RJ-Tito: Bring Back The Titans

By George Kimball


RJ-Tito: Bring Back The Titans

Jones: "If they don't get it (Hopkins-Calzaghe) done before the fight on Sunday morning I'm going to Wales!"

NEW YORK --- There wasn’t a speck of snow on the street and the sun was shining outside, but when Roy Jones shuffled into the WaMu Theatre lobby for Tuesday’s pre-fight press conference half an hour ahead of Felix Trinidad, he was bundled up like he was Quinn the Eskimo and he’d just emerged from his igloo. Hey, at least he was there.  As a host of frustrated promoters would attest, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when you couldn’t have gotten Jones to New York at gunpoint four days before a January fight, but that was then and this is now. “Hey,” explained RJ with a shrug. “Global warming.”

Jones was also in winter plumage, having grown a full-length beard, which he promised would disappear once he makes weight (170 pounds) Friday afternoon.

Don King and Madison Square Garden have labeled Saturday night’s exercise in nostalgia “Bring on the Titans,” but what they probably should have called it was “Bring BACK the Titans.”     

For a generation un-steeped in New York sporting lore, then “Titans” handle hearkens back to an era which only slightly antedates the primes of Jones’ and Trinidad’s boxing careers.

The New York Titans were, of course, New York’s original entry in the old American Football League. The team’s publicist was Murray Goodman, whose son Bobby is now director of Boxing for Don King Promotions.

When the late Sonny Werblin bought the cash-strapped franchise from Wismer in 1963, he changed the name from Titans to Jets, and a year after that he signed Joe Namath. Several years later, Sonny also headed up a group which bought Madison Square Garden (which makes him one of Jim Dolan’s immediate predecessors) and proceeded to pretty much run the Garden’s Boxing Department into the ground, but that, as they say, is a story for another day.

Since pretty much everyone concerned, including the competitors themselves, agree that Jones-Trinidad (or Trinidad-Jones, if one goes by the billing on the fight posters) is happening at least six years too late, you have to wonder just why, beyond making the participants a bunch of money, it is taking place at all.

Whatever the outcome, it isn’t a fight that is likely to dramatically alter the boxing landscape. Neither man owns a title, nor is any championship at stake. Jones, who turns 39 on Wednesday, has been knocked out twice in losing three of his last five and hasn’t held a title for more than three years.  Trinidad just turned 35, but he’s 2-2 since 9/11 and hasn’t been a champion since he lost to Bernard Hopkins six and a half years ago. In other words, the winner will be able to claim superiority over the loser, but not much else.

To give credit where credit is due, King’s people and the Garden didn’t try to insult the intelligence of the public by trying to sell the meeting of these two old codgers as something it is not – ie, a championship fight, though God knows it would have been easy enough to persuade, in exchange for a small tribute, one of the sanctioning bodies to create some sort of extraterrestrial championship and brought another meaningless belt into the ring Saturday night.

Not that the idea of making it a title fight wasn’t discussed.

“We actually thought about it,” said Bobby Goodman. “I think Roy might actually still have some kind of bullshit belt (RJ’s fight against Anthony Hamshaw last summer was for something called the ‘vacant IBC light-heavyweight title’) but then we said ‘Aw, what would be the point?’ This is a fight between two legends. It should be able to sell itself.”

Or should have been, anyway. All signs point to half-a-house at the Mecca of Boxing Saturday night, but that is due at least in part to some cockamamie marketing techniques on the part of MSG Boxing, which elected to pay King a site fee in exchange for the gate, only to undermine itself by trying to gouge the ticket-buying public right out of the box.

Much has been made, for instance, of the $15,000 price tag on front-row ringside seats. The Garden tried to “auction” the choice seats at that price, but when it found precious few takers began to drop the “minimum bid,” so those same tickets can now be had for a third of the original cost.

The most pissed-off guy in New York won’t be the loser of Saturday night’s fight. Rather, it’s going to be the guy who paid $15,000 to sit at ringside and finds himself seated next to somebody who paid $5,000 for his seat.

If Jones-Trindad isn’t a title fight, why is it being contested at 12 rounds?

“If you’re going to charge people $49.95 for the pay-per-view you have to give them their money’s worth,” said Jones. “You can’t ask them to spend that much money for a 10-round fight.”

If Jones seems more concerned with the PPV cost than the live gate it is with good reason. RJ is working with no guarantee in this one; his purse will come from the PPV upside. Jones has also noted on several occasions that “there’s no way this is going more than six anyway.”

And trust me, if it does go 12, the public will not have gotten its money’s worth.

Instead of calling it “Bring on the Titans,” they might also have called it “Bring on the Juniors.” We’ll leave it to the promoters to explain why Roy is billed on the posters as “Jones Jr.” while Tito, who is also a junior, is not.

For all of that, Jones-Trinidad Is what it is: a reasonably competitive fight between two Hall-of-Famers-in-waiting who figure to be more well-matched than they might have been when they could still fight. (And think about this for a moment: while it might have been an intriguing matchup when they were in their primes, it was never even seriously entertained back then, because at the top of their games Jones and Trinidad were separated by a good 20 pounds.)

If it is what it is, it is also not what it’s not. In what appears to have been a well-intentioned attempt to defend Jones-Trinidad against its skeptics a few days ago, Espn.com’s Eric Raskin plainly stretched the bounds of credulity in noting “Cashing in on nostalgia is a time-honored tradition in boxing. Ray Leonard spent 1989 fighting a rematch with Tommy Hearns and a rubber match with Roberto Duran.”

This argument conveniently overlooks the fact that both of those fights matched reigning world champions. Leonard was 33 and Hearns 31 when they met for the second time; Ray was the WBC super-middleweight champion and the Hit Man held the WBO title. And while neither was at the prime of his career, events of that evening showed that if they had slipped, they had slipped to the same place and were more competitive than ever, as witness the result – a 12-round draw.

Duran might have been a Jones-like 38, but he was the reigning WBC middleweight champion when he challenged for Leonard’s 168-pound title in ‘89, and was, moreover, still the only man to have defeated Leonard, which more than justified a rubber match in the eyes of the public. (Manos de Piedra miscalculated and came in at 158 for Leonard III; when Ray weighed in at 160 for what was supposed to be a 168-pound title fight it put Duran’s title in jeopardy as well, and provided Los Bandidos with a pretext for relieving him of same.)

Please spare us those comparisons, then. It would be surprising indeed if Jones-Trinidad turned out to be even as good as Leonard-Duran III – and if it turns out to be half as good as Leonard-Hearns II it will be absolutely shocking.

The fact that no title awaits its winner does not mean there’s nothing in it for the winner. As Jones slyly pointed out Tuesday, the 170-pound limit for Saturday night’s fight is “just two pounds more than 168.”

“I’ve already made history by winning the middleweight title, then the super-middleweight title, then the light heavyweight title, the heavyweight title, and then went back and won the light-heavyweight title again,” pointed out Jones with a twinkle in his eye. “What if I went down and won the super-middleweight title again?”

It has already been speculated that a Jones win over Trinidad could eventually position him for the Joe Calzaghe-Bernard Hopkins winner, but RJ noted that negotiations between those two appeared to have hit a recent snag.

“They’d better hurry up and get it done,” warned Jones, “because if they ain’t got it done by next Sunday morning, I’m out of here. I’m going straight to Wales.”


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