LOS ANGELES – Showtime’s rare quadrupleheader headlined by the Antonio Tarver-Lateef Kayode cruiserweight fight at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on June 2 features four fighters with unbeaten records.
The promising young men without losses – Kayode, middleweight prospect Peter Quillin, WBA 154-pound title holder Austin Trout and bantamweight contender Leo Santa Cruz – sport a combined record of 87-0-1. They are talented, personable and usually make for good fights.
However, the young guns lack what their older opponents – Tarver, former junior middleweight champ Winky Wright, Delvin Rodriguez and Vusi Malinga – have literally fought to earn: big-fight experience and the respect that comes with it.
Tarver and Wright, two of the most accomplished American boxers of the past 15 years, also have considerable name recognition. Kayode and Quillin, who takes on Wright in the 10-round co-featured bout of the Showtime Championship Boxing card, want the credibility the two veterans have and believe they can earn it by beating them on June 2.
The two physical specimens – who took their shirts off to flex their formidable-looking muscles in front of the boxing media at the JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE on Monday – stated their case in emphatic fashion during the lively press conference.
Kayode (18-0, 14 knockouts), a Hollywood-based Nigerian trained by Freddie Roach, was uncharacteristically emotional and disrespectful toward Tarver.
“I am stronger than him and I have a bigger heart than him; I want to prove that I am better and prove him wrong,” said the 28-year-old puncher, who feels that Tarver – who works as a commentator for Showtime – heaped undue criticism on his boxing ability during three ShoBox: The New Generation appearances last year. “He never said one thing that is good about me.
“I met him face to face once and I told him ‘Champ, why do you always talk bad about me?’ He said ‘I’m just doing my job.’ I told him ‘You are not doing your job, you are doing s__t.
“(Tarver) has the name, but he doesn’t have the heart and he doesn’t have the power. He doesn’t have s__t. He’s done.”
Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs), a former three-time light heavyweight champ who broke into THE RING’s cruiserweight ratings with a ninth-round stoppage of Danny Green last July, obviously disagrees with Kayode but said he understands the younger man’s passion.
“You have to admire the young guys for their enthusiasm, dedication and their will,” said the 43-year-old southpaw, who shocked the boxing world by knocking out Roy Jones Jr. in 2004. “Eight years ago, that was me.
“Now I’m one of the older guys of the game that the young fighters target, but guys like me and Winky, are not willing to step aside. I still have goals. There are things I still want to do in boxing.”
Tarver, who holds the IBO title, says he wants to unify the major cruiserweight belts before taking a stab at the top heavyweights. However, before he does any of that, he says he needs to teach Kayode a lesson or two.
“The commentating that offended Kayode was meant to be constructive criticism,” said Tarver, who has pointed out defensive holes and technical flaws in the hulking Nigerian’s game during ShoBox broadcasts. “I say those things about young fighters in hopes that they will work on the things that they don’t do well.
“But so many of them have these people around them, like Kayode, who only praise them and hype them up about the things they do well. I’m not on his bandwagon. My job is to point out the holes and the mistakes. I was trying to be helpful.
“He didn’t want to take heed, so now I’ve got to show him in the ring. He’s going to find out that there’s a difference between being on the outside looking in and being on the inside with a skilled veteran who ruins fighters. He’s going to find out what it’s like when you’re all by yourself in the ring with me and all Freddie Roach can do is give you water.”
Quillin (26-0, 20 KOs), who is coming off an HBO-televised technical stoppage of once-beaten Craig McEwan last November, was just as excited as Kayode but more respectful of his opponent.
“I’m not overlooking Winky, he’s a future hall of famer,” said the 28-year-old Grand Rapids, Michigan native. “But I’m not playing around. If y’all never been to Pluto, I’m going to take you there on June 2. And in case you’re wondering where Pluto is, that’s where the stars live at.”
Quillin, who trains with Eric Brown and Roach at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, made sure that he was shirtless before he had his say. Wright (51-5-1, 25 KOs) couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit as he made his way to the podium.
“I love your enthusiasm,” said the 40-year-old southpaw from St. Petersburg, Fla. “That’s what boxing needs.”
Wright admitted that it is also what he needs from an opponent in order to get up for a fight at this stage of his career. Wright has only fought once in almost five years, a unanimous decision loss to Paul Williams in April of 2009, which has prompted many fans and boxing writers to wonder what he has left and why he decided to come back now.
“I’m not here for the money, so let’s get that out of the way,” Wright said. “I’ve got money and I’ve got friends with money. I came here on a private plane. I don’t need money. I came back for the challenge and because I wanted to make a statement. I still think I can be a champion, which is why I wanted to fight someone like Quillin, who wants to be a champion.”
Quillin is not the only fighter on the card in search of his first world title. Rodriguez (26-5-3, 14 KOs), who was not present at Monday’s press conference, is expected to make the most of his shot at Trout’s WBA belt.
The 31-year-old Connecticut-based Dominican is enjoying a late career surge thanks to two fights against former contender Pawell Wolak last year. Their thrilling 10-round draw last July earned Fight of the Year honors from the Boxing Writers Assoc. of America. Rodriguez, a staple on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights in recent years, won a one-sided decision in his rematch with Wolak, which was part of the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito II pay-per-view undercard last December.
Trout (24-0, 14 KOs), who has never been a part of a high-profile televised card, wants to take Rodriguez’s momentum with an impressive victory and parlay that into a bigger fights.
“I think Rodriguez is the perfect fight for me,” said the 26-year-old southpaw from New Mexico. “He’s got a good name and a good style for me. He can box or he can brawl, but I’ll be ready for whatever he brings.
“It’s going to be a good fight early on but I plan on taking over. I want this fight to lead to a fight with (WBC 154-pound titleholder) Saul Alvarez, and from there the Cottos and Mayweathers of the world.”
Santa Cruz (19-0-1, 11 KOs) isn’t looking past his opponent. Malinga, a 32-year-old former title challenger from South Africa, represents the most important fighter of Santa Cruz’s career because the vacant IBF bantamweight title is on the line in their scheduled 12-round bout, which opens the Showtime broadcast.
The 23-year-old resident of Lincoln Heights, Calif., says the major belt, which was recently vacated by Abner Mares, is the goal he targeted when first began boxing as a child.
Malinga (20-3, 12 KOs), who was not at the press conference, has been a pro almost as long as Santa Cruz has been boxing competitively (12 years). The Johannesburg resident will likely be just as hungry for the title as Santa Cruz, who has won his last nine bouts by knockout.
Malinga, who knocked out Thai legend Veeraphol Sahaprom in 2008, lost his previous title shot via first-round knockout to Hozumi Hasegawa in ’09. He rebounded from the loss with a knockout over undefeated Fadhili Madjia and a decision over dangerous Filipino veteran Michael Domingo.
Showtime has only aired four live bouts on a non-pay-per-view broadcast once before – a show headlined by Zab Judah in January of 2001. That card, which was promoted by Main Events, was headlined by Judah’s IBF junior welterweight title defense against Reggie Green (who the then-undefeated New Yorker stopped in the 10th round) and supported by three bouts involving then-up-and-coming prospects Juan Diaz, Rocky Juarez and Francisco Bojado.
Diaz, who went on to win three lightweight titles, was in a six rounder. Juarez and Bojado were in scheduled four-round bouts.
The June 2 show, which was put together by seven promoters (including lead promoter Golden Boy Promotions) and influential manager Al Haymon, is a much bigger card. With three scheduled 12-round bouts and one 10 rounder on deck, it has the feel of a pay-per-view event, which is why Showtime gave the show a title, “Four Warned.”
The “warning,” according to Golden Boy CEO Ricahrd Schaefer, is for the four unbeaten young fighters who will take on the more experienced but still hungry veterans.
Tickets for the show, which will take place in the outdoor tennis arena of the Home Depot Center (which seats around 7,500 fans), went on sale Monday (April 23). They are priced at $25, $50, $100 and $200.
At least two preliminary undercard bouts will be shown on Showtime Extreme, which begins broadcasting at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT. The Showtime Championship Boxing broadcast begins at 9:00 p.m. PT/ET (delayed on the West Coast).
Video by Daniel Morales & Dominic Verdin
Photos / Gene Blevins – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions