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Tarver's question for Roy Jones
changed the way refs
give prefight instructions

May 15, 2004 was the date that Antonio Tarver became a legitimate superstar in boxing with his shocking one-punch knockout of the great Roy Jones Jr.  Tarver was the first man to decisively defeat one of this era's greatest fighters, and he did so in dramatic fashion. 

Tarver, who had previously dropped a disputed decision to Jones just six months prior questioned the judging and thanks to his antagonizing of Jones earned an immediate rematch.  Prior to Jones taking on Tarver in November of 2003, the pound for pound great was coming off of his most thrilling match, a career-defining unanimous decision over heavyweight belt-holder, John Ruiz.  Jones weighed 200lbs. for his match with Ruiz, and at the time, there were a small faction of fans who believed Jones might tangle with Evander Holyfield, or quite possibly, the 240-pound Lennox Lewis.
Well, Antonio Tarver had different plans and crashed the Jones-Ruiz post-fight press conference and demanded a match with Jones.  Tarver, in his ultimate bravado, questioned Jones opposition, his skills, and even his courage, which in essence, led to Jones coming back down to the light-heavyweight division and signing to fight Tarver.  Jones, who apparently did not look like the vintage RJ that fans had been accustomed to blamed a lackluster decision win on losing too much weight too soon.  Jones was listless, but still did enough to earn a close majority decision.
Fast forward six months and Tarver is full on confidence, heading into his match with Roy Jones.  One of Nevada's more dependable referees, Jay Nady is assigned to work one of the years most anticipated matches.  Referee Nady brings both boxers to ring center for pre-fight instructions and after giving the generic, customary instructions commits the  "ungodly sin" of asking the boxers if they have any questions.  Actually, there is nothing at all wrong with Nady's pre-fight instructions, as he is merely following a standard that has been around for decades.  Asking the boxers or the chief seconds if they have any questions typically does not garner any questions, maybe with the sole exception of getting the referee to identify the border for low blows.  Answering questions is relatively unnecessary because most referees have given the boxers their instructions prior to coming to the ring.  In title bouts, as was the case for the Jones-Tarver rematch, the boxers are always given the prefight instructions in the dressing rooms so that every aspect of the rules can be addressed and concerns can be heard.  Once the boxers have reached the ring, the referee will undoubtedly tell both boxers that we have gone over the instructions in the dressing room, but prior to 2004, it was still pretty customary to ask the boxers if they had question regardless of the instructions given earlier in the dressing room. 
This practice has by and large slowly, but surely faded into memory, perhaps because of Antonio Tarver.  When Nady asked the boxers if they had any questions, Tarver said, "Yeah, I got a question ... you got any excuses tonight Roy?"  Nady, obviously caught off guard offered, "let's not ask questions like that," to which Tarver repeated, "You got any excuses tonight Roy?"  While it was extremely entertaining to hear Tarver put Jones on the spot with his loquacious exuberence, it was not what referees would expect or for that matter, desire.  Larry Holmes, in his hey day also had the gumption to answer this question.  When asked if he had any questions, Holmes, said, "Yeah, can you count to ten?" 
I became a referee in 2003, but I studied (and still study) referees' prior to becoming a ref in the pros and it appears to me that most referees have gotten away from asking the boxers or the chief seconds if they have any questions once the boxers are in the ring.  Because the boxers are asked in the dressing room if they or their corner have any questions, the pre-fight instructions in center ring are nothing more that a reminder of what has already been discussed.  Nowadays, a standard prefight center ring instruction sounds something like: "We went over the instructions earlier, as a reminder, obey my command at all times, and protect yourselves at all times; Touch gloves, good luck". 
If we are to follow instructions of the referees and  how they may have changed in context with the times, we may look back to May of 2004 and give Antonio Tarver credit for changing the way referees' give their instructions.  Most referees do not want to draw any unnecessary attention on themselves, and the night that Tarver shocked the boxing world may have also been the night that referees began to reevaluate how prefight instructions are delivered.

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by Harvey Dock


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 Harvey Dock was inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame (Class of '94) for his accomplishments as an amateur boxer, and has been a professional referee since 2003. He currently trains a stable of  amateur boxers.

His column here at addresses The Sweet Science from the perspective of the third man in the ring.

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