THE long, arduous journey continues later this month for former world light-heavyweight champion and 2004 U.S. Olympian Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver. The ultra-confident 45-year-old southpaw is on a mission to capture the world heavyweight title, and thus securing his legacy.
Tarver returns to the ring September 29 against veteran Johnathon Banks in the 10-round main event, on a Golden Boy Promotions card, airing live on Fox Sports 1 from State Farm Arena in Hildalgo, Texas.
“Al (Haymon, his adviser) has given me this chance,” Tarver explained. “If I retired tomorrow, I would feel unfulfilled despite so much I’ve done as a fighter. The only reason I get up every morning to train hard is to win the world heavyweight championship. I’m on a dream path again. Outside of falling a little short in Atlanta (he won a bronze medal, losing to eventual champion Vassiliy Jirov), I’ve never had a dream in or out of the ring that I didn’t accomplish. I won the world light heavyweight title, made it to Hollywood (starring as Mason Dixon in Rocky VI), and did commentary for a major network.
“I will be world heavyweight champion and I’ll break George Foreman’s record as the oldest. I don’t want to beat just any guy with the world title belt, I want Wladimir Klitschko, and to set-up that fight I will challenge and defeat David Haye, if he has the guts to fight me. Even at 45, I have so much fight in me, and there isn’t a heavyweight I can’t beat in a 12-round fight, unless they knock me out, something nobody’s been able to do in my entire career.”
First, though, Tarver needs to win in impressive fashion against Banks, who, ironically, also trains Klitschko. “Banks is a good fighter,” Tarver continued, “but I’m going into this fight in top shape, weighing 220 pounds, and totally focused. I’ll be sharp, quick, elusive and throwing combination punches should be the keys to victory. I will prevail and continue my journey.”
Tarver, fighting out of Tampa, believes he’s as much a threat today as he was during his “Murder’s Row”-like four-year, nine-fight stretch between 2002-2006, in which he had a 6-3 record, defeating Roy Jones, Jr. in two of three, splitting a pair with Glen Johnson, defeating Montell Griffin, Eric Harding and Reggie Johnson, and losing to Bernard Hopkins.
“I never won a close fight and in my mind I’ve lost only twice, one to a 14-years younger version of myself, Chad Dawson, and Bernard Hopkins. Kelly Pavlik’s the only other fighter than me who knows what it’s like to be decisively favored and beaten by Hopkins, who is going to beat (Sergey) Kovalev, too. I never got a rematch with Bernard.
“I’ve never gotten the credit I deserve. I’m going to quiet my critics who never mention me as a Hall of Famer. I’m the best defensive fighter in boxing history. I’ve never been cut or hurt and that’s why I’m still here. Defense is a lost art. This is going to be sweet! I love boxing and I’ve forgotten more about it than kids today will ever know. I have a lot of experience. People have been sleeping on my abilities for a long time. I’m on a mission!”
Tarver will be headlining the card his 26-year-old middleweight son, Antonio Tarver Jnr, will be making his professional debut. The Tarvers train at Brazilian Rocky Fight Club in Miami, under the guidance of head trainer Orlando Cuellar, who, ironically, trained Johnson for his two fights with Tarver.
“I believe in Antonio because of his dedication, discipline and willingness to do what it takes to do as well as he possibly can,” Cuellar commented. “I’ve been sold on him since he walked in the gym and said he was ‘in it to win it.’ I’m not looking at his age. Hell, he’s been pushing me in training camp. I studied him carefully when he fought Glen and now I’m training him. It’s not so much about winning with Antonio, it’s really how much he hates to lose. People can’t write this guy off. There is a reason he’s a five-time world champion. When the lights come on, he’s going to turn it up, and Banks is going to need his A game to deal with Antonio.”
The clock is ticking for Tarver. Every fight for him is now a must win.
“My record speaks for itself,” he concluded. “Writing me off is a big mistake. I’m going to do something big before I retire. People are going to see on September 29 the magic that’s been missing for a long time. My last few fights I didn’t scratch the surface of my abilities. I’m back…The Magic Man is back!”