In the span of a few weeks, Ed (Too Tall) Jones has been transformed from a hero to a curiosity to almost a laughingstock.
Having quit professional football to undertake a career as a boxer, Jones gave such an awkward performance in his ring debut that sportswriter across the country ridiculed his ineptitude. A Texas legislator challenged him to a three-round fight with the proviso that, if Jones lost, he would return to the Dallas Cowboys and help restore their sagging fortunes.
When Jone's scheduled fight in Tuncson was canceled on Tuesday because of virtually nonexistent tickets sales, one national columnist attributed it to "a sudden outbreak of intelligence in "Arizona."
It seems incredible that a man would walk away from a brilliant career and subject himself to such abuse. It would be doubly incredible if he weren't having second thoughts about his decision.
But Too Tall Jones is having no such qualms. He is a serene man.He is doing what he says he aways dreamed of, even while he was excelling at basketball and football.
"I like the excitement, the electricity. I like the challenge. I'm very satisfied so far," he said yesterday as he stretched out on his king-size bed in a Washington hotel and awaited his fight against Fernando Montes at the Starplex-Armory Saturday.
People who saw Jone's anemic jabs, his telegraphed punches, his knockdown by unsung Jesus Menses in his televised debut might think he is indulging in wild dreams when he talks about becoming a heavyweight contender.
In fact, Too Tall is no dreamer. He switched from basketball to football in college partly because he wanted to avoid all the travel that a pro-basketball career would entail.
His approach to boxing is similarly pragmatic and levelheaded. He knew, much better than the public what to expect in the early stages of his career.
Sports fans almost never see their heroes while they are going through the learning process. Many boxers have 50 or 100 amateur fights behind them before the public even hears their names. Jones was on display in the first fight of his life, and both he and his manager, Dave Wolf, think the sporting world has overlooked that.
"The criticism heaped on him is somewhat baffling," said Wolf. "I must have overestimated the intelligence of the sportswriter who are taking shots at him. At a time when he should be getting ready for sub-novice Golden Gloves he's beaten two qualified professionals. But he's being judged as if he's getting ready to fight for the title."
Jones can shrug off the criticism of his early performances, for he views them as just the first stages of a learning experience that may last for two or three years. His self-education absorbs him completely. From his roadwork in the morning to his sparring sessions in the afternoon to his study of films at night, boxing is his full-time obsession.
"I can evaluate myself," Jones said. "Now I know I've got to learn the whole game. The toughest part is to coordinate the feet and hands. I've got to learn to throw punches with perfection; the hook is the hardest to develop, the hardest to master. But most of all I need experience so I can go into the ring relaxed."
"You'd think," Wolf said, "that somebody who played in three Super Bowls would not psyche himself out. From what Ed has done in the gym there's no doubt he's a good fighter. But when he gets into the ring he forgets everything he has learned."
Jones understands what is happening to him in the ring.It is the same thing that happened to him in his fledgling days as a football player: "I'm thinking too much rather than reacting (instinctively). I see a shot but I think about it and I don't take it in time."
He knows that this can, and will, change. When he played with the Cowboys, Jones saw rookies struggling through training camp, struggling through their early games and then blossoming almost overnight into poised stars. He can remember, too, when this happened to him in his sophomore year at Tennessee State, when he started reacting instinctively in football combat and made the sudden discovery that he had the ability to be an All-America.
He is waiting now for such a break-through in his boxing career. "I haven't been able to relax for one round so far," Jones conceded. "It might happen Saturday; it might not happen for a year. But one day I'm going to walk into a ring totally relaxed and say, "This is just another fight; I've got a job to do."
When that day arrives, his current critics may have to reevaluate their judgement of Too Tall Jones, the professional fighter.