Boxing


Why Antonio Tarver is fast becoming a joke

08.02.06 - By Jason Peck: Antonio Tarver’s possible next opponents include Roy Jones Jr., Mike Tyson and Rocky Balboa. The first two are spent figureheads removed from title contention; the last one is a fictional character that held the world heavyweight championship somewhere from the late Muhammad Ali Era to the early Mike Tyson Period. Tarver faces him in Rocky 6, when he assumes the ridiculous name “Mason Dixon” and plays the heavyweight champion of the world. But I still give Balboa even money against the other two.

Antonio Tarver cracked the P4P rankings and secured the light-heavyweight throne two years ago when he knocked out long-time champ Roy Jones Jr. in the second round.

At the time I didn’t care for Jones. I thought his fights were more about style than substance. Mainstream sports fans went wild when Jones beat Ruiz for the heavyweight title, but any real boxing fan knew Ruiz posed less threat than the light heavyweight contenders Joes had ignored. Like Darisz Michelcheski. And Tarver.

But Tarver has aimed for the circus more than Jones ever did. At this point, neither Jones nor Tyson stands as a threat to anyone in the top 10 of any weight class. Tyson has deteriorated physically, but the damage extends to his psyche. Against Kevin McBride, Tyson simply refused to fight. He no longer wants to be a boxer. And Jones wasn’t worth a third fight, let alone a fourth.

Tarver agreed with me about Jones when he watched Glen Johnson destroy his old opponent.

“I don’t want to see him in the ring ever again,” Tarver told The Ring magazine. “Let the man ride off into the sunset so that we, five years from now, 10 years from now, can shake his hand and he can be correspondent with everyone like the true champion he really is. That’s my wish.”

But somehow Jones become so damn good that Tarver fought him a year later. Jones hadn’t fought since losing to Glen Johnson, and offered no proof that he returned to his winning ways. Was Tarver lying? Did he know that Jones was still a threat? Or is the more likely possibility true — that Tarver avoided a tough fight and went for the money instead?

“Roy is like the fastest gun in the West,” trainer Buddy McGirt once said. “But when you fire back, he doesn’t do too good.”

Very true, McGirt. But I venture further. The quick draw only supplied half of the Jones mystique. The other half lay in Jones’s belief that he — like Superman — was bulletproof.

Jones didn’t bend the law of boxing because he was brave. He bent them because he though there was no danger. But the fear set in when the reflexes faded and someone finally clipped him. I believe that Jones’s sluggish performance in his last two fights stemmed from his desire to avoid punishment. Jones once dominated the ring. But after the third fight with Tarver, the once proud Jones could only take pride in not being knocked out.

At present, Tarver isn’t ranked by half of the sanctioning bodies in boxing. And while I viewed those bodies’ reluctance to sanction Tarver-Johnson with disgust, I’m starting to see their point. I consider myself a Johnson fan, but do you mean to tell me that the only man who could have KO’d Jones aside from Tarver just happened to be the next man he fought?

For the past three years a series of uninspired fights between Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver, and Glen Johnson has defined the struggle for supremacy in the light heavyweight division. The only title on the line is the corpse that represents the legacy of Roy Jones. That legacy ceased to mean much after Tarver knocked him out.

In the meantime, three other champions moved into the belts that Jones never recovered. Currently, Tomasz Adamek holds the WBC belt, Fabrice Tiozzo holds the WBA, and Clinton Woods holds the IBF belt. I’m not too convinced that Tarver could beat all of them, and if he did, the fight would be shockingly close.

Remember: Roy Jones handed Clinton Woods with ease in late 2002. But the 2004 Clinton Woods drew with — and later barely lost to — Glen Johnson, who defeated both Jones and Tarver. Fabrice Tiozzo annihilated Michalczewski, the man who Jones refused to fight. The untested Adamek might have the smallest profile, but remember, Antonio Tarver is 37 years old. Some fight well at that age, but they never fight as well.

So what can Tarver do from here? It’s a mistake to assume that he’s really the top dog in his division. For starter, he can take a real fight. I’m sure the other champions would be willing to oblige.

Article posted on 08.02.2006



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