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Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Updated: November 21, 9:35 PM ET
Kellerman: Put Jones' win in proper perspective

By Max Kellerman
Special to ESPN.com

Roy Jones won the fight.

Fair and square. I had it 115-113 (seven rounds to five). Roy spent the first two minutes or so of most rounds outboxing Antonio Tarver in the middle of the ring, landing long right hand leads to the body. Then, at some point in each round's last minute, whether to rest, or because Tarver maneuvered him there, the normally untouchable pound-for-pound champ usually found himself on the ropes covering up.

Tarver pulled a Sugar Ray Leonard, stealing some of those rounds, and making others close, by flurrying against a defensive Jones over the final 30-45 seconds.

Antonio must now be considered the best light heavyweight in the world. By a lot. Over the last two years, Tarver has had four fights. He beat two-division belt-holder Reggie Johnson by a split decision that should have been unanimous; he avenged by knockout what was to that point the only loss of his professional career against top-three light heavy Eric Harding; he dominated top-10 contender Montell Griffin, pitching a shutout and scoring two knockdowns; and he gave Roy by far the toughest and closest fight of his professional career. That is just about as impressive a 3-1 run as is possible.

Having bulked up to nearly 200 pounds for his heavyweight challenge of John Ruiz this last March, Roy struggled mightily to make the 175-pound light heavyweight limit for his showdown with Tarver. Afterwards Roy vowed that his days as a light heavyweight are over.

Combine Tarver's recent success with Roy vacating the division and longtime undefeated Dariusz Michalczewski recently losing, and there can be no real argument at this point against Antonio. He should be universally recognized as the top guy at 175.

That Roy struggled to make weight, and that his age is beginning to slow him down, are both legitimate excuses for coming close to legitimately losing for the first time in his career. Roy is now 34. He has gone deeper into his pro career without coming close to losing than any fighter in boxing history who has fought as many world class opponents as he.

(Of course, Antonio is also 34, so he has to be shaking his head every time he hears Roy's age used as an explanation for the near upset.)

Still, to put Roy's close call in perspective:

By the time Sugar Ray Robinson - the fighter to whom Jones is most often compared - was Roy's age, he had lost to Jake LaMotta, Randy Turpin, Joey Maxim and Ralph "Tiger" Jones.

The LaMotta loss took place early in Sugar Ray's career, Jake had a big weight advantage, and of their six meetings, it was the only one Robinson lost. The loss to Turpin took place at a time Robinson was touring Europe and was not very serious about training. The loss to Maxim was at light heavyweight, and Robinson, who won his first title at welter, was at the point he fought Maxim as a natural middleweight. Though he was outboxing Maxim, Robinson wilted in the heat, and retired in his corner between the 14th and 15th rounds. The loss to Tiger Jones took place in Robinson's second comeback fight after a three year "retirement."

Roy Jones will turn 35 this upcoming January. He is being criticized for a majority decision win against far and away the best guy in the division. For the very first time in his career last Saturday night, one of the three judges officially scoring a Roy Jones fight turned in a card that said Roy's opponent was just as good as Roy. Judge Jerry Roth scored it 114-114 (six rounds to six). The other two judges, Glen Hamada and Dave Harris, scored it 117-111 (nine rounds to three) and 116-112 (eight rounds to four) for Jones.

The nearly 35-year-old, weight-loss-depleted Roy Jones' close call against Tarver does not look too shabby next to the 31-year-old Sugar Ray Robinson's loss to Turpin, in which Sugar Ray was fighting at his optimal weight at the time.

It is understandable that Jones does not want a rematch with Tarver at 175. Roy is no longer a light heavyweight. He will, however, encounter enough people who think that Tarver actually beat him to sting his pride - perhaps enough to grant Tarver a rematch at a catch weight of perhaps 185-190.

But first things first.

There is big, big, perhaps unprecedented money to be made in a showdown with Mike Tyson.

After Roy's domination of Ruiz, a Jones-Tyson fight was the hottest ticket in sports. At the time, Tyson was coming off a first-round knockout of Clifford Ettienne, who for all his faults, including his dentable chin, was a top 25 heavyweight. Since that win, Tyson has not fought and as a result interest in a Jones-Tyson fight had waned. The level on which Jones was competing just seemed too much for a 37-year-old quasi-retired Tyson, even with Iron Mike's 30-pound weight advantage.

Now that Jones has been shaken up by a mere light heavyweight, there will be many who figure the still powerpunching Tyson to beat him. Those people will be vastly overrating Tyson, and underrating Jones, because they vastly underrate Tarver.

Meanwhile, as Tarver awaits a Jones rematch, HBO should use the circumstances in the light heavyweight division as an opportunity to further legitimize the Ring Magazine championship, and thereby further undermine any perceived alphabet soup legitimacy.

Now that Roy has announced that he is leaving the light heavyweight division for good, the Ring Magazine light heavyweight championship will be vacant. According to Ring policy, a vacant title can be filled if a division's top two rated fighters meet.

HBO should do whatever it takes (and it would likely not take all that much) to make Antonio Tarver-Julio Gonzales for the Ring Magazine light heavyweight championship of the world. It would be just the push that the Ring belt needs to cross over from hard-core boxing recognition as the legitimate championship, to mainstream awareness of its existence.

Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and the host of the show "Around The Horn."