Tarver ready for big fight
Appeal Sports Writer
Sylvester Stallone makes his living by acting and writing words, but even though he crafted some lines for Antonio Tarver when he played Mason “The Line” Dixon in “Rocky Balboa,” none quite matched Tarver’s own dialogue immediately before his 2004 rematch with Roy Jones Jr.
As referee Jay Nady somewhat rhetorically asked the boxers, “Any questions?” Tarver, who had lost a disputed majority decision to Jones in 2003, stood and delivered the following classic: “I have a question. You got any excuses tonight, Roy?”
Tarver stepped into the sport’s spotlight that night, knocking out Jones in the second round to become the recognized light heavyweight champion of the world.
On Saturday night, in a Showtime-televised event beginning at 9 p.m. (on tape delay), the 39-year-old Tarver, of Orlando, Fla., is hoping to once again initiate a sequence of wins that will return him to his perch atop the 175-pound ranks.
Tarver, 26-4 with 19 knockouts, will face IBF light heavyweight beltholder Clinton Woods, 41-3-1 (24), of England, in one of three meaningful 175-pound matchups in a week.
Also on Saturday, WBC titlist “Bad Chad” Dawson, 25-0 (17), will defend his belt against former undisputed light heavyweight champion Glen Johnson and on April 19, current 175-pound king Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, 48-4-1 (32) with 1 no contest, will defend his crown against undisputed super middleweight champ Joe Calzaghe, 44-0 (32), who is moving up in weight for this fight.
“I’ve got one mission in mind and that’s to become the undisputed light heavyweight champion,” the glib Tarver said in a conference call last week. “(Woods) has one of the belts, so this fight is very important.
“Once I take care of business on the 12th, I’m one step closer to unifying this division. I’ll be one step closer to going out on top and being remembered as one of the best that ever did it. That’s what I’m hellbent on achieving right now.”
Against Woods, the 6-foot-2 Tarver will be facing a fighter as tall as he is – not that it seems to make a difference to the “Magic Man.”
“Height doesn’t matter,” Tarver said. “That’s one thing about boxing: You want to master your craft. I’m not a one-dimensional fighter. I can change on the drop of a dime. I can adjust to whatever is in front of me.”And what will be in front of Tarver will be the aggressive 35-year-old Woods, who has punched his way to four title defenses, including two against Julio Cesar Gonzalez and a split decision over Johnson in their third matchup (they have one win apiece and drew in their first meeting).
“I’m going to dissect Woods anyway I can,” said Tarver, a southpaw (Woods is a right-hander). “I’m going to get him out of there and make sure I secure the victory.”
Not that Tarver is underestimating Woods.
“Anytime you become champion, you improve,” Tarver said. “There’s just so much at stake. I feel that just his experience has helped him a lot. He understands how to get in there and (put) out 12 rounds if he’s behind.
“I’m not expecting Clinton Woods to come here and lay down by any means. I know I have my work cut out for me. That’s what being a champion is all about.”
Tarver first lost and regained his championship by splitting a pair of bouts with the 39-year-old Johnson, before laying an egg against Hopkins in June 2006, when “The Executioner” took a 12-round unanimous decision.
“Hopkins came out and did what he had to do,” said Tarver, who also added that he dropped too much weight too soon, which he felt led to the loss. “Everybody that witnessed that fight knew I wasn’t even a shell of myself. But that’s the business. When I sign on to fight (at) 175, it is my responsibility as a professional, as a champion, to get the weight down by any means necessary.
“I did what I had to do. I showed up, felt fine. Obviously I fell flat. Bernard Hopkins won the fight. But on my worst night I was able to stay in there for 12 rounds.”
Following the loss, Tarver took a year off before scoring a 12-round majority decision against Elvir Muriqui and followed it up nearly six months later with a four-round technical knockout of Danny Santiago.
Tarver said that his age won’t be a disadvantage.
“It’s all about living well, being happy and having people that truly love you around you,” he said of his longevity. “That adds years to your life. With this boxing game, I started late. I didn’t turn pro until I was 27, so I’m still young.
“I don’t even have 30 fights (actually, he has exactly 30 fights). Every opponent I face has 40 or 50 fights. I just took the right fights. I didn’t have 25 fights just to get my record up. I went out there and fought the best.”
Tarver is looking forward to continuing that trend, beginning with Woods.
“We’ve got a lot of names, a lot of champions, but there can only be one champion,” Tarver said. “I’m ready to show the people they cannot underestimate the ‘Magic Man.’ We’re on a head-on collision. But I know one thing – I’ve never been stopped. I don’t plan on being stopped.
“I’m going to lay it on the line. Let the fireworks begin on the 12th, baby. I’m ready to put this whole light heavyweight division on a whole different perspective.”
Those lines may not carry the same path and moment of “You got any excuses tonight, Roy?” but if Tarver can come up with the same kind of explosive performance he had against Jones in their second match, he’s sure to draw some rave reviews.