Lee Groves

10: Greatest one-punch finishes

9. Antonio Tarver KO 2 Roy Jones Jr. II – May 15, 2004, Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nev.

 

During the post-fight press conference following Roy Jones Jr.’s triumph over WBA heavyweight titlist John Ruiz, the new titleholder was in his full glory. He had achieved his dream of winning titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight and he was basking in the weight of his accomplishments. But before Jones could fully drink in the scene, an interloper addressed Jones from press row.

That interloper was light heavyweight titlist Antonio Tarver, a garrulous sort who proceeded to assault Jones with his full arsenal of nouns, verbs and adjectives. In so many words, Tarver declared that if they ever met he’d make sure he’d dangle Jones’ participles for all the world to see. Clearly angered by Tarver’s brashness, Jones accepted the challenge and went about the business of shedding weight.

Twelve rounds later the fighter some called “Superman” had emerged with a majority decision victory in which he looked decidedly mortal. Tarver had pushed the once-beaten Jones as no opponent ever had and more than a few observers believed he had done enough to beat his fellow Floridian. Both men agreed that Jones was less than his best but they differed on the reason. Jones blamed the wear and tear of shedding 18 pounds of muscle while Tarver said his size, skills and talent were the real causes. With the issue of superiority still in doubt, a rematch was signed.

After the first bout, Jones’ trainer Alton Merkerson hinted that Jones was showing the first signs of age, but the fighter believed one reason was hubris; he felt he could slim down on his own. For the rematch Jones hired fitness guru Mackie Shilstone, who burst into boxing prominence by helping Michael Spinks add weight to dethrone Larry Holmes. Shilstone also helped Jones bulk up for the Ruiz challenge.

The hard work paid off; Jones weighed 176 four weeks out and officially scaled 174. He looked fit, focused and determined. Meanwhile Tarver was his usual talkative self and he told everyone within hearing range that the world was in for the shock of their lives. The Vegas wise guys disagreed, for they made Jones the betting favorite.

Unlike the first meeting Jones assumed the role of aggressor and made sure to stay away from the ropes. He appeared more engaged and energetic and midway through the first he landed a sharp combination. At the end of the first three minutes Jones had every reason to be confident.

Tarver bristled when trainer Buddy McGirt told him to “earn his respect,” saying he hated to hear that word. Showing a verbal dexterity reminiscent of his physical prowess in the ring, McGirt then asked Tarver to “get yours.”

Tarver stalked Jones more assertively in round two but after Tarver landed a long left cross Jones trumped him by connecting with a combination. The fight was shaping up to be another long-term struggle, but little did anyone know that the boxing gods were about to unveil a most shocking plot twist.

A split second after Jones brushed Tarver’s chin with a pinpoint right, he committed a cardinal sin by backing up in a straight line. Tarver instantly recognized the error and proceeded to answer Jones’ slingshot with a nuclear bomb of a left cross. The punch not only exploded off Jones’ jaw, it forever shattered Jones’ aura of invincibility.

A monstrous roar rose from the Mandalay Bay crowd, surely shocked by the sight of Jones on the canvas. The stricken fighter, though looking through unseeing eyes, instinctively tried to get up. He rolled over onto his knees, crawled a couple of feet and somehow pulled himself up by nine. But though his body was erect his eyes and mind were still fuzzy. Recognizing this, referee Jay Nady stopped the fight at the 1:41 mark of round two.

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