Saturday, May 15, 2004 By Tim Graham Special to ESPN.com There has always been something about Roy Jones Jr. that has turned me off. Maybe it's the recurring impression that he's more interested in his money than his legacy, that in Roy's world KO victories are all about "Kashing Out." Roy Jones Jr. has something to shout about when it comes to his legacy. Perhaps it's the narcissism that turns into false modesty at the drop of a God reference, the self-praise -- in third-person, no less -- that switches to humble servant before the end of the sentence. It could be the arrogance he most recently exhibited when he didn't bother to show up for Winky Wright's career-defining triumph over Shane Mosley, even though he was Wright's promoter. Jones said he didn't want to detract from his client's moment, as though his mere presence would cause planets to collide. And it might be Jones' harbored notion that the world owes him something, yet rarely over the years has he given the fans what they requested of him. There are plenty of reasons to find Jones objectionable. His overall career shouldn't be one of them. True enough, Jones could have done a substantial amount more to make his mark in boxing history. But there's no argument he was the most brilliant boxer of the past 15 years and should be remembered among the all-time best -- right up there with Muhammad Ali, Ray Robinson, Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran. Jones is approaching the end of the line. He's 35 years old and announced last week he might have two more bouts left in him after his eagerly anticipated pay-per-view rematch with Antonio Tarver on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Jones said he intends to treat his hometown fans in Pensacola, Fla., to one more show and perhaps fight either Mike Tyson or Vitali Klitschko for big bucks before packing his gloves in mothballs. Given the devastating left hook he took from Tarver halfway through the second round, Jones might rethink his intentions. For much of Jones' career, he was excruciating to follow. He never seemed willing to test his extraordinary talents, yet he never ceased trumpeting his greatness. There were so many pedestrian foes, so much disappointment in the way he would sandbag negotiations until HBO remitted to unworthy opposition, so much disdain from fans who were tired of the rigmarole, the lousy rap CDs and the pro basketball pipedreams. In looking back on his career, however, he clearly is the finest fighter of his generation. Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad can't touch him. Only Bernard Hopkins comes close, and Jones beat him. Jones is 49-2 now, with 38 knockouts. Corrupt judges robbed him of the Olympic gold medal in 1988. He won professional titles in four divisions from middleweight to heavyweight. He certainly could've claimed a cruiserweight title had he cared to. He easily defeated 17 former, current or future world champions, including two fighters currently listed among the pound-for-pound elite (Hopkins and James Toney) and a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Mike McCallum). His lone blemish was a disqualification loss to Montell Griffin, a match Jones almost certainly would have won had it continued. Jones was leading on two scorecards before he knocked Griffin down in the ninth round, but an extra blow delivered when Griffin was down ended the fight. Jones avenged his dubious defeat in his next outing, obliterating Griffin inside one round. Seven months ago it could also be said Jones had never been involved in a competitive professional fight. That was until he met Tarver. The bout was Jones' first since beefing up to 193 pounds to defeat WBA titleist John Ruiz in March 2003 and become the first natural middleweight in more than a century to become a heavyweight world champion. Jones kept the weight on for several months and even climbed within a pound of two bills in anticipation of a tantalizing match with Mike Tyson. Once it became evident Tyson wasn't interested in fighting again in 2003, Jones had to rapidly lose the equivalent of a healthy toddler to reach the 175-pound light heavyweight limit. He had so much trouble slimming down he reportedly had to drop 11 pounds in the 48 hours prior to the weigh-in. He had gained 10 of it back before the opening bell. Probably because of the dramatic weight shift -- but conceivably for other reasons -- Jones showed signs of slippage that night. He looked a little older, a little slower, a little duller. Tarver beat him to the punch for much of the 12 rounds and dominated along the ropes. Jones, for the first time in his career, took a beating. Fans witnessed something else never before seen in a Jones fight. They saw him dig deep and fight like a gritty champion, not some overly talented showboat. Jones, his left eye virtually swollen shut and gasping for oxygen, rallied in the final two rounds. He somehow found the wherewithal to deliver the trademark combinations he hadn't managed all night. He was judged the victor on two scorecards, while the third was even. Had the fight ended after the 10th round it would have been scored a draw. Many who watched the fight disputed the decision, but no one could argue Jones' performance late in the fight was magical. We finally saw Jones stretched to his limits, and he responded like a true champion. "I went deep down and had to go," Jones recalled last week. "I knew I had to beat him and I had to find the energy to do it. I had to dig down in my heart and say, 'Look, you are going to win, so you are just going to have to keep going.' I had no energy, but I knew I was going to have to win this fight. So I got up ... and won the fight." “ Why I'm doing this is because my fans want me to shut this boy's mouth. I don't really want to kill (Tarver) or nothing like that. I just want to show him that when I'm on my day, 'No, you can't beat me at all.' ” — Roy Jones Jr. Jones' longtime trainer was in awe. Alton Merkerson admitted he has seen Jones get older. The punches don't have the same snap. The flurries are more visible to the naked eye. The footwork isn't as fluid. While 99 percent of boxers would give their left thumb for Jones' slightly depreciating skills, the decline could be just enough to make previously unfair fights competitive. Jones, however, isn't all flurry and scurry anymore. It took a substandard performance to demonstrate it, but now we have glimpsed his impressive ring character. "Antonio Tarver on the scale of 1-to-10, was a 10. Roy Jones Jr., on the scale of one to 10, was a 4 1/2 or a 5, and he still managed to pull the fight off," Merkerson said. "He came into the ring with nothing. I gained a lot more respect for him through combat. I saw him go to another level I had never been exposed to before. "It's so easy to give up. But Roy had it locked into his brain he was going to get it done. He looked bad. I told him after the fight, 'Roy, since I've been coaching you, this is the worst performance I've witnessed, but I'm impressed.' " We all were. Well, everybody except Tarver, who talked enough trash after the fight Jones couldn't refuse a rematch. "Forget about all of the excuses that Roy Jones conjured up two or three days before the fight with weight," Tarver said. "The man has every excuse. If anyone had said, 'Maybe the guy across the ring &' Has anyone thought about that one time? "He got his (butt) whipped. Bottom line. I don't feel like a loser. I think that Roy Jones coming in as champion has everything to prove. I don't have anything to prove. I am going to reclaim my championships. I am going to whip (him). I hope he comes ready. Throw all of those excuses out the window." Excuses or no, this rematch shouldn't have been close. Jones has been working with strength and conditioning guru Mackie Shillstone on controlling his weight. Jones merely sweated away the pounds last time, but this time he dieted properly and took vitamin and amino acid supplements. Jones looked to be smarter this time around. He has always been too talented and too savvy not to adopt more effective gameplans, and seemed he had for Tarver, a capable fighter whose record now stands at 22-2, with 18 KOs. Jones came out more aggressive this time, for starters -- throwing the first punch, never backing away. But Tarver's counter left out of nowhere didn't give time enough for Jones' plan to play out. Given Jones' abilities and his past, Saturday night shouldn't have been close. Jones meant to dazzle us with another easy victory. Instead, Antonio Tarver shocked us that he had such power. Jones didn't show the heart of a true champion in this title fight, but we'll take comfort that deep inside -- no matter how insufferable he can be -- it does beat within him. And we've seen it before. Just not tonight. Tim Graham covers boxing for The Buffalo News and is a contributor to ESPN.com.