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Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver and Two Gray Birds Who Stare

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It’s not every day you meet the man who destroyed your childhood hero. I was afforded the opportunity earlier this year in Houston when Antonio Tarver came to town to meet with his public relations firm, ThinkZilla.

This was not a media event. It was him and me, and it was surreal. I make it a point to never meet my childhood idols. In boxing, this would consist of exactly two people: Roy Jones, Jr. and Evander Holyfield. I’ve never had to duck Holyfield, but I’ve been face-to-face with Jones several times over the years. I pass him by as if he were a stranger. I’m not exactly sure why I do this. Is it that I don’t want to be disappointed in someone I looked up to as a kid? Is it that I don’t want him to be disappointed in me? Is it that there’s nothing really to say to him? I don’t know.

But when I learned Tarver had hired ThinkZilla, I contacted them and told them to let me know when he came to town so I could come interview him. I’m always looking for people to talk to for The Sweet Science and Boxing Channel, and honestly, I didn’t immediately connect Tarver to Jones in my mind until the day I was about to meet him.

ThinkZilla’s CEO, Velma Trayham, contacted me Saturday afternoon and told me where to be. I was there within the hour. It hit me hard when he walked into the room. Tarver had effectively destroyed my childhood on May 15, 2003 when he knocked out Jones with one punch at the Mandalay Bay Resort Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I was shaking hands with him.

When I was in my early 20s, I was at a particularly desperate point in my life when I witnessed a miracle. I was a hardcore drug user and I finally wanted help. I was so sick of it all. But that’s not the miracle. Plenty of people go through that.

My dad had dropped me off at what seemed like a thousand miles from nowhere in a little Texas town called Alpine. The thinking behind the move was that I could simply go to college out there and get my life back on track. But Dad was wrong. I quickly found fellow druggies and got right back where I once belonged.

But like I said, one day I was finally sick of all that mess. I was ready to change, but wasn’t quite sure how. I reached out to my parents to try and get into rehab or something but my neither of them wanted to help me. I don’t blame them. I was as trustworthy as a snake.

I was stuck and felt as though I might as well be dead.

I was walking back to the library one day when I saw the miracle. There was a small, gray bird lying dead in one of those big, rectangular ashtrays outside the building. It was an ugly, wretched and dead thing. Like me, I thought. Like me! I could not help but to cry about it. Or maybe I was crying about me. I don’t know. I felt so bad that he had died there like that in those ashes that I took the poor little thing out of there and put him in the green grass where the sunlight could touch him one last time. Soon he would rot and decay, I thought, and it will be as if he’d never been.

I sat there crying. I looked at that bird forever. I do not know if anyone else was around me, though I suppose there were many as I was near a busy walkway. But I cried my desperate little eyes out for that bird and stared at it until my head sunk down so low into my hands that I couldn’t see anymore.

That’s when it happened.

Suddenly, the stiff, dead bird started to regain his color. All of a sudden, he was moving around! I could not believe my eyes. I wiped my tears away and began to laugh from the sheer joy of it all. How could this be? How? He was dead!

Soon the bird stood up on his legs as if he had never been dead at all. He looked at me for a long time. I looked right back at him. It was very peculiar, but I feel like the bird was both thanking me and pitying me at the very same time. Then he flew away into the blue sky.

I wasn’t technically a child the night Tarver knocked out Jones. I was in my early twenties, actually, but I still thought and acted like a one. Believe me. Youth was still served to me in its fullest measure, and while my younger life had experienced a strong serving of pain and suffering, I still maintained a ton of affection for hero-types. It didn’t matter to me whether or not that was a healthy thing, or even if it was truly warranted. That’s just the way it was.

Honestly, part of me still can’t believe Tarver knocked out Jones. How could that even happen? Jones was everything to me. I was nothing and had nothing, but he was everything. He was fast, strong and made everything look so cool. He was the best in the world at what he did.

I didn’t even believe it at first. Tarver knocked him out? With one punch? Was it legit? Was it legal? How could that have possibly happened? It was unfathomable to me. Jones had never come close to tasting defeat. Not really. Up to that point in his career, his lone loss was when he was disqualified for hitting Montell Griffin after he had already put him down on the canvas. He avenged it later with a first round KO of Griffin and made it look easy.

That was Jones. He was Superman.

Jones was the best fighter I’d ever seen. I saw him dominate other fighters the way you might think could only happen in the movies. He knocked out Virgil Hill with a body punch. He played basketball on the same days as he fought. He barley ever lost a round. Heck, I once saw Jones put both hands behind his back before luring a fighter named Glen Kelly in close for the knockout blow.

Jones just couldn’t be touched. He was the best ever. Well, at least to me.

But Tarver didn’t think so. After going 12 rounds with Jones the year prior and losing a majority decision, Tarver was sure he could beat him. In fact, Tarver told me he thought he beat Jones the first time. After all, he threw and landed more punches in the fight, and appeared to control the action throughout.

But Jones had a fairly good excuse, and I believed it. The fight took place just six months after he had moved up to heavyweight to snatch a title belt away from John Ruiz. Jones had to lose 25 pounds to come back down to 175, and he appeared gaunt and listless like never before.

The two met again the very next year.

Jones blamed his subpar performance in the first fight on the weight issue. During the prefight instructions at center of the ring, referee Jay Nady asked if anyone had any questions. Tarver replied, “I got a question. You got any excuses tonight, Roy?” I mean, he said that to Roy Jones, Jr.! Can you believe it? This dude was in trouble! Right? Jones was going to knock him out with one punch!

Things looked good at first. Jones won the first round on all three official scorecards. But during an exchange in the second round, Tarver dropped Jones with a deadly accurate overhand left flush to the chin. Jones went down like he just got hit by a bowling ball. He rose at the count of nine but the fight was rightly waved off when he stumbled across the ring into the ropes like a newborn baby deer.

I was absolutely crushed. Superman was dead. In that one moment, someone who grew up believing Jones was invincible was slapped aside the head with the stark reality of truth: no one is invincible. Not even Jones.

It took much longer than I’d like to admit to get clean after witnessing such an amazing and astonishing miracle, but I eventually did it. I never forgot that little, sweet bird and what he meant to me. But I soon began to doubt exactly what happened that day. How could that bird have been dead? That’s impossible. Right?

But sometime later in my life, maybe in my early 30s, during another particularly desperate moment, it happened again. I was in the side bedroom, the one where I thought my wife and I would have one of our children in someday. But we didn’t have kids after years and years of trying and still haven’t. We may never have them. Such is life.

It was with great horror when I saw it that day: our two dogs playing with a wounded gray bird. It was barely alive and could not fly. It was broken. Like me, I thought. Like me.

I ran outside as fast as I could but it was far too late. That bird was dead. I was so very sad for him. But I had seen a bird come back to life before, so I wondered if it could happen again. I felt so desperate. I found sunlight for the bird atop the back ledge of our fence. I placed him there and prayed for him. Maybe he could be fixed, too.

As you can imagine, it didn’t work. I began to cry. I had been crazy after all. While I wasn’t on drugs when I saw that first bird come back to life, maybe my mind was already so warped that I couldn’t really understand what actually happened that day. Now that I was sober for over 10 years, my brain worked as well as anyone else’s. This broken little bird was dead. He was not coming back to life again. My head sunk down so low into my hands that I couldn’t see anymore.

That’s when it happened. When I lifted my head back up to see him, the bird was gone!

What? Surely, the wind had blown him off the fence and he had fallen down to the ground. Right? Except that there was no wind that day. Still, maybe he just rolled off onto to the ground or something. Maybe I had pushed him off while I was crying or something. I don’t know. I had seen stranger things, so I looked everywhere he could have fallen. I searched frantically for that precious little bird but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere! He was gone.

Then I heard a bird sing.

I looked high above to see a bird sitting on the electrical wire above me. He looked down on me. Again, it was as if he was looking at me with a mixture of thankfulness and pity. The bird flew down towards me from the wire to the fence where I had placed him as if he wanted to get a closer look at me. He stared awhile before flying off again into the deep blue sky.

Meeting Tarver was strange. Now 45 years old, it was interesting to hear him talk about his various exploits, both inside the ring and out. What struck me was how often he seemed to reference that singular moment in time, too.

At one point in our talk, I said something like: I have to tell you, I was one of the people you devastated that night you knocked Jones out. There was an entire generation of people like me who believed he was invincible.

“I know, man,” said Tarver. “I know.”

But here’s the most interesting thing, something I only realized after talking to Tarver. He didn’t knock Jones out my memory that night. Jones will always be Jones to me, the way I can turn on ESPN Classic and see Muhammad Ali being Ali in 1965, or the way I can turn on my iPod and still listen to The Beatles be The Beatles. Things change but they always stay the same.

Recently, it has felt as if my heart is being torn up inside me, bit by bit – I literally feel as if I am being ripped in half from the top down to the bottom. I don’t know why it’s happening. I wish I did, but I don’t. Things that seemed so important seem less so now.

My life seems so small.

But here is the strangest thing: two little gray birds have been coming over to the window where I sit to peck at it with their beaks. It has happened every day for over a week now. It happened twice today as I am writing this. This has never, ever happened before, and I have lived in this house for over six years. But these little gray birds come every day as if they refuse to let me ignore them.

They look at me the same way the other two birds did, with a mixture of thankfulness and pity. Mostly, though, these birds just look at me with their deep, black eyes. They sit there and stare at me. They just stare at me, pecking at the window, and I cry.

Everything ends. But in a way, nothing really ever ends, too. Jones will always be Jones to me. Not the one Tarver knocked out way back then. Not the one who continues to fight long after his sell by date. Not the one recently caught sending nude pictures of himself to a female boxer named Stacey Reile.

No, Jones will always be Jones to me, the one I thought was Superman. And sure, the wisdom that comes with age and experience tell me heroes and such are silly matters, little and worldly trifles that shouldn’t really mean anything to me as I grow older.

But to the wonderfully fragile part of me, the one that believes dead things will live again someday, that doesn’t matter at all.

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

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Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

The Gervais Auto Center in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, roughly 100 miles south of Montreal, hosted tonight’s card on ESPN+, a co-promotion of Camille Estephan’s Eye of the Tiger Promotions and Bob Arum’s Top Rank. Arum wasn’t there; he was in Leeds, England, but the outcome would have mitigated his aggravation at seeing his fighter Josh Taylor fall short earlier in the day.

Super middleweight Christian Mbilli, of whom Arum owns a piece, needed only 40 seconds to conquer British import Mark Heffron who, on paper, was a very credible opponent. Mbilli backed Heffron into the ropes and collapsed him with a left hook that landed under his rib cage. Heffron, 30-3-1 heading in with 24 KOs, went down on all fours and was counted out. The contest was over almost before it began.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO. With the victory, he advanced his record to 27-0 (23 KOs). His next fight will reportedly come in August with rugged but battle-blistered Sergiy Derevyanchenko in the opposite corner. Mbilli has been chasing a fight with Canelo Alvarez, but has scant chance of landing it. At this juncture of his career, the red-headed Mexican undoubtedly wants less daunting assignments.

Co-Feature

Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, rebounded from his poor performance against Agit Kabayel with a second-round stoppage of sacrificial lamb Milan Rovcanin. Makhmudov (19-1, 18 KOs) knocked Rovcanin to the canvas with an overhand right in the opening round. The punch knocked Rovcanin sideways, his head resting on the ring apron. To Rovcanin’s credit, he beat the count and launched a futile offensive after he arose. A similar punch ended the brief bout at the 2:32 mark of the next frame.

Makhmudov is certainly heavy-handed, but he moves at a glacial pace and would be up-against-it against a world-class opponent with faster hands and better footwork. Rovcanin, who had  been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia, declined to 27-4.

Other Bouts of Note

In a bout contested at the catch-weight of 178 pounds, Montreal-based Mehmet Unal, a 31-year-old former Olympian for Turkey, scored the best win of his career with a fourth-round stoppage of 34-year-old Laredo, Texas campaigner Rodolfo Gomez.

Gomez, routinely matched tough and better than his record (14-7-3 heading in), protested loudly when the referee waived it off, but his corner stood poised to throw in the towel. He hadn’t previously been stopped, let alone knocked off his feet. Unal improved to 10-0 (8 KOs).

Super middleweight Mereno Fendero, a 24-year old French Army veteran, improved to 6-0 (4) with a six-round decision over 38-year-old Argentine journeyman Rolando Mansilla (19-15-1). Fendero won every round on all three cards including a 10-8 round on one of the cards although there were no knockdowns. Although badly out-classed, the teak-tough Mansilla, a glutton for punishment, earned his pay.

Local prospect Alexandre Gaumont, a middleweight, improved to 11-0 (7) with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Argentina’s Santiago Fernandez (8-1-1). Two of the judges gave Gaumont six rounds, ridiculed as home town bias, with the other awarding five rounds to the Argentine who received a loud ovation as he left the ring.

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Sweet Revenge for the ‘Cat’: Catterall Outpoints Taylor in a Fan-Friendly Fight

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Former unified junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor and Jack Catterall renewed acquaintances tonight in a sold-out arena in Leeds, England. Their first bout 27 months ago in Glasgow ended in favor of Taylor, a controversial winner by split decision as most felt that Catterall was robbed. Tonight, the Cat, as he is nicknamed, turned the tables, winning a unanimous decision in a 12-round non-title fight that was more entertaining than their first encounter.

Catterall, who closed a short favorite, came out fast and was plainly ahead at the mid-point of the fight. But Taylor closed the gap and on unofficial scorecards it was an even fight after 10 frames. Then, in the 11th, shortly after the referee halted the action to warn the fighters about something, Catterall turned the tide back in his favor, stunning Taylor with a looping left hand coming out of the break. Seconds later, both fighters went down in a heap in front of a corner post.

Both fighters were marked-up at the finish, more so Taylor who ended the fight with his right eye swollen and nearly closed shut.

A draw would not have been unreasonable, but two of the judges gave Jack Catterall nine rounds (117-111) and the other had it 7-4-1 (116-113).

In his post-fight interview, Eddie Hearn, Catterall’s promoter, conceded that the scores were too wide but opined that the right guy won. Few would disagree, but co-promoter Bob Arum had a different take. “Those scores were a disgrace,” he said, taking the microphone. “I feel sorry for Josh. I thought he won the fight….”

In avenging his lone defeat, Catterall improved to 29-1 (13). It was second straight loss for Taylor (19-2) who had been inactive since losing his unified title to Teofimo Lopez.

A rubber match would be welcome.

Semi Wind-up

In the chief supporting bout, Cheavon Clarke improved to 9-0 (7 KOs) with an eighth-round stoppage of Ellis Zorro. Clarke, who represented both his native Jamaica and England in international amateur competitions, won the BBBoC British cruiserweight title.

This fight didn’t provide a lot of action. The humdrum ended in the waning seconds of round eight when Clarke nailed Zorro with a chopping right hand. He seized the moment, swarming after Zorro, and chopped him down with a series of punches. None appeared to land very cleanly, but Zorro was counted out with a mere second remaining in the round. It was his second straight defeat after opening his career with 17-0. In his previous bout, Zorro was blasted out in the opening round by Jai Opetaia.

Clarke, 33, is eyeing the winner of the forthcoming fight in London between WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe.

Also

Welterweight Paddy Donovan, a Traveler from Limerick, Ireland, advanced to 14-0 (11 KOs) with a ninth-round stoppage of former British lightweight champion Lewis Ritson (25-4).

Donovan, trained by former middleweight titlist Andy Lee, fought off his back foot for the first seven rounds as Ritson forced the pace. He changed tactics in round eight which was a strong round for him and then closed the show in the ninth. A series of punches had Ritson plainly hurt and the referee stepped in after 32 seconds and waved it off. It was Donovan’s fifth straight win inside the distance.

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Okolie Demolishes Rozanski to Jump-Start a Busy Boxing Weekend

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The weekend boxing activity got underway today in Rzesnow. Poland where, to the dismay of the locals, Lukasz Rozanski, was blown away in the opening round by UK invader Lawrence Okolie. Heading in, the Pole was 15-0 with 14 knockouts, was coming off back-to-back first-round stoppages, and had never fought beyond the fourth round. And he was a world champion of sorts, making the first defense of his WBC bridgerweight title.

Okolie (20-1, 15 KOs) knocked him down hard on the seat of his pants with a straight right hand, the first of three knockdowns. The final knockdown was the result of a combination that knocked Rozanski to his knees with his head landing outside the ropes. There were only seconds to go in the round, but when Rozanski arose on unsteady legs, the referee properly waived it off. At age 38, his first career loss may also mark the end of his career.

A 2016 Olympian co-managed by Anthony Joshua, Okolie (pictured) was making his first start with trainer Joe Gallagher after previously working under Shane McGuigan and SugarHill Steward and his first start since losing his WBO cruiserweight title to Chris Billam-Smith.  At six-foot-five and with an 82-inch reach, the 31-year-old Londoner is a very interesting specimen. His stated goal when he turned pro was to unify the cruiserweight division before moving up to heavyweight.

Had Rozanski won, there was talk of him fighting Badou Jack. The guess is this may be Okolie’s first and last fight at bridgerweight (under 225), a division recognized only by the WBC which invented it. (The WBA is poised to follow its lead. The WBA board of directors recently approved the addition of a super cruiserweight weight class.)

Saturday

The action tomorrow in regard to major fights begins at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen where the Fighting Dane, Dina Thorslund (21-0, 9 KOs), defends her WBC/WBO female world bantamweight title against Turkey’s Seren Cetin (11-0, 7 KOs). Thorslund, whose name appears on many pound-for-pound lists, is appearing in her 11th world title fight.

The marquee event takes place in the late afternoon (USA time) in Leeds, England, where Josh Taylor (19-1, 13 KOs) clashes with Jack Catterall (28-1, 13 KOs) in an eagerly-anticipated and twice-delayed rematch. Catterall will be seeking to avenge his lone defeat.

Their first encounter took place in February 2022 on Taylor’s turf in Glasgow, Scotland. Taylor won a split decision. To say that it was controversial would be putting it mildly. One pundit called it the biggest robbery in British boxing history. At stake was Taylor’s unified welterweight title which he would lose in his next outing when he was upset by Teofimo Lopez.

Catterall has fought twice since that night in Glasgow, most recently scoring a 12-round decision over globetrotter Jorge Linares who announced his retirement after the match. This is Taylor’s first ring outing since the Teofimo fight in New York. He and Catterall have engaged in a nasty war of words since their first encounter and the match – televised live exclusively in the U.S. on ESPN+ and around the world on DAZN — is an advance sellout. Check local listings for start times.

There’s been steady money on Catterall today and, if the odds hold up, Josh Taylor will assume the role of an underdog for the first time in his career.

Lastly

We’re back to ESPN+ again for a show in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada, a co-promotion between Eye of the Tiger and Top Rank.

In the featured bout, Christian Mbilli (26-0, 22 KOs) meets England’s Mark Heffron (30-3-1, 24 KOs) in a 10-round super middleweight contest.

The Cameroon-born Mbilli, a 2016 Olympian for France who turned pro in Montreal, is ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA; #3 by the IBF and WBO.

In the co-feature, heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov, the Russian Lion, returns to the ring looking to rebuild a reputation that was badly tarnished last December when he was manhandled by underdog Agit Kabayel in Saudi Arabia. Makhmudov (18-1, 17 KOs) opposes no-hoper Milan Rovcanin (27-3, 18 KOs) who has been feasting on fourth-raters in his native Serbia. The TV portion of this Saturday Night card has a scheduled starting time of 7 pm ET/4 pm PT.

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