By TIM DAHLBERG
(AP) - By now, reality should have set in for Roy Jones Jr. and his brain cleared enough to realize his sometimes brilliant career is over.
Hopefully, he's not still woozy from the punch that knocked him cold and left him on the canvas Saturday night with his eyes closed for a frightening
four minutes. Hopefully, he remembers the beating that left him with a concussion and sent him to a Memphis hospital for tests on his brain.
Great champions can lose fights and come back, of course. But Jones would be wise to avoid that temptation after being knocked silly for the second
straight fight, this time by a boxer who wouldn't have even touched him in his prime.
Fighters like Jones, 35, rarely understand when the end comes. They live in the past, remembering a time when youth was on their side, their skills
were at their peak and everything seemed so easy.
Riddick Bowe is one of them, trying to make a comeback with the threat of brain damage always just one big punch away.
They don't realize that inevitably time will pass them by, just as it does any athlete. The reflexes slow, they're a step slower and things that used
to seem to happen in slow motion suddenly speed up.
In most sports, the penalty for hanging on too long is mere embarrassment. The image of Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield and falling down on
the basepath in the 1973 World Series comes to mind.
With fighters, it's different. The risks are a lot more real than whiffing at a baseball.
Think of an aging Muhammad Ali taking punishment round after round at the hands of Larry Holmes, and then look at him today. Remember one-time
heavyweight champion Greg Page coming back and nearly losing his life in a makeshift ring in Kentucky for a few thousand dollars.
Now look at Jones, whose fall from the top of boxing's best pound-for-pound fighters to basically being a shot fighter was not only shocking, but
It was only 18 short months ago that Jones moved up in weight to win the heavyweight title, joining Michael Spinks as one of the rare light
heavyweight champions who managed to turn that trick. He not only seemed unbeatable, but his name was moving up on the lists of the great fighters of
Jones dropped back down back to light heavyweight for his next fight, and Antonio Tarver gave him such a bad time that many thought Jones was dealt
his first real loss. Jones tried to write it off as a bad night, but the next time the two met, Tarver starched Jones with a left hand in the second
round that sent him crumpling to the canvas.
Saturday's fight against Glen Johnson was supposed to be an easy way to pick up a title again, and set Jones up for a lucrative third fight with
Tarver. Johnson had the IBF title, but had won only three of his last seven fights and surely wouldn't give Jones much trouble.
Not only did Johnson give Jones a fight, he dominated it. He was leading on all three scorecards and beating Jones to the punch when he landed an
overhand right and a short left that knocked Jones out cold in the ninth round.
Tarver was at ringside to watch Jones in anticipation of a third fight that now likely will never happen. Tarver tends to talk a lot, but Jones would
be wise to listen to the advice he offered afterward.
"I want to see the man go on and enjoy his life after boxing," Tarver said. "We don't need to see Roy Jones go through the things he went through
tonight, the things he went through on May 15. Let the man ride off into the sunset."
In boxing, it's rarely that easy.
The same night Jones may have been riding off into the sunset, another fighter of note was riding in the opposite direction.
Bowe was on a tribal reservation, where fans sat outdoors in folding seats in a park and drank tall cans of beer to watch him make an improbable
comeback after eight years away from the ring.
The last time the boxing world saw Bowe he was slurring his words so badly you couldn't understand him. A doctor testified in Bowe's federal trial for
kidnapping his ex-wife that he suffered from frontal lobe damage caused by taking too many punches to the head.
Like Page, though, Bowe took a look at the heavyweight division and thought he could become a contender again. He just might, because even at the age
of 37 he has enough skills and punching power left to win some fights.
Sadly, though, the risks outweigh the rewards for Bowe. He joked and traded barbs with reporters after his second round knockout of Marcus Rhode, but
doctors fear he is just one punch away from further brain damage or even worse.
The reality for Jones is that he's finished, done, through. He's rich, has nothing left to prove in boxing and can return to his well-paying job from
HBO as a ringside commentator.
The reality for Bowe is that some day, probably soon, he will run into a fighter who punches back and his comeback will be over.
The only thing true boxing fans can hope for is that both face up to their individual realities before someone really gets hurt.