It came without warning, a counterpunch that shattered a legend, fulfilled a dream and stunned the boxing world.
Antonio Tarver has been taking aim at Roy Jones for nearly a quarter of a century. On Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, nearly two minutes into the second round of their World Boxing Council light-heavyweight title fight, Tarver finally hit the bull’s-eye, smashing Jones to the canvas with a devastating overhand left to the jaw for a shocking TKO victory.
“It was beautiful,” said Tarver, a 4-1 underdog. “This fight will go down as one of the great ones in boxing history. It is [Marvin] Hagler-[Tommy] Hearns all over again.”
Nobody had ever mentioned Tarver in the same breath with either of those fighters before. Or even with Jones, who beat Tarver when both were amateurs and beat him again last November on a majority decision.
The closeness and nature of the November fight was surprising enough. Jones, who has been on the list of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world for more than a decade, who rarely even lost more than a round or two much less a fight, whose only defeat came on a disqualification, who had moved up to heavyweight last year to capture John Ruiz’ World Boxing Assn. crown, struggled against Tarver in their first meeting. Tarver left Jones with a swollen left eye, a bloody nose and questions about his invincibility.
But Jones had an understandable excuse. In coming back from heavyweight for that fight, he had to lose 25 pounds.
As the two fighters met in the center of the ring at the start of Saturday night’s match, referee Jay Nady asked if either had any questions.
Tarver did. “What is your excuse going to be tonight, Roy?” he asked.
In the opening round, it didn’t appear Jones was going to need one. He won the round by landing several right hands against Tarver, who seemed tentative.
Tarver (22-2, 18 knockouts) still seemed to be feeling his way along as the second round passed its midway point. He had landed only six punches, only two power punches.
Then, near Tarver’s corner, Jones threw a right hand Tarver blocked. Tarver came back with his third and final power punch of the short evening, the electrifying left hand that jerked Jones’ head violently and sent him crashing to the canvas in Tarver’s corner, his head under the ropes.
Nady counted, “Three ... four ... five.”
Somehow by six, Jones pulled himself up and turned over on all fours.
“Seven ... eight.”
There were 10,318 jaws gaping, the crowd trying to come to grips with the sight of one of the dominant fighters of the age struggling merely to get to his feet. It was reminiscent of Mike Tyson on all fours after getting floored by Buster Douglas in Tokyo in 1990.
Jones somehow stumbled to his feet as Nady ended his count, but one look at the fighter’s glassy eyes and stumbling feet told the referee all he needed to know.
Fight over, at the 1:41 mark of the round.
“I never gave up on my dream,” Tarver said.
“I probably got bored with this guy,” said Jones (49-2, 38 KOs), trying to explain how he had lost the title he had won from Tarver in November. “I am a warrior. I don’t feel good about this. He got me with a good shot.... It can happen to the best of them.
“I could fight Tarver again, but I would rather go fight the heavyweights. I don’t see a reason to fight Tarver again.”
And then Jones hinted that he might do neither.
“I’m not sure what I will do,” he said. “If I don’t have the same interest and enjoyment I always do, then I will stop.”
Jones said all that in the ring. The 35-year-old fighter failed to show up at the post-fight news conference, his chair empty, his future cloudy, but his place in boxing history still secure.
The once-promising career of welterweight Zab Judah continues to decline. A little over a month after losing to Cory Spinks, Judah struggled to eke out a split decision over Rafael Pineda, a man with six losses, in Saturday’s semi-main event.
Although he toyed and clowned with Pineda and knocked him down in the seventh round, Judah (31-2, 22 with one no-contest) won by only one point on judge Dick Houck’s scorecard (114-113) and by three (115-112) on the card of judge Patricia Jarmin. Judge Paul Smith gave the decision to Pineda (115-112), who dropped to (38-6, 31).