12. Antonio Tarver vs Roy Jones
May 15, 2004
Las Vegas, Nevada
Mandalay Bay Events Center
As I’ve written previously in my articles on this website about Roy Jones, between 1993-2003 he was the greatest fighter I’d seen going back to when I first started watching boxing in 1977. At the age of 25, the only two other fighters who were on his level athletically were when Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather both were 25 years old. Roy was the perfect combination of speed and power that hasn’t been seen since. Going into his rematch against Antonio Tarver in May of 2004, Jones had climbed to my unofficial third greatest fighter of all-time, only trailing Sugar Robinson and Muhammad Ali. He was now 35 years old and despite struggling in his first fight with Tarver six months prior to the rematch, no one anticipated the shocking result that occurred the night of May 15, 2004
What’s uncommon knowledge is that Tarver is actually two months older than Jones and was also 35 going into the rematch. Tarver was a huge amateur star who was upset in the 1996 light heavyweight Olympic semifinals by the eventual gold medalist, Vassily Jirov. He was considered the star of the United States Olympic team going into the ’96 Atlanta Games. Despite earning a bronze medal, Tarver did not receive the same lucrative professional deals that his teammates Floyd Mayweather and gold medalist David Reid received. Tarver worked his way through the professional ranks in virtual obscurity before convincingly defeating the lone Jones conqueror up to that point, Montell Griffin, to win the WBC and IBF light heavyweight titles that had been vacated by Jones when he had a brief reign as WBA heavyweight champion after defeating John Ruiz. Jones would regain the WBC version after defeating Tarver in their first fight.
Going into the rematch, Tarver was brewing with confidence that he’d win as he felt he was robbed in the first fight. Jones claimed that his performance in the first fight was hampered by having to drop 20 pounds after fighting Ruiz in his previous bout eight months earlier. During referee Jay Nady’s instructions prior to the opening round of the rematch, Tarver shouted “What’s your excuse going to be this time, Roy!” There would be no excuses forthcoming.
After an opening round which saw both fighters proceed with caution, the first half of the second round saw more of the same until the most shocking thing took place. Jones had just landed a solid right cross when the 6’2 southpaw Tarver counted with a left cross to the 5’11 Jones’ jaw that dropped him like a sack of proverbial potatoes. I was watching the fight at my then girlfriend’s house and started howling in laughter when Jones went down. To his credit, Jones got up just as Nady counted him out at 10 and then staggered to the ropes out on his feet. The incomparable Roy Jones, the greatest fighter my father or I had ever seen live, had been knocked out!
Jones was never the same after this fight. He should’ve retired right then and there. Unfortunately, he continued to fight which tarnished what was at one point an almost flawless boxing career.
As for Tarver, he would split a pair of light heavyweight title unification fights with Glen Johnson before defeating Jones again on October 1, 1995 in their rubber match; this time by decision. Tarver was such a hot property after the Jones and Johnson wins that he landed the role of Mason Dixon in the movie Rocky Balboa as the latest antagonist against the legendary Italian Stallion. After the filming ended, Tarver signed to fight middleweight legend Bernard Hopkins in Hopkins’ quest to become light heavyweight champion. Tarver was a huge favorite going into the fight and I thought the 41-year-old “Executioner” had no shot against the soon to be 38-year-old champion. I was totally wrong as Bernard registered a 12-round shellacking in wresting the light heavyweight crown from Tarver.
Tarver was never the same after the beating he suffered at the hands of Hopkins. Amazingly, he’s scheduled to battle MMA legend Frank Mir next month in a six round fight. Despite his loss to Hopkins and subsequent fall from grace, Tarver’s knockout of Jones will forever go down as one of the most iconic in boxing history.