CARSON, Calif. – Antonio Tarver accomplished pretty much everything a boxer can during his decorated amateur run and 15-year pro career.
The southpaw from Orlando, Fla. won the Pan-Am Games and two world amateur titles in 1995 before earning a bronze medal at the ‘96 Olympic Games. Despite turning pro at the advanced age of 29, Tarver won versions of the light heavyweight title four times.
His second title-winning effort was a second-round knockout of Roy Jones Jr. in May of 2005. Prior to the shocking stoppage, Jones had been lauded as the greatest fighter of all time by more than a few fans and members of the boxing media.
Tarver (29-6, 20 knockouts), who won the IBO’s cruiserweight belt with a ninth-round TKO of Danny Green last July, has done enough to merit hall of fame induction but the 43-year-old veteran say he still has goals that he wants to achieve before he hangs up his gloves.
“I want to unify cruiserweight titles,” Tarver told RingTV.com after Thursday’s final press conference for his Showtime Championship Boxing headliner against undefeated contender Lateef Kayode, who he fights at the Home Depot Center on Saturday.
“I want to fight (WBO titleholder) Marco Huck and maybe the Polish guy (WBC beltholder Krzysztof Wlodarczyk) to show everyone that I am the best cruiserweight in the world. If I can do that, then I want to go to heavyweight and challenge for the heavyweight title before I finally call it quits.”
If Tarver loses to Kayode (18-0, 14 KOs), or even struggles against the strong but raw slugger, he may call it quits on Saturday. It wouldn’t be the first time Tarver has seriously considered retirement. He says he began thinking about life after boxing after dropping back-to-back decisions to current RING light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson in 2008 and ’09.
“After the second loss to Dawson I thought about moving on,” Tarver said. “That’s when I started commentating for Showtime. I was almost ready to start transitioning to another career.”
Ironically, Tarver says serving as a boxing analyst for Showtime Championship Boxing and ShoBox: The New Generation broadcasts is what convinced him to make one more championship run.
“Commentating lit the fire in me again,” he said. “All the respect that the fans and the fighters showed me – from Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley on down – made me want to come back.
“Also, watching supposedly world-class cruiserweights and heavyweights up close, and seeing what they had and what they didn’t have to offer, gave me even more incentive to show what I could do.”
Kayode was one of those flawed up-and-comers that Tarver pointed out during Showtime broadcasts. The 28-year-old Nigerian took offense to Tarver’s criticism, which led to the fight being made and a rather lively kick-off press conference in Los Angeles in April.
Kayode went on a lengthy tirade directed at Tarver when it was his turn at the podium. THE RING’s No. 8-rated cruiserweight then took his shirt off and flexed his ripped arms and chest to show Tarver what he would have to deal with on fight night. Tarver, THE RING’s No. 6-rated cruiserweight, kept his shirt on, but he says he got the message: be ready.
“It wasn’t until that presser that I realized what I was in for,” Tarver admitted during the final press conference at the Home Depot Center on Thursday. “I let everyone in my life know that they had to take a back seat to my training. I know I got my hands full with Lateef. I know this fight can be turned with a single punch; that it can end with one punch, so I had to go back to Florida and train hard and make sure I’m at my best.
“I’m ready to take my shirt off now, but I’ll wait until the weigh-in.”
The official weigh-in today (Friday, June 1) takes place at Nokia Plaza at L.A. LIVE (777 Chick Hearn Court; L.A., 90015) and begins at 1:00 p.m. The media event is open to the public.
Tickets for Saturday’s quadrupleheader at the Home Depot Center’s outdoor tennis arena are still on sale ($200, $100, $50 and $25) at AXS.com (or by phone 1-888-929-7849) and the HDC box office.
Doors open at 2:15 p.m. The first bout of the non-televised undercard, which includes unbeaten lightweight prospects Sharif Bogere and Omar Figueroa, begins at 3:15 p.m. The Showtime Extreme-televised fight (Dyah Davis vs. Sakio Bika) starts at 5:00 p.m. The Showtime broadcast begins at 6:00 p.m. with the Leo Santa Cruz-Vusi Malinga IBF bantamweight title bout, followed by the Austin Trout-Delvin Rodrigues WBA 154-pound title bout and the Winky Wright-Peter Quillin middleweight fight and, finally, the Tarver-Kayode main event.
Photos / Esther Lin-SHOWTIME