LAS VEGAS — Six months ago, Jerry (Wimpy) Halstead came to this town to fight former World Boxing Assn. champion Greg Page. Halstead, stopped in the eighth round, blamed the distractions of the gaming tables.
So when Halstead returned to Las Vegas for Saturday's 10-round bout against another former WBA champ, Tony Tubbs, Halstead's adviser, Pat O'Grady, had a present for his fighter.
He handed Halstead a 500-piece puzzle and told the Simi Valley heavyweight to stay in his room and work on it.
It took Halstead four days to finish it. But Saturday he ran into a far more difficult puzzle in Tubbs and never came close to figuring him out in 10 rounds.
Fifteen or 20 might not have been enough, either.
Tubbs didn't exactly dominate Halstead, but the Cincinnati native did enough with an occasional left jab and some effective body shots to win a unanimous, yet totally uninspiring, decision over Halstead.
Judges Jerry Roth (96-95 score), Art Lurie (99-92) and Bill Graham (98-93) concurred in awarding Tubbs his 24th win in 25 fights. Halstead fell to 41-6-1, 21-2 as a heavyweight.
"I don't think it was fair," Halstead said. "The judges couldn't have seen it that way, unless they each had a quart of vodka maybe.
"They can't take anything away from me. I figure I'm 22-1. I was controlling the tempo of the fight. His jab was the only thing he had working. But he's slick. I'll give him that."
Tubbs hurt his right hand during the match, but an immediate postfight examination revealed it was not broken.
"I hurt it in the fourth round," Tubbs said, "when I hit his bald head and I could only use my jab after that.
"But I know Wimpy. He comes to fight. This is only my second fight in nearly two years and I'm taking no easy opponents."
Tubbs won the WBA title from Page on a 15-round decision a little more than two years ago but lost it on another 15-round decision to Tim Witherspoon 16 months ago.
Then began Tubbs' battles outside the ring.
Traces of drugs in Witherspoon's blood after his fight with Tubbs provided grounds for a rematch. But promoter Don King, claiming Tubbs was demanding too much money, gave the title shot instead to James (Bonecrusher) Smith. Tubbs sued and has been spending more time with lawyers than sparring partners since.
The 28-year-old Tubbs began his comeback last month with a lackluster win over Mike Jamison.
Saturday's effort wasn't much better. There was a lot of bobbing and weaving, but a fight never seemed to break out. Halstead, who fought at 219 pounds, caught his opponent with a good left in the first round and a couple of rights later on, but that was the extent of his attack.
Watching him work on that puzzle might have been more exciting.
It could have been a big opportunity for the 23-year-old Halstead. He makes no bones about the advantages of his skin color ("I'm white and I fight") and, with many influential boxing figures on hand for the Mike Tyson-Pinklon Thomas title match that followed Saturday, Halstead had hoped to make a name for himself.
But he's not ready to give up.
"I don't want to be just somebody they bring in to please the crowd," he said. "I can do that and win, too.
"What more do they want me to do, knock 'em out? I guess that will have to be the next thing on my agenda."