor that is new for Jones. Usually he has been known as a small light-heavy who has made the weight limit easily, but in the Ruiz fight, Jones weighed 193 lbs, eighteen pounds over the usual limit and seemed just as trimmed as always. How well has he been able to come back down is the question here. It has already been eight months since that fight but for a couple of months it seemed that Jones would want to continue fighting among the heavyweights. Has he had the time to reset his body back to its form or could it be possible that he is weight-drained? If he is, that might give Tarver a nice edge.

Tarver is the defending titlist and he has craved for this fight for so long that whatever happens, he should give it his best try. But does he have a chance of winning? In my opinion he does, a slight one. If he is able to use his reach, keep his jab pumping and catch Jones a couple of times early with his left, then he might be in the fight. If Jones is not at his best form, it might prove to be a difficult evening for him. With that said, I donít think that will happen though. It is more likely that once again, Jonesí speed will be too much for his opponent. If Jones has ever been in trouble, it has been against other cute boxers such as Harding and Montell Griffin. Against counter-punchers and sluggers he has always had his way. Also Tarver is a southpaw, but that stance has never troubled Jones either.

Jones will stay out and feed Tarver his left, both jabs and hooks. On the inside, I expect Jonesí combinations to do the damage that finally will wear Tarver out. Tarver will be a willing opponent and he wonít fold easily, but his style suits Jones and in this fight he is over his head. A stoppage is likely, it will probably come somewhere around the ninth round.

For the last couple of years, the competition for the pound-for-pound rankings has mostly been competition for the second place because of Jones. Now, it seems, he has a real contender in those listings. The lightweight champion Floyd Mayweather jr. gave such a great performance last Saturday against Philippe NíDou that some fans already placed him above Jones as the best fighter in the world. Now Jones has his opportunity to shine and show his younger challenger that the crown is still his. Both Jones and Tarver have talked a great fight beforehand, hopefully the war of words will make a good war of fists too.


Article posted on 05.11.2003

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