Jones, Tyson add a punch, but is Jones a true champ?

Friday, March 7, 2003

LAS VEGAS -- In just a week, Roy Jones Jr. and Mike Tyson did their part to add a spark to a heavyweight division paralyzed by Lennox Lewis' inactivity.

It's easy to dismiss Tyson's 49-second knockout of Clifford Etienne as little more than a freak show, but people are fascinated by Tyson and will pay to watch every time he steps into the ring.

They won't necessarily pay to see Jones. But Jones has credibility, because he did what only one other light heavyweight champion has done -- win a piece of the heavyweight title.

Look closer, though, and this much becomes clear: Jones didn't beat a real heavyweight champion Saturday night, and he probably won't ever fight one.

John Ruiz is a nice enough guy and a decent fighter who took advantage of the opportunity an aging Evander Holyfield gave him to win the WBA title. He didn't deserve to be called "Johnny Louise" by Lewis, but no one outside of the South American-based WBA really considered him the world's heavyweight champion.

Does that make Jones' win tainted? No, because he did beat a legitimate heavyweight, title or no title.

But a look at his future options reveals limited possibilities if Jones remains a heavyweight.

Sure, Jones could fight IBF champion Chris Byrd in a battle of pretenders. That's the bout promoter Don King would like -- and then lure Lewis in to fight the winner.

But the title Byrd won against a 40-year-old Holyfield is just as suspect.

Jones proudly wears the WBA belt now, and he deserves proper credit for taking a risk and bulking up to fight a guy who still outweighed him by 33 pounds. But if Jones proved he could beat a heavyweight, Ruiz also showed what a lame heavyweight champion he truly was.

Ruiz landed a laughable average of seven punches a round against Jones, then had the audacity to blame the referee for not letting him fight his fight.

Jones didn't do much better, picking his spots so carefully that he only landed 11 punches per round himself.

At 190-plus pounds, Jones couldn't compete against Lewis, who has boxing skills Ruiz never dreamed of having. Lewis would tower over Jones and outweigh him by at least 50 pounds.

"I don't think Roy Jones would fight me at this time," Lewis said. "What for, really?"

Jones wouldn't even think about getting in the ring with the Klitschko brothers, who both top 6-foot-6. Remember, Jones is 5-11 and not too many years ago was a 160-pound middleweight.

And Tyson? If Jones had trouble getting away from the little pressure Ruiz gave him in the first round, what chance would he have of escaping a Tyson onslaught?

A Tyson-Jones fight would be the ultimate freak show and huge at the box office, but the ever-cautious Jones had to be lured to the heavyweight ranks to begin with. He knew he had the skills to keep Ruiz off him, but that confidence might vanish against Tyson.

Jones almost admitted as much after the fight, though he left open the door a bit.

"It'd take a lot of money," he said of a possible Tyson fight.

At least Tyson-Jones would be exciting, something that couldn't be said about Saturday's fight, which featured long stretches where the two fighters simply looked at each other in the center of the ring.

For all his talent -- and it is considerable -- Jones prefers to win his fights while taking the fewest risks possible. That's admirable, but it tends to bore boxing fans who yearn for more action.

Tyson's manager, Shelly Finkel, said he hasn't spent too much time thinking of a Jones fight.

"There's nothing there that's real at this point," Finkel said. "It would be very hard to make it because Roy has a very inflated sense of who he is."

Jones has some time to sort out his options, which include going back to light heavyweight or perhaps fighting the winner of next month's Vasily Jirov-James Toney cruiserweight title fight. That could give Jones titles in five weight classes, matching Oscar De La Hoya.

In the meantime, Lewis is still the only legitimate heavyweight champion, though his crown grows more tarnished every day he stays out of the ring.

Lewis hasn't fought since beating Tyson in June, and there are rumblings he really doesn't want to fight any more. He's already given up two parts of the title, and Vitali Klitschko is suing the WBC to get it to strip Lewis if he doesn't make a mandatory title defense.

Yes, for seven days, Tyson and Jones managed to create some heavyweight excitement. But it just shows that a heavyweight division without Lewis is more freak show than anything else.


Tim Dahlberg covers boxing for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org.

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