Antonio Tarver has always had a chip on his shoulder.
He seems genuinely offended he hasn’t been more appreciated, at least insomuch as in comparison to his contemporaries, Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins.
Truth be told, he’s probably used that ire to drive him forward. Tarver has won multiple titles in the light heavyweight and cruiserweight divisions and was one of the better fighters of his era.
Now, at age 45, Tarver has his aim on the sport's glamour division, heavyweight.
“Right now, I don’t think they see me coming,” said Tarver. “But when I get there, it will be too late.”
Bleacher Report met Tarver on a rainy afternoon in Houston. The southpaw was in town to announce a boxing promotional venture aimed at establishing quarterly boxing shows across five cities, Houston, Tampa, Orlando, Atlanta and Memphis.
Tarver was adamant, though, that his new work as a promoter didn’t mean his fighting career was over. And he was even more adamant that he’d shock the world to become heavyweight champion before his fighting days were through.
“My career is definitely going to actually pick up…this is my third fight coming up at heavyweight. I mean, I’ve always been, I think, a heavyweight. A small heavyweight, but even at my light heavyweight division, at my best, I would have to come down from 210, 215, every fight. The older I got, it was harder.”
Tarver believes staying at heavyweight gives him the best chance to compete. He said he no longer has to worry about making weight, but can instead focus on eating the right kinds of foods and getting bigger, faster and stronger.
Tarver has always been a powerful puncher with the frame of a heavyweight. Now, he said, he’ll have even more weight behind his punches.
“It wasn’t that I couldn’t manage the weight, but it was basically, what would I have left after I killed myself to get down? And it just wasn’t worth it. I just wasn’t performing at my best because I think my body was suffering. I was trying to squeeze a light heavyweight body [out of] a heavyweight frame and it just doesn’t work that way. Now, I’d rather just lift weights, go harder and be more comfortable. And eat more! I eat a lot more. I’m on a really good diet. It calls for six meals a day plus snacks so, you know, we’re building.”
What Tarver is building, he hopes, is the next heavyweight champion. And he said he isn’t just looking to pick up an alphabet belt. Rather, he wants a showdown with world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that Tarver wants to fight the biggest and baddest man he can find. He’s done it before.
After going 12 rounds with the preeminent fighter of his era in 2003, Roy Jones Jr., Tarver believed wholeheartedly he’d shock the world when the two met again in 2004. Tarver lost a majority decision the first time but was sure he would win the second bout.
In fact, Tarver thought he beat Jones in the first bout. After all, he threw and landed more punches than Jones in the fight and appeared to control the action throughout.
But Jones had a fairly good excuse for the lackluster performance. The fight took place just eight months after Jones had moved up to heavyweight to snatch a title belt away from John Ruiz. Jones had to lose 25 pounds to come back down to 175, and he appeared gaunt and listless during fight week as well as fight night.
So when the two met again, Jones, as well as most of the boxing media, blamed his subpar performance in the first fight on the weight issue. That set up perhaps the most memorable event of both Jones' and Tarver’s careers.
During the pre-fight instructions at the center of the ring, referee Jay Nady asked if anyone had any questions. Tarver replied, "I got a question. You got any excuses tonight, Roy?"
Jones won the first round on all three official scorecards. But during an exchange in the second round, Tarver dropped Jones with a deadly accurate overhand left on the chin. Jones rose at the count of nine, but Nady rightly waved off the fight when he stumbled across the ring in disarray.
In one moment, an entire generation who grew up believing Jones was invincible was slapped aside the head with a stark new reality. Tarver had done it. He shocked Jones—then regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing—and the entire world with a Round 2 knockout.
“It started with that beautiful knockout out in Vegas,” Tarver recalled with a smile.
By heavyweight standards of today, Klitschko is considered just as invincible. Unlike Jones, it seems to have less to do with Klitschko’s ability and more to do with a perceived lack of ability possessed by the current crop of contenders.
But Klitschko hasn’t lost a bout since 2004 and has been one of the more dominant heavyweight champions in history. Moreover, he’s the lineal champion and holds a slew of unified alphabet titles.
Tarver wholeheartedly believes he can defeat Klitschko.
“Wladimir Klitschko does not like southpaws. If you go back on his career, you can see Chris Byrd, Corrie Sanders—I mean, he doesn’t like southpaws, and I’m one of the trickiest southpaws out there. Like I said, I think losing all that weight and coming down fight after fight at light heavyweight kind of took away [from what I could do] for so many years.”
Tarver appeared to be in good shape when we met. He said he was hitting training camp on Monday and expected to be ready for his next opponent just as soon as he could get a fight.
While he talked mostly about Klitschko, Tarver said he was more than willing to prove he deserved the title shot by facing a top-five heavyweight beforehand.
“I think I’m one fight away. Once I beat a top-five opponent, they won’t be able to deny me. Who’s that top five? Who’s going to step up and take that chance with me? That’s what it all depends on.”
Tarver was anxious to announce a fight. He said it seems as if no heavyweight out there was willing to give him a chance. He said his career has always been that way, and that he’s always had to earn things the hard way.
“I wish I could have a fight to announce right now. But you know, if you’ve been following me, that I’ve called out the likes of Tyson Fury. I’ve called out the likes of [Dereck] Chisora. I’ve called out the top heavyweights out there.”
It’s true. Tarver has the gift of gab, and he’s transferred the medium nicely to social media where he frequently uses tools like Twitter to call out other heavyweights.
“Everybody’s on mute. That’s crazy to me! They’re giving me that much respect? I mean, I came back with a tune-up fight. I showed the people that I’m still here. There’s still magic in my left hand and everybody knows that. I’m 45 years old. I’ve never been cut in boxing. I’ve never been abused in boxing.”
Tearing off his shades to reveal his face, Tarver continued.
“I’m a young 45-year-old fighter. I just think I’m different and unique. There’s a reason why I’ve been preserved so well, and I think the big picture is the heavyweight title.”
It’s a tall order. Tarver has been a solid pro, but he hasn't faced anyone at heavyweight with the skill set of Klitschko. But there’s just something about Tarver that screams he should be taken seriously. After all, this is the man who wrecked Jones all those years ago.
If anything, it seems something so monumental, as well as his continued competitiveness over the years, should have at least given Tarver a chance to earn his shot at Klitschko.
Presented to you is an accomplished, multi-time champion, practically begging for one chance to prove himself in a division glaringly in need of something to get excited about. Maybe Tarver doesn’t quite yet deserve a shot at Klitschko, but who wouldn’t want to see him in the ring with undefeated heavyweight contenders Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury or Kubrat Pulev?
Tarver said whatever happens now, his future actions will be based on one thing: becoming heavyweight champion.
“Right now, we have a lot of options, but we want to make the right moves. Everything is predicated on Klitschko. I’m on Destination Klitschko! It’s where I’m going, and so I want to take the types of fights that are going to get me there.”
By the end of our talk, I’m not convinced he’ll be successful at it. Klitschko is underrated as a champion and will likely go down as one of the best heavyweights ever.
But I’m convinced he should be given the opportunity to try.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.