Anson Wainwright

Best I’ve Faced: Antonio Tarver


Roy Jones Jr. (left) poses with Antonio Tarver after their light heavyweight championship bout at the St. Pete Times Forum on Oct. 1, 2005 in Tampa, Fla. Tarver, who says Jones is the best boxer he ever faced, defeated his rival via unanimous decision in their rubber match.  



The last time fans saw Antonio Tarver in a prize fight was 18 months ago when the former light heavyweight champ fought to a draw with fellow cruiserweight contender Lateef Kayode in Carson, Calif.

The bout was rendered a no decision after Tarver tested positive for a banned substance and he was suspended for a year by the California State Athletic Commission for the infraction, which the veteran vehemently disputes.

“A ‘banned substance’ could be a lot of things but I‘ve never cheated, taking steroids,” Tarver told “When all the smoke cleared I asked them what was the percentage they found in my system and later when all was said and done they said they found traces of ‘something.’

“How you get a year suspension for ‘traces’ I don’t know. I sent them a list of everything I was taking. I couldn’t prove what they were saying was wrong so I took my medicine like a man. I kept quiet (and) they took my job with Showtime.”

altTarver had been serving as a commentator on Showtime, the same American cable network that televised his fight with Kayode.

“The Magic Man” never felt as though he’d be indefinitely banned from boxing, however he did question his own motivation for the sport.

“I never thought they could stop me from fighting again when they put that year’s suspension on me,” he said, “it was whether I wanted to do it again because boxing’s not easy.”

Many fans believed Tarver was a natural commentator and would commit to a new line of work.

“Commentating is something I love to do,” he said. “I was picked by NBC (to commentate on their Fight Night series), that broke my heart to be sidelined and not participate but I have a new fuel in my heart to right that wrong and I‘m going to do that by being successful and by being a winner and that‘s how you kill your critics.”

When asked if his ban is up and whether he’d be back on the Showtime airwaves any time soon Tarver said “That’s up to Showtime.

“I know I was a very good commentator and if the opportunity presents itself I’ll be right back in there doing what I do. I’m still living so who knows? Everything is possible. That’s why they call me the Magic Man. If I can do it again I’ll bring the same personality, the same flair and the same professionalism. If not Showtime, someone else.”

It would be remiss to not remember what Tarver, who turned 45 just a few days ago, achieved in his career.

He had a decorated amateur career that saw him win gold at the 1995 world championships in Berlin, Germany, before representing the U.S. at the ’96 Olympics Games where he won bronze. He turned pro at the rather advanced age of 27 with a reported 158-8 amateur record.

Three years into his pro career he took on Eric Harding in an IBF title eliminator, losing a unanimous decision and getting off the canvas in the process. Few predicted a bright future after his first loss, however three fights later, all wins, he again met Harding and whilst struggling on the cards he rallied to stop his adversary in the fifth round. The revenge victory set him up for bout against former champ Montell Griffin for the vacant WBC and IBF crowns. He won a shutout decision.

But there was one fight he had long craved, even obsessed over, against Roy Jones Jr., then considered the pound-for-pound king of the sport and some believed the greatest boxer ever. They met in the fall of 2003 and Jones, who had dropped down from his history making heavyweight pit stop, struggled to cope with Tarver, eking altout a majority decision. Six months later they met in a rematch. Tarver infamously said to Jones moments before the opening bell “You got your excuses tonight, Roy!” midway through the second stanza Tarver uncorked a devastating left hand that knocked Jones cold and vaulted Tarver into a different tax bracket, whilst stunning much of the boxing fraternity.

Unsurprisingly, Tarver listed the Jones victory as his best career win.

“Of course being the first guy to ever knock out Roy Jones was a feather in my cap,” he said.

When asked what fight he wished he could have the Florida native said a rematch with Bernard Hopkins, lamenting his 2006 unanimous decisionloss to “The Executioner.”

“First and foremost, the rematch with Hopkins,” he said. “That never materialized because Hopkins has never been one to make foolish decisions. I think it was smart for him to ride out on that victory and not give me that rematch because it would take away everything he accomplished beating me the first time.”

Tarver considers the one that got away to be Joe Calzaghe.

“I think that would have been a very good fight,” he said. “I think I had everything in my arsenal to beat Joe Calzaghe, this is a guy that has never defeated, he beat Hopkins, Roy Jones, but we know styles make fights and I think I would have been a nightmare for him.

“Just being southpaw, but not only that, speed and having power. I think I would have gave him fits and I think if I would have caught him. He’s been knocked down by both those guys, if I had caught him with my left hand who knows if he could have got up. I know he couldn’t hurt me to the point that he’s stopping or knocking me out, I don’t see that.”

After the Jones rematch, Tarver won and lost the 175-pound title in two fights with Glen Johnson, beat Jones in a rubber match, lost to Hopkins, and won the IBF light heavyweight belt besting England’s Clinton Woods. Following two loses to Chad Dawson he made a brief foray into the heavyweight division before heading to Australia when he stopped Danny Green in nine rounds at cruiserweight before his last appearance verses Kayode.

Having appeared alongside Sylvester Stallone in the motion picture Rocky Balboa, where his character Mason “The Line” Dixon was heavyweight champion ,Tarver quipped “I’ve already auditioned for it so I’m getting ready to make it a reality!”

Ahead of his ring return on Tuesday on Fox Sports 1, Tarver, who meets Mike Sheppard in a heavyweight bout, took part in’s “Best I Fought” series.

Best Overall – Roy Jones Jr. – Jones was the best boxer, but the hardest fighter I ever faced was Eric Harding. He was the toughest. Roy was the most gifted, the most talented, and I had to really step my game way up in order to beat him. He brought out the very best in me.

altYou had to go to the mountain top with Roy Jones or he’ll outclass you and run you out of the ring, if you didn’t get yourself in peak condition. Everything connected when I fought Roy. I didn’t have any distractions. It was tunnel vision on what was in front of me. It felt sometimes like I was in the matrix ‘cause everything pretty much came together for me at that moment. I had to climb that mountain and really challenge myself to find out what I was made of and to go to the peak and only certain fighters can bring that out. You can’t do it every fight. I wish I could but I’m only human. You have to face a guy like Roy Jones. You have to raise your level, sometimes you have to be better than even you thought you can be to be competitive or to beat him. I challenged myself in ways I didn’t think I could and I became better than a lot of people thought I could be because I was facing such a great fighter.

Boxer – Eric Harding – I would say Harding. He had more crafty moves and I had to figure him out and I really had to catch him with a punch to knock him out. Skill for skill he was a tough, tough puzzle to solve.

altJab – Harding – I have to say Harding. He was a southpaw, he was very deceptive. He threw his jab from all types of angels and he caught me with a lot of jabs. Even when I knocked him out the first two or three rounds didn’t really go my way. I was in the best condition, I was sharp and I had to catch him with a counterpunch to change the outcome of the fight. I think he was ahead on the score cards at the time of the stoppage. It was the rematch and I was at my peak and still had problems solving the puzzled.

Defense – Bernard Hopkins – I’ll have to give that to Hopkins because even though I feel I wasn’t at my best or even near the best I could be he was still difficult to hit. I wasn’t at my best for whatever reason. I had just come off a long layoff and came out from the movies but that night I didn’t show up to fight and it showed. He outclassed me and beat me handily. It doesn’t seem like I laid a glove on him in that fight. It felt like an outer-body experience and it was my worst performance.

Chin – Glen Johnson – Undoubtedly, Glen Johnson. I hit him with everything and the kitchen sink and he was still there after 12 rounds so he had a granite chin.

Puncher – Harding – Again I would have to say Eric Harding. He broke my jaw with a right hook. Everybody felt he didn’t have any power cause he didn’t have any knock outs but I felt every punch. He was a deceptive puncher; very crafty southpaw from Philly.

Hand Speed – Jones – He was the fastest person I faced. His speed was incredible. I saw everything coming but I was on top of my game. He made you raise your level.

Feet – Jones – I have to say Roy Jones again. A lot of times I had to trap him in so many ways. He was so mobile, moved around a lot, danced a lot. You had to be patient, you had to wait your turn because a lot of times he’s moving when you begin your offensive strategy and he’d be out of the way.

altSmartest – Hopkins – Because he was so crafty. Like I say we have to put an asterisk by that because I just don’t know if I had been at my best how that fight would have went. I still feel today I have everything to beat him. I would say it was one of the most depressing moments I’ve had in a boxing ring because it made it look like I wasn’t at the same level as him and I think everyone knows that’s not true. Whatever reason that I didn’t perform that night made Hopkins look like a great fighter, which he is but I am too and you didn’t see two great fighters in the ring that night, you only saw one and unfortunately it was him.

Strongest – Johnson – He was the most determined fighter I faced. We went 24 rounds, each round was like hell for me. I had to really dig deep in order to beat him. He brought out the best in me. I had to go places internally I didn’t know I could go. I beat him at his own game when I beat him in Memphis. A lot of people didn’t think I could do that toe to toe. Sometimes you have to gut it out and be mentally strong and Glen Johnson brought that out of me both times we fought.



Photos / Doug Benc-Getty Images, Steve Grayson-Getty Images, Brian Bahr-Getty Images, John Gichigi-Getty Images, Al Bello-Getty Images

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