How Does Antonio Tarver's Suspension Affect His Legacy?
According to ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael, the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) voted 4-1 to uphold the suspension of former lineal light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver after he tested positive for Drostanolone, an anabolic steroid.
Other than potentially ending the 43-year-old Tarver’s career, Rafael reports that the confirmation of Tarver’s suspension has officially impacted the result of Tarver’s last fight, originally an uninspired draw against cruiserweight prospect Lateef Kayode:
“The fight was initially ruled a draw, but in addition to upholding Tarver's suspension, the commission also overturned the outcome of the bout. Instead of a draw, it is officially a no decision, meaning the fighters' records will revert to what they were before the bout – Tarver being 29-6 with 20 knockouts and Kayode 18-0 with 14 knockouts.”
Tarver’s unsuccessful appeal of the suspension means that he is ineligible to fight anywhere in the United States until June 2013, a harsh reality that likely means that the chronically inactive former champion would either have to seek a license in a foreign country or wait until he is 44 to resume his career in America.
Before testing positive for steroids, Tarver had established himself as a reputable ringside commentator for Showtime, though Rafael reports that transitioning back to the broadcast booth will not be seamless:
“The positive test cost Tarver more than the suspension and slap-on-the-wrist fine. It also cost him dearly in his second burgeoning career as a broadcaster. Tarver had earned rave reviews as an analyst for Showtime and was hired to work as a studio analyst on NBC's London Olympic boxing coverage.
After the positive test, Showtime suspended him indefinitely and NBC dropped him and instead gave the role to cruiserweight contender B.J. Flores.”
Tarver insists that Showtime supports him, even if his return to televised broadcasting is uncertain at best. Fans will also remember Kayode famously blaming Tarver’s association with Showtime as the reason that the fight ended in a draw instead of a Kayode win. Still, despite his predicament, Tarver, as reported by ESPN, has said all the right things:
“I will take my suspension like a man. But I looked the commission in their eyes and told them I was innocent and they voted 4-1 to uphold it. So I'm out a year. Maybe I should go ahead and retire. I was in a transition period anyway. I wanted one or two more fights and then ride off into the sunset because I know there ain't no turning back the hands of time. But this is a very dark cloud over me and my career and it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.”
When broadcasting was still a definitive option for Tarver, his retirement plan seemed concrete and destined to prosper. Now, the dark cloud that this steroid scandal has cast over Tarver’s career is something that could affect the perception of everything he accomplished leading up to the Kayode fight.
The question is, should it?
A decorated amateur and 1996 Olympic bronze medalist, Tarver got a late start to pro boxing but moved quickly. In only his 22nd professional fight, Tarver won a unanimous decision against Montell Griffin to capture the WBC and IBF light heavyweight titles. Tarver would controversially lose his next fight via majority decision to Roy Jones, Jr., who would prove to be Tarver’s biggest rival throughout his career.
It is Tarver’s trilogy with Jones that will ultimately define him as a fighter.
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After brutally knocking out Jones in two rounds in 2004, Tarver effectively precipitated Jones’ decline, scoring the emphatic victory over one of the most accomplished fighters of the last 25 years. Tarver would win the rubber match against Jones and also engage in a compelling two-fight series against Glen Johnson with each man winning once.
From 2003 through 2006, Tarver enjoyed multiple spells as the lineal light heavyweight champion. He was considered a legitimate pound-for-pound entry on any reputable list. To participate in the important and high-profile fights Tarver engaged in during this stretch is no small feat, and his style was generally crowd pleasing, as were his trash-talking antics.
The case against Tarver as a champion is that he was never able to string more than two consecutive title defenses together. While he was known for exacting revenge on opponents who bested him—Eric Harding, Roy Jones and Glen Johnson come to mind—Tarver seemed to lose this admirable ability later in his career.
Tarver’s lopsided defeat to Bernard Hopkins is a major point against Tarver in terms of evaluating his boxing legacy. Even more than his two consecutive defeats to Chad Dawson, which are more endearing than anything due to Tarver going the distance twice against a young, elite champion, the setback against Hopkins represents everything that was maddening about Tarver.
Tarver went into the fight against Hopkins as a 3-1 favorite. He famously proclaimed that he would knock Hopkins out before the fifth round. Because Tarver was so thoroughly dominated and did not live up to his claim, he was forced to donate $250,000 to Hopkins’ Make A Way foundation due to a pre-fight bet between both fighters, according to Dan Rafael’s post-fight report.
Can Tarver's reputation recover from his positive drug test?
A win against Hopkins would have secured Tarver bragging rights over one of the other best fighters of his generation. While Tarver was again able to capture world titles at light heavyweight and eventually secure the IBO title at cruiserweight, his loss to Hopkins was a significant turning point in his career.
Tarver did go 5-2 (one no contest) after the Hopkins fight, but other than respectable wins over Clinton Woods—for the IBF and IBO light heavyweight titles—and Danny Green—for the IBO cruiserweight title—Tarver lost his two most significant fights during that stretch to Chad Dawson.
Whether one believes Tarver’s ignorance about taking steroids, his body of drug-free work is mostly impressive. His run from 2003-2006 made him one of the sport’s most recognizable and marketable figures.
How much the loss to Hopkins should impact Tarver’s career is debatable, but what cannot be denied is that he was crucial in putting the light heavyweight division back on the map for American fans.
That Tarver tested positive for steroids is reprehensible, but fans and pundits should be careful not to erase all of his accomplishments before this situation plays out further.
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