Antonio Tarver returned to the boxing ring for the first time in 16 months, and looked sort of like himself.
Visually, the former light heavyweight kingpin would have looked the same if not for a spare 45 pounds carried almost exclusively in his midsection.
Skill-wise though, the punches looked very much the same, and were more than enough to dispatch of journeyman Mike Sheppard inside four rounds in the main event of the Golden Boy Live! event at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
Tarver (30-6, 21 knockouts) kept a busy pace throughout the brief outing, landing 65 of 212 punches according to Fox Sports punch stats. A good handful of those came in the fateful fourth round, including a wicked left uppercut that floored Sheppard and nearly ended the night immediately.
Sheppard (21-15-1, 9 KOs) made it to his feet, but only to be dropped once more, before eating a looping left hand for the final knockdown.
As the 45-year old former champ prepares to embark upon a heavyweight run, he does so starting in a precarious position. Having been away from the sport due to a drug suspension following a cruiserweight bout with Lateef Kayode, he has been somewhat of a pariah within boxing. Showtime, which employed him as a color commentator, dropped him and never said much about it.
As a Golden Boy fighter, Tarver’s main US television outlet is theoretically Showtime. His physical upside completely aside, his viability as a commodity on American television is questionable to say the least. Would Showtime welcome him back on their airwaves as a fighter?
Tarver remains defiantly optimistic.
“We’re on a year plan to become heavyweight champion. I know I’m not ready right now to beat Wladimir Klitschko, but within a year I’ll be ready to beat any heavyweight out there,” said Tarver. “I can beat anybody on any given night. I’ve been to that mountain top five times.”
In recent interviews, “The Magic Man” has mentioned Tomasz Adamek specifically as a desired opponent. That would seem to be a calculated move, as Adamek is a draw overseas, and has a neutral ground US TV slot on NBC through his affiliation with Main Events. In short, Tarver wouldn’t need to worry about his former employer’s feelings to make that one happen.
Bantamweight prospect Randy Caballero didn’t have one of his best friends to help prepare him for Jessy Cruz, but he sure fought valiantly in his honor.
The 23-year old, who was extremely close and training partners with the late Frankie Leal, bulldozed through Jessy Cruz over seven rounds in the night’s co-feature. Caballero dedicated the fight to Leal, and wore a t-shirt to the ring sporting his photo.
Caballero (20-0, 12 KOs) landed a hard right hand to the body in the final ten seconds of the first round, which made Cruz yell audibly to viewers at home.
In the third round, the Coachella, Calif. resident unleashed a vicious assault downstairs, and had Cruz reeling before the bell rounded. Though Cruz (10-6-1, 4 KOs) put up a spirited effort fighting in front of his hometown crowd, he wouldn’t be able to avoid trouble for much longer. Caballero dropped him with a right hook to the body with less than 20 seconds remaining in the 6th round, the same one that had an effect in the opening frame.
He wouldn’t have much time to recover, as Caballero jumped all over him in the 7th, planting his feet, squaring up and ripping combinations until the referee took mercy at 2:59 of the round.
It can certainly be said that it wasn’t a spectacular technical performance by Caballero, who seemed hell belt on brawling from the opening bell. Perhaps returning to the style that carried him to a 167-10 amateur record is best for his future, but his present style is likely best in the eyes of television programmers.
The night’s opener briefly began as a competitive affair as well, but soon turned into a sad one-sided beatdown, as light heavyweight prospect Thomas Williams Jr. pummeled Yusaf Mack to earn a unanimous decision victory.
Mack (31-7-2, 17 KOs) gave Williams something to think about in round one, standing his ground and landing clean during exchanges with his younger opponent.
Unfortunately, standing his ground was a poor decision the rest of the night, as Williams (15-0, 10 KOs) marched forward and smacked him to the body with hard hooks, and snapped his head back repeatedly with straight lefts upstairs.
“Decision” might be a misnomer as it relates to Mack’s strategy, as he seems to lack the reflexes to deal with reasonable opposition at this point in his career. As a fighter who was reliant upon athleticism and coordination, Mack is seemingly only left with the toughness to keep him upright, and not much else.