At last Thursday's press conference for his title fight with Glen Johnson, Roy Jones Jr. showed up in baggy clothes and a big-billed baseball cap turned sideways.
He actually looked fragile -- did the former champion in a multiplicity of boxing divisions, the man deemed, 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 of questions -- and respect.
When Johnson, the Jamaica-born International Boxing Federation light-heavy champ, with a journeyman's record of 40-9-2, was introduced at the press conference and started to speak softly, 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, and Johnson modestly complied, going on to say nothing much that anybody noted at the time.
In his turn, Jones promised 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 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."
Johnson had other ideas. The unsung IBF champion charged Jones at the first bell Saturday night 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.
The champ was at 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. Rounds six and seven were more of the same, with Jones and Johnson lunging back and forth and trading single salvos, Rocky-style.
After the seventh, the venerable Bert Sugar, erstwhile proprietor of The Ring, intoned his judgment from his fourth-row ringside seat. "Five-Two," he said, with a sweep of his hatted head toward Johnson's corner.
Early in the ninth round, Jones was caught flat-footed by a right that looked even harder 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, as a wild celebration by Johnson's camp 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. The man who had been pumping so hard to see "the trilogy" completed now seemed full of genuine compassion. "I wouldn't fight him. He's been great, but he doesn't need to fight anybody now."
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 have Johnson too. At a post-fight press conference he 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."
Asked about the punch that had felled Jones and, in effect, ended a boxing era, Johnson flashed a toothy grin and replied, "You want me to talk about the right?" He briefly reenacted the punch. "Right. Chin. That's it!"
Dan Goosen, the champion's promoter, had only one complaint: 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, whose pictures will almost surely be on the posters and the badges the next time he fights. •