Jones splits time between two trainers

TAMPA -- There is a familiar face back in the Roy Jones Jr. camp: Roy Jones Sr.

Big Roy, as he is known to most, is back co-training his son after more than a decade in exile.

Such a bold move perhaps indicates how significant the third fight Saturday night (9 ET, HBO PPV) at the St. Pete Times Forum with rival and light heavyweight king Antonio Tarver (23-3, 18 KOs) is to Jones (49-3, 38 KOs).

Perhaps it also shows just how desperate Jones is to salvage his career and redeem himself. He's coming off two consecutive brutal knockout losses to Tarver and Glen Johnson and a year away from the ring.

Jones' move to bring his father back has not been addressed by Jones or Big Roy, neither of whom are speaking to the media.

However, Big Roy is indeed back, joining Jones' longtime trainer Alton Merkerson in what has become a two-headed camp. Those close to Jones tell of a dysfunctional training camp in which he trained with his father at one Pensacola gym in the morning and then went to a different gym to train with Merkerson in the evening.

Big Roy trained his son from childhood through the early days of Roy Jr.'s pro career. But unable to deal with his father's domineering -- some say abusive -- ways, Jones fired his father in 1992 before going on to defeat Bernard Hopkins for a vacant middleweight crown in 1993.

In the past, Jones has talked about how hard Big Roy pushed him, how the father would whip the back of his son's legs while running, and how he sometimes carried a pistol in case he needed to defend himself against his volatile father.

There was also the famously ugly incident that ended matters between father and son: One day, Big Roy shot one of Jones' dogs and left the carcass in front of Jones' house for him to find because the dog had supposedly bit a family member.

After the breakup with his father, Jones sought out Merkerson, who helped guide him to titles at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight. That run included Jones' decade-long run as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. All the while, Big Roy didn't attend his son's fights even though there was always an empty ringside seat set aside for him.

In November 2003, Jones scored a controversial decision victory against Tarver. But in May 2004, Tarver knocked Jones out in the second round. That loss was followed by an even more devastating ninth-round knockout by Johnson last September.

Jones has been searching for answers. Perhaps he figured his father could help find them, and thus Big Roy is back.

"He knows his son," Merkerson said.

"He trained him from the age of 10 to 1993. That's a long time. I've worked with Roy for 11 years. So I know Roy and he knows Roy. It's a plus for Roy having both of us there because there are some things that his dad sees that I don't see and there's some things that I see that his dad doesn't see."

Merkerson, one of the few from the Jones camp inclined to address the press, downplayed the notion of conflict in the camp because of Big Roy's presence.

"We have interaction with Roy [Jr.]," Merkerson said, noting that he and Big Roy did not interact with each other.

"He's OK. He's an associate. I don't have any problems with Big Roy at all. He does his thing and I do mine. That's the way business is. No tension with me whatsoever. Not at all."

So just who is in charge of the camp?

"It really doesn't matter who is in charge," Merkerson said.

"Both of us are preparing Roy for the fight. You would have to ask Roy who is the number one guy. From my standpoint it doesn't really matter who it is as long as I am part of making him effective for the fight."

Without divulging many details of the arrangement, Merkerson added that "it is not a problem at all with me working with Big Roy. He has things that he does and I have things that I do. Roy has the privilege of us two. Big Roy was with Roy prior to me coming along and it is his prerogative if he wants to bring his dad back. We have our own things that we do and we give constructive criticism to Roy.

"He takes input from both of us and there is no problem at all in the camp. It's working fine. He just has two corner men in the corner. If I have some input I give it to Roy and if his dad has some to give to him, he gives it to him."

Merkerson did admit that the question of who would speak between rounds has not been addressed yet.

"He hasn't said it to me or his dad yet," Merkerson said. "That's a question Roy has to answer."

But as we know, Jones isn't talking. However, rumors have persisted all week that Merkerson would not be in the corner at all during the fight.

"Let me tell you something about teamwork. As long as it is a winning team, whatever satisfies the athlete," Merkerson said.

"I cannot fight for Roy. His dad cannot fight for Roy. Nobody else can fight for Roy. Sharing roles doesn't bother me at all."

Merkerson said he respected Big Roy for not interfering with him for all these years, and that his return was because Jones invited him back.

"Roy called me when he and his father had a conflict," Merkerson said.

"Roy came in and his dad did not confront me about my training him for a total of 11 years. We made history together. Now it's Roy's prerogative at this point to say, 'Well, me and my dad are back together now, and I want to bring him back on board, Coach.' That's no problem. 'Whatever you want, Roy. If you want to bring your dad on, if you want me to leave, that is your prerogative.' But Roy doesn't want me to leave. He wants me here. I'm going to do whatever he wants me to do to help him be the next light heavyweight champion of the world again. I don't care who's in charge, it's not an important factor to me."

Tarver, ultra-confident that he will repeat his victory against Jones, made light of Big Roy's return.

"I don't know what technical changes he can make," Tarver said. "Obviously, he needs to make a whole lot of 'em. I bring families back together again. I think I should be commended. It is a great story. Big Roy will be needed for this fight because he will be the only one with the compassion to throw in the towel when needed.

"When he is getting punished unmercifully, his father will throw in the towel. I don't think anyone else will have that compassion."

Merkerson -- if he is in the corner on fight night -- said he cares for Jones just as much as his father does.

"Nobody can stop me if I want to stop it," Merkerson said.

"If somebody climbs up on that apron, the referee will stop the fight. I'm just as much a part of the corner as anybody else is and Roy might be mad at me, but if I see something that may cause him to be hurt permanently, he can just be mad at me and talk to me after the fight. I'm looking out for his best interests and his health. As far as the reference to his dad -- I think his dad feels the same way that I do."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.