The incarnation of Saturday night’s Showtime Champion Boxing main event is something out of the book of pro wrestling.
Antonio Tarver, semi-retired with a gig as an expert analyst on the very same network, was ringside to call many of Lateef Kayode’s fights on ShoBox, where he is a staple. Tarver was critical of Kayode on many occasions, pointing to his recklessness among other faults in his showcase fights on The New Generation.
Borrowing a page from the WWE, where it’s commonplace for a semi-retired wrestler to provide color commentary and criticize a wrestler, leading to a bout, Kayode had had enough and called out Tarver. Tarver (29-6, 20 knockouts) answered the challenge, and the two will meet in a grudge match on Saturday at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., in a 12-round cruiserweight bout (9 p.m. ET).
“I have something to prove to everyone and to Antonio Tarver,” said Kayode. “On June 2, I’m going to show that he’s never fought anyone like me. I’m going to prove that all the things he said about me were wrong.
“First of all, he said all my punches were sloppy and second of all, he said I’m not fighting with any spirit. Every time I fight on ShoBox he says the same thing.”
Kayode (18-0, 14 KOs) is clearly both hurt and buoyed by the criticism, anxious to prove to his main detractor that he is the real deal at the 200-pound limit. The 29-year-old Nigerian took it upon himself to confront the former RING light heavyweight champion in a chance meeting in Los Angeles.
“I saw him in downtown L.A. and said, ‘Why do you always says those things about me on ShoBox?’,” said Kayode. “He said he’s just doing his job, but when I was doing good and connecting on my punches he just quiets down and says nothing. He only concentrates on my mistakes.
“If this fight were in the streets, I know I would win. I come from far away and have struggled all my life. My prediction is that I think I’m going to knock him out in the fifth round or the sixth round.”
The bout will be a giant step-up in class for Kayode, who now resides in Hollywood, Calif. To date, he has feasted on mostly no-hopers while being built up, Matt Godfrey being the best name on his ledger. Tarver, though he is 43, is coming off a knockout victory over Danny Green in the latter’s native Australia and is considered to be one of the best fighters of this generation.
The southpaw from Orlando, Fla., best known for his shocking second-round, highlight-reel KO of Roy Jones, presents a big challenge for Kayode. Tarver is a highly intelligent fighter, has an educated jab and can control a fight with his ring generalship. Most observers are giving Kayode little chance and his trainer, the famed Freddie Roach, knows they are up against it.
“(Antonio) is a Hall of Famer for sure and we know we have to beat guys like this to get to the top,” said Roach, who is currently preparing Manny Pacquiao for his June 9 tilt with Tim Bradley. “We’re training hard and we have a good game plan so we’re going to do our best to beat him. We know we’re in for a tough fight, but that’s what it’s all about. I think we’re ready at this point.”
Will all the emotions coming into play – Kayode determined to upset his main critic – Roach knows he will have to corral his fighter at times, but believes the emotions will make for an exciting fight.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” said Roach. “He’s a young fighter and he gets excited easily. As far as the game plan for this fight, we will keep his head on straight and we’ll try and keep him calm. At times he may get a little excited, but excitement makes good fights, so I’m not really worried about it.”
Kayode feels he has nothing to lose going into the biggest fight of his life, because even if he is defeated, the loss will be to a worthy fighter. But he is firm on showing he is better than the man who played Mason “The Line” Dixon in Rocky Balboa.
“I don’t really have much to lose in this fight,” exclaimed Kayode. “He’s the one who has already lost and I’m undefeated. If I lose this fight there is happiness for me because I fought Antonio Tarver. If I win this fight there is happiness for me. I don’t have anything to lose.
“What I want to do is show people that I am better than him. He’s going to get hurt so bad, so bad. I’m coming for him.”
Photo / Fightwireimages.com
Mike Coppinger is a member of the BWAA, THE RING Ratings Advisory Panel and the Yahoo Sports Boxing Panel. He regularly contributes to USA Today’s boxing coverage and compiles the “Ringside Reports” for THE RING Magazine each month. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger. Find an archive of his work: www.mikecoppinger.com