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JOHNSON'S HARD RIGHT FELLS JONES AND ENDS AN ERA

JOHNSON'S HARD RIGHT FELLS JONES AND ENDS AN ERA

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Jones (right), not Johnson (left), was the one who sprung a leak on Saturday night..

When Roy Jones Jr. showed up on Thursday for a press conference in the lobby of the Fed Ex Forum, the most noticeable thing about him -- the thing that everybody in the arena commented on--was how small, even fragile, he looked. Dressed in baggy clothes with a big-billed baseball cap turned sideways, sitting behind the long, raised table with the other fighters, promoters, trainers, and hangers-on who had a connection to Saturday night’s boxing bill at the Forum, Jones looked like anything other than what he was. Which was this: the former champion in a multiplicity of boxing divisions; the man deemed over and over, even as recently as his shocking second-round knockout loss in a title fight to light-heavyweight Antonio Tarver back in May, as “the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound." Looks, as everybody knows, can be deceiving. Reputations aren’t. So Jones, who had actually been a heavyweight champion as recently as last year, got the lion’s share (pun unintended but appropriate) of questions. As for Glen Johnson, the unprepossessing Jamaica-born International Boxing Federation light-heavy champ, whose record was a journeyman's 40-9-2, the measure of respect he got can best be estimated from the fact that, when he was introduced at the Thursday-afternoon press conference and started to speak, he was hollered at from the back row of the press ranks by an exasperated Woody Baird of the Associated Press. “Talk into the mike!” shouted Baird in his best no-nonsense manner, and Johnson modestly complied, going on to say nothing much that anybody noted at the time. Jones, on the other hand, was full of throwaway phrases -- though these, too, would be less than memorable a few days later. Above all, he pramised a good show to the city of Memphis, which -- in a reprise of the Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson circumstances of two years back -- had adopted him, the challenger, as its hero rather than the nominal champion he was fighting, who was, after all, regarded as nothing more than a tune-up for a third Jones-Tarver fight (the first, last November, had been a disputed decision for Jones). Tarver, too, the glib, engaging champion and holder of most light-heavy belts, would later descend on the city, with an eye toward lobbying the boxing crowd and the media to build a gate for the completion of what he called, somewhat grandly, a “trilogy.” Mayor Willie Herenton was one of the locals heavily engaged in trying to achieve the same end. Like Jones himself, Tarver was much in evidence in the mayor’s company and was one of the chief exhibits at Herenton’s evening-long Saturday night drop-in fundraiser at Beale Street’s Plush Club. The fight itself was a revelation. When Jones entered the ring and threw off his robe, he seemed buff and cut, as he had at Friday’s weigh-in at Budweiser Pavilion, but looked surprisingly spindly. And laid-back. The attitude and the image corresponded to each other, quantum-physics style. former Golden Glover Herenton would later say, “When I was with Roy last night [Friday], I could tell his heart wasn’t in boxing.” So could Johnson evidently. The unsung IBF champion charged Jones at the first bell and kept slugging away furiously, forcing Jones to play rope-a-dope in his own corner, responding with only a couple of hard keep-away lefts to the charging Johnson’s body. Though surely most spectators were wondering if Johnson had spent himself, he was it again in Round Two, keeping up the pressure, and though Jones showed a flash of his old speed in Round Three, throwing quick punches that fairly whistled, he was still on the defensive, and he didn’t manage a good offensive flurry until the fourth round -- one that didn’t keep Johnson off the attack but did get the crowd of almost 20,000 engaged on Jones’ side. “Roy! Roy! Roy!” they chanted, keeping it up in Round Five when the fighters traded onslaughts. Round Six was more of the same. It was like one of those slugfests in a Rocky movie, with Jones and Johnson lunging back and forth and trading single salvoes. After Round Seven, the venerable Bert Sugar, proprietor of The Ring, a publication sometimes referred to as boxing’s “Bible,” intoned his judgment from his fourth-row ringside seat. “Five-Two,” he said, and emphasized his meaning by a broad sweep of his hatted head toward Johnson’s corner. It was over in the ninth when, early in the round, Jones was caught flat-footed by a hard right that looked even more ferocious than the left Tarver had nailed him with in May. Jones didn’t fall down; he toppled, hitting the canvas hard and lying motionless, flat on his back -- staying there and being administered to even as a wild celebration by Johnson’s camp -- which included rapper/actor Ice T -- raged around him. “It’s kind of sad, seeing a legend end this way,” said Sugar, adding,”it’s over.” Tarver, who had been sitting at ringside, too, came over and agreed. “He’s done,” he said. “I really hate to see Roy go out this way.” The man who had been pumping so hard to see “the trilogy” completed now seemed full of genuine compassion for his erstwhile rival. “I wouldn’t fight him. He’s been great, but he doesn’t need to fight anybody now. He should go on and try to be an ambassador for the sport or something.” Mayor Herenton allowed, in an understatement, that the city’s hopes for a third Jones-Tarver spectacular were “messed up” but he nodded toward Tarver and said hopefully, “We still have him.” Actually, Memphis may still have Johnson, too, who was suddenly -- and understandably -- being regarded with respect. At a post-fight press conference he enthused about Memphis, promised to fight again here, and seemed equal-parts modest and proud of himself. “I’m not one of those gold medal winners,” he said, contrasting himself with ex-Olympians like Jones. “I came into boxing through the back door.” His answers to reporters’ questions were clear but uncomplicated. Asked to “talk about” the right hand that had felled Jones and, in effect, ended a boxing era, Johnson flashed a toothy grin and replied, in his Jamaica-inflected accent, “You want me to talk about the right?” He briefly re-enacted the punch. “Right. Chin. That’s it!” Dan Goosen, the champion’s promoter, was all compliments to the city and the other principals involved in the fight. He had only one complaint. Posters and other pre-fight materials had focused on Jones and minimized his man. He pointed out that the picture on the official credentials badges showed only Jones and a punching bag that leaked sawdust. “This punching bag hits back!” grinned Johnson, who will not have to worry the next time he fights in Memphis -- or anywhere else. His picture will be on the posters and the badges, and people will know who he is. Roy Jones does already; that's for sure.

"Right! Chin! That was it!" said Johnson (right). That was it for Jones, all right.

--photo by Larry Kuzniewski

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