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Articles of 2005

Antonio Tarver and the great hereafter

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Early fame garnered or bestowed is an indelible precedent in the court of public opinion. Fame in sports may be incremental, but when notoriety comes early, the momentum of expectation realized and mediated roots deeply, creating the personal identification with an individual athlete’s every step along the road toward his – or her – sporting destiny. Antonio Tarver, prized amateur champion, came into professional boxing late – age 28 – and heralded by boxing insiders, laying the foundations of his career plying his trade at the Blue Horizon in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. But Tarver was not deemed to be “the next anyone”; he was at best a talented guy on the informal short list of developing fighters who should be heard from, eventually.

Without the momentum of Olympic glory behind him, Tarver’s big punching and rangy aggressiveness sent out modest ripples of notice throughout the light-heavyweight division ruled by his boyhood rival and minted HBO glamour boy Roy Jones Jr.; but, Tarver was not being considered a true leading man. Too old to be a phenom, Tarver was sort of an intergenerational figure, having fought only 16 fights when his “contemporaries” were longstanding, multidivisional champions, Showtime or HBO contracted millionaires who had already contested fights that had defined their era. Sporting sun glasses or charcoal grey silk suits, fancies of fun or irritatingly fuming, Tarver was typically a fast talking self-promoter looking for a reporter to toss a quote to, an interested interloper at pay-per-view fight nights itching for the camera to turn his way.

When was he going to fight someone, to make a statement in the ring, those were the queries boomeranged back on the personable Floridian. Waiting and wishing began to take up most of his early career time, when he was not mowing through tepid opposition. Tarver did indeed have a facility with language, wit and willfulness aplenty. HBO became interested in Antonio Tarver during the end of the 1990s, as it was then becoming clear that the long forecasted light-heavyweight showdown between hall of famer Roy Jones Jr. and legitimate world champion Dariusz Michalczewski was never going to be made. Jones had been fighter, defending champion, promoter and contracting entity for so long his pay-per-view fights were coming under enormous critical pressure, if not from the standpoint of ethical impropriety then certainly from competitive staleness. Where was the light-heavyweight who could give Roy Jones a decent fight? Fantasy fights with Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and a Bernard Hopkins redo faded into fiction. The question lingered as a poisoning agent for the cable giant and Jones’ own Square Ring promotional house. Though Jones had long been a stand alone attraction, everyone in boxing began to wonder when the fascination fixation of seeing Jones’ “performance” outings would wear off.

In the effort to sustain Jones’ marketability, the pound for pound king played basketball and defended his title, performed with the chorus line from Radio City Music Hall and generally dismissed overblown and mostly aged “name” fighters. Jones’ other championship responsibilities came in the form of fighting his mandatory challengers from the IBF, WBC and WBA, among other belts. Challengers like Richard Frazier came to be known as the public services brigade, given their respective day jobs keeping the streets of various American cities clean by fighting crime or taking up garbage.

With limited experience at the top level and boxing as if he had time to consider each move up the ladder, the relentless Tarver was insisting himself into the conversation of major contenders by presenting himself as an overlooked, underappreciated man in a hurry, though his biggest wins by 2000 were over Jose Luis Rivera, Rocky Gannon and Mohamed Benguesmia. In an attempt to crack the HBO lineup of boxing stars, Tarver, the 16-0 number one IBF contender, did just enough mayhem to warrant his first defining fight and claim airtime on HBO, in an IBF championship eliminator against Eric Harding. Unquestionably, Tarver had shown hitting power and at times some distinctive versatility in his developmental phase. Fight fans nevertheless wanted to see if the 6’2” Tarver could prove definitively that he indeed did have the whole package. In fact, many wondered if he was the kind of fighter who could come up with his best boxing when a shot at the title was up for the taking.

For seven and a half rounds against Harding, Tarver was as good as he’d promised to be before the fight. The fight began to turn as Harding’s withering body attack began to take the sting out of Tarver’s vaulted uppercuts and left crosses. In this battle of southpaws, the phrase “survival of the fittest” became flesh. Harding endured and prospered. Tarver absorbed and applied his power, but in the end succumb to Harding’s stoicism and consistent body attack.

Studying the results of the fight, Tarver decided that getting fully fit was the issue for his continued assault on the division and his only hope of reversing the loss to Harding. First he’d have to get past Reggie Johnson, which he did via a disciplined and punishing execution of his talents, despite the ridiculously close official scoring. Having set aside his love of the nightlife and recreational pharmaceuticals, Tarver was at last training and fighting like a world championship campaigner. The proof of his personal reinvestment flowered against Eric Harding in July, 2002 as he obliterated Harding’s relevance 43 seconds into the fifth. The deflating disappointment from the first fight was ruthlessly reversed; back on track, Tarver was veritably looming as the manifest challenger to Roy Jones. Jones, in public at least, simply dismissed the notion that Tarver was a threat to his championship standing.

Under the guidance of then advisor Charles Muniz, Tarver began a campaign of putting Jones on public notice that he was not to be ignored any longer. Muniz’s brilliantly orchestrated psychological assault on Jones brought to general notice not only Tarver’s surging personal confidence, but his distinctive flourishes with language, his street smacking barbs infuriating Jones at every turn. At the post-fight press conference, the new WBA heavyweight champion was hailed upon by Tarver Talk, shouting out to the champion, “What’s your excuse going to be tonight Roy, for not fighting me…what are you afraid of?”

Tarver’s well tailored presence and torrential vitriol finally cornered the champion, finally had everyone talking of Tarver fighting Jones. Three fights later and Tarver’s 2-1 with one knockout recorded. In the estimation of some, the shuddering May 2004 second round obliteration of Roy Jones set Tarver atop his generation of light-heavyweights. Rationalizations aside, Tarver was able to keep even with Jones, in their first encounter and dominate him in the subsequent two showdowns. Many, though, will never seed to Tarver the distinction of being the dominant fighter. Styles may make fights, but often the stardom of one fighter mitigates the facts of displayed reality. What’s difficult for Tarver to swallow is that beating Roy Jones in the ring has not translated beyond respect into admiration and meritorious regard.

Before their third fight on October 1st in Tampa, Florida, hometown boy Tarver gave his version of the truth as he saw it and as he saw it about to unfold:

“It’s a brutal sport and I’ll be the first one to admit that. I’m a hard puncher and it may not look that way because I do things in a subtle way, but I get the job done. Roy Jones knows he has his hands full and I’m not sure if he can pull back the hands of time because that’s the only thing that’s going to save him. And I’m not even sure that would save him. I’m ready to get the respect that I deserve and the only way to do that is finish it with an exclamation point.

“Let me pose a question to the media…When will you be convinced Roy Jones is not better than me and never was? When I knock him out it will be a feather in my cap. That’s that exclamation point that I am looking for. Roy Jones may be everything that everyone says he is; he’s just not better than me.”

It was as if Frazier had won in Manila. Tarver’s a smart man. He understands the afterlife of fame – the radioactive fallout that having been, as he calls Jones, an icon – has not only on the vanquished but the victor. For all of his mastery of Jones, his demolition of RJ the untouchable, Tarver has had to endure being the supporting actor in the dramatic closing scenes in the real life biopic on the life and times of Roy Jones. And for a proud and manifestly interesting man such as Antonio Tarver, that’s a living nightmare. Even in vanquishing the threat of Roy Jones in a boxing ring Tarver has to endure the legacy effect of Jones, deposed ring wonder-boy and former unchallenged ring virtuoso. That’s why Tarver has been so ready to compare himself with the middleweight legend Marvin Hagler, “who was never truly appreciated by you all in the media until he retired.”

The king of the light-heavyweights internally understands that the dualities of boxing mandate the choosing of a favourite, a signifying singularity. But he doesn’t have to like it. He doesn’t have to sit back and let unbridled partisanship paper over his well earned rewards. With the quest to take down Roy Jones accomplished, now Tarver realigns his career trajectory; his definitive goals must forever come from internal need. It’s not precisely clear what goals exist in the form of challenges at light-heavyweight, nor is there an immediately recognizable scenario at heavyweight into which Tarver might delve in order to reasonably exploit. For now he waits for events to unfold, the unforeseen to fall into his path.

If the body truly follows the unyielding dictations of the will, then perhaps Tarver can make of his remaining years in boxing something like a late, late Renaissance. The Floridian, under the technical tutelage of trainer Buddy McGirt, refers to himself as “one of the new crop of dominant fighters out there.” Yes, nearing 37, Tarver casts himself in the part of superstar, leading man, future hall of famer and next big thing in championship boxing. Signaling a new generation is so very American, so very like the political reflex of those in public life. Without a check on his ego, Tarver the talker shouts out to those who try to ignore the fact of his continuing presence as the spirit of a new age.

It doesn’t matter if his projection of himself is mainly hype; its fun to believe in a self-made man of means like Antonio Tarver. He doesn’t intend to take no for an answer; he doesn’t intend to let the moment pass, the high life fade from view. And it’s in that determinism to realize himself as the champion he always knew he had to become, the sole survivor of that game of domination he was compelled to live or die creating with Roy Jones, he finds the meanings to sustain the rest of his professional career.

For what ever comes next, Antonio Tarver has the supreme satisfaction that he realized the fulfillment of himself as a professional and as a champion and as a man. Each time he suffered a setback he found the avenues to renew and reinvest. Obsession can divest or ensnare the fixated subject. For Antonio Tarver, he’s just at the beginning of coming to terms with all the things that never entered into the logistics of necessity which make for winning boxing matches. All during his latest training camp he and his team stressed, “no excuses,” “keep the energy up,” “it’s all about intensity and focus.” Now Tarver can play the winner, acknowledge with grace the vicissitudes that in the end formed the opportunity for his liberation. The mountain he had to climb was the moral victory over himself all along.

What remains of his boxing career is merely the final tabulation of wins and losses on his official record. Antonio Tarver has already fought the good fight, has already made it all happen in his own image.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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