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Thirsty Jones says he'll bring more punch

LAS VEGAS -- Antonio Tarver wants to fight Roy Jones Jr. According to the person who knows Jones best, perhaps the only person who knows him at all, he'll finally get his chance Saturday night. "I'm Roy again," Jones said about the pay-per-view rematch with Tarver at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. "This time I got myself back together. He wasn't going to beat Roy Jones the first time when he [Jones] was lackluster. He wants a fair chance? He's got a fair chance. Now I'm all right. You're so bad? Beat me!"

Tarver is of the belief he already did that Nov. 8, when Jones was awarded a majority decision over Tarver to reclaim the light heavyweight title he relinquished for a one-fight foray into the heavyweight division. Jones won the World Boxing Association heavyweight title from John Ruiz but quickly decided to return to 175 pounds to face his longtime rival Tarver, and he learned two things.

First was that at age 34, some things are more difficult than they used to be, and one of them was losing 24 pounds of muscle -- which he had to do to get down from the 199-pound slabs of abs he put on to fight Ruiz. The second was to show he had the heart to respond when faced with a challenge.

"It was a lackluster performance because I didn't really care," Jones said of his surprisingly long night with Tarver. "I wasn't into it because I thought I was going to fight Mike Tyson. It took a little more than I thought it would take, but that's what happens when you have no focus.

"I wasn't trying to entertain the crowd or anything. I was just trying to win. The boy came and fought his best fight. I fought the best I could considering the weight loss. It's no one's fault. There are no excuses for not performing. I just was not focused. I didn't even want to do it. This time I don't care to do it but I have to do it, because I said that's what I'm going to do.

"This time I know people want to see it. They think he has a chance so I get a chance to entertain a little bit. I'm doing this because my fans want me to shut this boy's mouth. I don't really want to kill him or nothing like that. I just want to show him that when I'm on my day, you can't beat me at all. He couldn't beat me when I wasn't on my day. He definitely can't beat me when I'm on my day."

That day, Jones believes, will be Saturday. He will not be burdened by thoughts of missed opportunities with Tyson. There will not have been a months-long battle to remove nearly 25 pounds of hardened muscle from a body with about as much body fat as a jaguar's.

This time his challenge is only to beat down a guy who pushed him hard in their first confrontation but failed to push him over the brink. Do one thing only. Beat back Antonio Tarver, the mouth that roared.

"I thought I was going to fight Mike Tyson," Jones said. "I was close to it but he kind of got away from it and he went on to something else. I was hurt. I really wanted it. That was the first part of it.

"The second part was I was like the teacher getting ready to beat up on one of his students. It's hard for the teacher to get excited. What am I excited about? That I get to beat him up? That's not exciting to me.

"This time it's exciting because people think he's really got a chance because he runs his mouth. Everybody can talk. I've listened to 49 guys talk and all 49 of them came up with an L. Now he'll end up with an L."

Few people doubt Jones when he speaks. He is regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, a point he has made at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight, and now back at light heavyweight. Jones believes he has no peers and among his peers that's the general consensus.

Yet even his trainer, Alton Merkerson, said a few weeks ago that age has begun to creep up on Jones. Lost agility. Diffused focus. Waning speed. Eventually those things are eroded by time and success and not even Jones can deny that. Yet he believes completely in his skill and his will. He believes this time will be different.

This time will be different because he is different. He is Roy Jones Jr. again, a difference Tarver cannot understand until it is too late to save himself.

"Last time I just ran off the weight," Jones said. "I didn't care how I felt. I didn't make sure I ate right. I didn't care about training and I didn't care about how I looked in training. I wasn't interested in the boxing part so much as I was running the weight off.

"I didn't take any supplements. No iron, no potassium, nothing. I knew I was missing something because I wasn't eating right. You need to eat and put stuff back in your system. I didn't put anything back in my system. I had to make weight. I had to tough it out. That's where the fight was at."

This time Jones hired Mackie Shilstone, a New Orleans fitness guru who has been the nutritionist for Michael Spinks and Riddick Bowe with stunning success. Now he is advising Jones, bringing him down gradually to 175 in a way that should not sap his strength.

Still, questions linger about Jones. Questions not so much about his talent but about whether a man who has accomplished so much can remain totally committed, even for one night, on doing what he has done so many times.

Tarver benefited from an absence of that when they first met, yet when the fight came down to the final rounds, he seemed to fade just as Jones picked up the pace. Opportunity knocked, but Tarver did not answer and so his moment passed.

That, at least, is what Jones believes. When he watches the tape, he sees one tide rising and another receding. He sees two good fighters in that ring but only one champion.

"People thought it was a little closer than it was," Jones said. "I knew it wasn't close but I was going to keep the pressure on him regardless. I went deep down. I had no energy but I knew I was going to win that fight. So I got up off my [butt] and won it. I had crippled myself and my opponent all at one time.

"I took his best shots in Round 8. After that I knew the dude couldn't do anything to me. Tarver didn't beat me. Tarver did not win the last fight. He's believing something that isn't true. But I don't hate the dude. I want to see what he's going to do. I want to see if he can back up all that he's saying."

Roy Jones Jr. wants to see this so bad he'll be in the ring for real this time, a teacher intent on showing a student the meaning of "delusional." 

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