Before any fight, there are questions. For this fight, there is only one: Why?
Why is Roy Jones fighting Antonio Tarver tonight at the Mandalay Bay Events Center?
After finally gaining the attention he has long sought by moving up to the heavyweight division, after finally winning the acclaim that has long eluded him by beating World Boxing Assn. heavyweight titleholder John Ruiz last March, after finally earning the big money that has gone to a select few in the sport, why has Jones taken a step backward to the light-heavyweight ranks to fight Tarver, an 8-1 underdog?
There were several seemingly better options for Jones:
* He could have fought James Toney, who followed Jones' path to belated fame and fortune by moving up to the heavyweight division and beating Evander Holyfield last month.
Jones-Toney would have been an intriguing rematch of their fight in 1994, when both were super-middleweights. Jones won that match on a decision.
* He could have fought Chris Byrd, who holds the International Boxing Federation heavyweight title. That would have been an opportunity for Jones to add a second heavyweight belt and quell some of the lingering criticism over his taking the heavyweight belt he holds from Ruiz, a man many considered a champion in name only.
* He could have tried to make good on his boast that he could beat the super heavyweights by taking on one of the Klitschko brothers, Vitali or Wladimir.
Instead, Jones (48-1, 38 knockouts) has gone through the torture of losing nearly 25 pounds to return to the division where he always struggled to find credible opponents.
Jones says it all goes back to when he and Tarver, both then 13, fought an amateur bout in Florida. Tarver won the first round, Jones the remaining two.
Jones said, "When we were 13, I told [Tarver], if he ever got to the top, I'd give him a chance, but he's got to be at the top for real. He legitimately got to the top for real this time, so I'm going to give him a shot."
Tarver (21-1, 17), a tall, awkward southpaw, will bring legitimate credentials, if not comparable talent, into the ring tonight. He is the World Boxing Council light-heavyweight champion. He won the title via a unanimous decision over Montell Griffin in April, the same Montell Griffin who handed Jones his only defeat.
That defeat, of course, comes with an asterisk. Jones lost on a disqualification in 1997 for hitting Griffin twice after Griffin had been ruled down. Jones came back with a vengeance in the rematch and stopped Griffin in the first round.
Tarver's only loss was on a decision to Eric Harding in 2000, but Tarver also avenged his defeat, beating Harding on a fifth-round TKO in August last year.
Whatever problem Tarver poses for Jones in the ring, he already might have dealt with a more painful one -- making weight.
He and Tarver each weighed 175 pounds Friday. Jones officially weighed 193 for the Ruiz fight and was around 200 by the opening bell.
"This is one of the worst times I've ever had," Jones said of the dieting. "When you sacrifice so much and come from so far up ... you want to kill somebody because you have to suffer. Can't eat the same foods you were eating.
"You're hungry, you're thirsty half the time, you're mad because you can't treat your body like you want to treat it.... It causes a lot of tension to build up and you start taking your frustrations out on everybody you come across."
That doesn't sound encouraging for Tarver.
In the semi-main event, IBF junior-middleweight champion Winky Wright (45-3, 25) will defend his title against Angel Hernandez (26-4, 16).
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Roy Jones vs. Antonio Tarver for Tarver's light-heavyweight title, 12 rounds, tonight, from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Tarver claimed the title when Jones fought John Ruiz in the heavyweight division. Undercard begins 6 p.m. on HBO pay-per-view.
TALE OF THE TAPE
*--* JONES TARVER 48-1, 38 KO RECORD 21-1, 17 KO 175 lbs WEIGHT 175 lbs 5'11" HEIGHT 6'2" 70" REACH 72" 38 1/2" CHEST 39" 13" BICEPS 15" 11" FOREARMS 12" 28" WAIST 32" 22" THIGH 23 1/2" 14" CALF 14 1/2" 16" NECK 16 1/2" 7" WRIST 7 1/4"