Even as he heads toward his mid-40s and
his third decade of professional prizefighting, Antonio “The Magic Man” Tarver
continues to surprise the boxing world. When he travelled to Australia to meet
Danny Green last summer, Tarver was a sizeable underdog, thought to be nothing
more than a serviceable name designed to make Green look good in front of his
legions of cheering fans. That wasn’t a role Tarver was keen to play and he
dually surprised the hometown favourite, forcing him to retire at the end of
the ninth stanza. Of course, that wasn’t the first time Tarver has sent shockwaves
through the boxing fraternity, having gone life and death with a prime Roy
Jones Jnr. He knocked out his rival in stunning fashion in the rematch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IN6042XXKME.
Tarver, who hails from the Sunshine State of Florida, is a five-time world
champion (as well as portraying protagonist and fictional World Heavyweight
Champion Mason “The Line” Dixon in “Rocky Balboa”) who is also a staple of
Showtime’s commentary team for the past three years. The loquacious southpaw’s
next trick is to take on rising power-puncher Lateef Kayode on Showtime on 2nd June. He intends to use the Kayode
fight as a springboard to winning a cruiserweight title before his ultimate
goal and final act in a very impressive career: shocking the world one more
time and becoming heavyweight champion.
Anson Wainwright - You fight Lateef Kayode on Showtime on
2 June. What are your thoughts on that fight and what can we expect from you?
Antonio Tarver – Well, definitely, you can expect me to
be in fantastic shape. You can expect me to be focused. I’m looking at this
fight as another step closer to my goal. I want to let these people know I’m
the most dominant cruiserweight in the world today. I think a great show
against Lateef, who’s an undefeated power-puncher, would be a good way of
expressing that and showing the world I’m the best cruiserweight out there. One
more fight after this, I want to fight the very best cruiserweight out
there [Denis] Lebedev or Marco Huck; it doesn’t matter. I want to fight for the
title then make my way to the heavyweight division.
AW - We touched on it in the previous question and without looking past
Kayode, what goals do you still have that you want to pursue in boxing?
AT – My goal is to finish my career with a bang, another
unbelievable victory. I mean, something that’ll top what I did when I
knocked out Roy Jones Jnr. I think that was the pinnacle of my success but with
a shot at the heavyweight title [I could surpass that]. I could upset two of the
most dominant heavyweights [the Klitschko brothers] in history, if you look
back on their reign and how long they've been at the top of the division.
AW - You turned pro in 1997 after the Olympics the
previous year. What are your memories of the Olympics and could you also tell
us about your amateur career?
AT – I had a very, very successful amateur career. I
competed against the very best fighters in the world at that time. I can go on
and on about the fighters I beat at the amateur level and it concluded in
Atlanta and it’s always been a dream of mine to represent the great USA as an
Olympian. I walked that track with some of the best athletes in the world and it
was an unbelievable moment. It was one of those moments [when] you just pinch
yourself. You set a goal; it was your dream. You worked so hard and you brought
that dream to reality and accomplished it. It’s gone a long way with me; it
allows me to believe I can pretty much accomplish anything I set my mind to. If
I’m willing to suffer and work for it, it can be mine. That’s how I look at my
career, my life. That’s why at the age of 43, I can still say and prove I’m
still one of the best in my division.
AW – Why did you move from light heavyweight to
AT - I outgrew the light heavyweight division; I had to
move up. I lost a close decision, I think, to Chad Dawson; it was because I
outgrew the weight class. As an amateur, I used to weigh 178. I turned pro [at]
age 27 and I had to lose three more pounds from what I was accustomed from an
amateur, so it was harder for me to continue to shed that weight fight after
fight after fight. I just got too big for the weight class but there’s no shame
losing to a guy like Bernard Hopkins. There’s no shame losing to a guy like
Chad Dawson, even though I don’t feel like a loser. I lost at that time;
there’s reasons why I lost to Chad and reasons why I lost to Hopkins. If I
retire today, they’re the only two fighters who beat me that I didn’t come back
and avenge that and beat them. That’s a helluva record, 16 years; it’s a shame
I have to continue to prove myself time and time again and these people still
don’t see why I’m such a great fighter. I'll go out on a limb because my
record tells me so and they still think the things I do like going to
Australia with eight people in front of 15,000 fans- and the fight went exactly
like I told them it would. I did everything I said I was gonna do and they
still think that was a fluke. I was a five-to-one underdog; that’s how little
they think of me as a fighter, as a champion. It don’t make no sense, so I’m
gonna do what I gotta do on June 2nd and I’m going to unify the cruiserweight
division- then I’m going after the heavyweight championship.
The Klitschko brothers, they hear me
calling. I been calling out David Haye; he ain’t got nobody to fight. He don’t
wanna take the risk. These guys don’t wanna fight guys who really know how to
fight and that's me. I been doing this since I was nine years old. There’s
nothing in boxing that I don’t know and haven’t mastered, so it baffles me
when people don’t know how to rank me or compare me with great fighters. They
don’t see it but my record speaks for itself. Before it’s over, they’ll
understand what being a great fighter’s about because when I say I’m going
to accomplish something, I ain’t never lied. Everything I told people I’d do 15
years ago, I did when nobody believed what I said. It came to fruition and,
like I’m telling you, when I beat Kayode, unify the cruiserweight
division, I will defeat and become heavyweight champion of the world as soon as
I get an opportunity. That’s all I need, opportunity. I’m gonna cash in; trust
AW - Of course, as well as boxing, you have also appeared
in “Rocky Balboa” a few years back. Can you tell us how this came
about and what it was like for you acting and being in such an iconic movie?
AT – It was unbelievable. Just another way God has worked
miracles in my life. When you look at my moniker of “The Magic Man,” it proves
I always find myself in positions and I don’t even know how I got there but I
know there has to be a higher power! (laughs) Because there’s no way growing up
watching the “Rocky” franchise movies, Mr. T, all these other people, to
one day say I’d be part of that was something I could never believe in; [I] could
only dream about. I pinched myself when the offer came to me. I didn’t question
it; I was like, “Where do I sign up?” Sly [Stallone] had followed me; he’s a
big boxing fan and it was noted how boisterous I was at press conferences. He
knew the history between myself and Roy Jones Jnr. and how I had to go to
different places calling him out [to] face him down. He felt like he wanted to
bring that type of character to life in Mason Dixon. It just gives me a great
feeling to know he took notice and he felt like he could bring it to life on
the big screen. It was a tough job because I wanted to do my very best; I
wanted to bring the character to life on the big screen and he trusted me with
that. It was his final “Rocky” movie and he could have chosen anybody, an actor
or anybody, but he trusted me and put it in my hands and when I look back,
I feel I did the very best job that I could and I think he was satisfied when
you look at the result.
AW- And after all that, you beat him in the movie! (laughs)
AT – Oh well, he wanted the movie to be realistic. It
would have been hard for Rocky to beat a guy who was champion, even though it was
in a movie. It wouldn’t have been realistic; I think we’d have lost the people.
Just because he was Rocky, he fought a helluva fight and that’s what it was
about. It wasn’t about winning or losing; it was about coming back and doing
something that people didn’t think he could do, overcome something people don’t
give you credit for. That’s what was
so great about the movie.
AW – Is there anything else you can add about your
experience from being in “Rocky Balboa”?
AT – Sly’s a great writer, a great director and he
brought it to life. We had a lot of people involved, Max Kellerman [of HBO], [referee]
Joe Cortez, a lot of people who were involved in boxing. We couldn’t have
brought it together without the real atmosphere of a fight. It was the perfect
opportunity for us to capture the moment. I thank God [Oscar] De la Hoya
[who promoted Jermain Taylor vs. Bernard Hopkins at the MGM Grand Garden Casino
in Las Vegas. The venue was used to make the Dixon vs. Balboa fight more
realistic] allowed us to be part of that. We stepped up and did our
ring entrances in front of the real crowd; it was great. It was just the
brilliance of Sylvester Stallone.
AW - Can you tell us about your life away from boxing and
a little about yourself as a person and what you like to do?
AT – I got two kids; my baby girl lives with me in Tampa.
My son was living with me, Antonio Tarver Jnr. He’s 24. My daughter’s name is
Taylor. I’m not married; I’m divorced. I was officially divorced in May of last
year. I’m just a regular guy; I work hard at what I do. I don’t go far from the
I want to let you know I’ve signed two guys I think are
very talented fighters to my company, AT Entertainment, right here in Tampa.
I’ve joined forces with a guy who was a pioneer in the game of boxing in the
Tampa area when NBC was big in boxing. His name is Phil Alessi. We’re doing big
things here in Tampa, going back and making sure boxing continues to stay
relevant in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. The
situation with Alessi Promotions is a great situation. Phil and Phil Jr. see
the opportunity for us to join forces and spearhead the movement to once again
make Tampa a hotbed for young prospects like Juan [Reynoso] and Willie [Jones] to
build a local fan base in Tampa, as well as fight on the undercards of bigger
shows like mine in L.A. June 2, which Juan will be making his pro debut. Alessi
Promotions has eight [cards] scheduled this year. I just signed a young
Mexican-American junior middleweight
Juan Reynoso; he had an extensive amateur career. He never won any major
tournaments but he’s hardworking, dedicated and committed. He’ll be making his
pro debut on my undercard, so we’re going to announce it and let the world see
him for the first time. Also, a young guy, Willie Jones, I’m not sure he’s
ready to turn pro but he’s a very solid amateur. I think he reminds me of Tommy
Hearns but he don’t have the right hand of Tommy Hearns but he has the left
hook. He definitely has a style like Tommy. He’s tall; he’s right-handed,
beautiful jab. Once we turn him pro, I think the whole world will
be really anticipating this guy moving through the rankings and moving up.
I’ve never seen a fighter, a young fighter, that has the body attack that this
young man has. He’s focused and trains with me every day. I don’t want any
other fighters; I want to focus on these two guys and give them the best of
myself and put them in a position to be successful in their careers.
AW – Can you tell us a little about working for Showtime?
AT - I love the work I do for Showtime, which allows me
to travel and stay relevant in the boxing game. It gives me no better thrill
than to call great fights. Even the young fighters coming up, I get a real
thrill watching these guys develop as they come along in their careers. I have
my finger on the pulse in boxing that again is a blessing from above. It’s
something I thought about doing. I had the nerve to one day speak out and you
know what? I contacted Showtime and asked if they wanted to have me on as a
guest commentator and I’ve been working ever since and that was almost three
years ago. It’s one of those things; I always seem to be thinking outside
AW - Though you have had several impressive moments in
boxing, the standout moment is probably the second round KO over Roy Jones Jnr.,
a signature win for you. Can you tell to us about the Roy Jones trilogy and the
rivalry from your point of view?
AT – The rivalry actually started when we were two
fighters in Florida. Roy beat three or four of the guys that were on my boxing
team. Roy had beaten them and was the only guy to do so. At the time, I thought
they were much better than me; truth be told. For some reason, Roy had this
type of style that these young guys just didn’t have and he was a step above.
We fought at age 13; I busted Roy’s ass in the first round. It was no
contest; I thought I’d either stop him or win a decision going away but
Roy made some adjustments. He beat me in the second round and won a close third
round, so he won a close, three-round decision. We were 13 years old; he was
one of the best amateurs in Florida and beat guys I idolised because they were
more experienced than me but I fought this guy toe-to-toe. That’s why I think
when Roy Jones eventually went to Seoul, Korea and I saw him on TV get
robbed [against Park Si-Hun for the gold medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics],
something went through me. Am I wasting my time, my life? I know I could beat this
guy. I felt it could be me; I know I was a great amateur.
When I was an amateur, I hardly lost. I
lost one to Roy Jones; I got robbed in the National tournaments. So I was a
great amateur but I never got the chance to go to the Nationals because when I
was 14, my mom took me away from the gym and we relocated, so boxing was
removed from me, taken away from me. I would never quit. I was winning
trophies; I was going places. I was travelling; I was becoming one of the best
recognised fighters in Florida. That was one of those things; God don’t make
mistakes. Everything happens for a reason. So I’m 18, 19 years old, sitting on
my couch, not knowing what the hell I’m going to do with my life and I watch
Seoul, Korea and I jump off the couch immediately and run three miles. I’m
going back to boxing because I’m inspired and motivated by Roy Jones’ success.
Never in a million years was I thinking I would fight the guy. I just want to go
out and be the best I can because it’s a sport that allows you to travel all
the way to Seoul, Korea and compete in the Olympics, so that was my dream. I
made it to the finals and I got robbed in the [qualifying round] in the 1992
Olympics, the one Montell Griffin competed in Barcelona. I could have gone to
those Olympics but lo and behold, I was faced with the opportunity to go pro or
chase my Olympic dream. I chose four more years to chase my Olympic dream and
it brought me to Atlanta. I achieved that; I was the gold medal favourite. I
should have won that decision but the decision they rendered in Atlanta [against
eventual gold medalist Vassiliy Jirov] was a bunch of crap. But that’s water
under the bridge; I’m a five-time champion now. I’m a man who makes dreams come
true and when it’s all said and done, they’re going to have to say I’m one of
the best who did it in my weight division in my era. When you put up my record,
it proves I was one of the best.
They gonna say Roy Jones was shot. Well,
if he was shot, I shot his ass. He wasn’t shot
before he fought me. That truly was awesome ‘cause I never thought [back then]
that we’d fight. That wasn’t my intention. When I turned pro- I’ll never forget
it- they were scouting me, me and Fernando Vargas. They took us to Pensacola;
we sat in Fred Levin's [Jones’ manager] office and we were on the phone with
HBO and they were promising us this and that if we signed with Roy Jones Jnr.
I’m an amateur; this was the great Roy Jones Jnr. I’m on the speakerphone with
somebody from HBO and I said there’s no way I can sign with Roy Jones ‘cause it
would be a conflict of interest because I’m turning pro as a light heavyweight
and he was the light heavyweight champion at the time. I was 0-0 at the time
and I said I can’t sign with Square Ring. Roy Jones is sitting behind
the desk and I said, “I can't sign with you; I'm turning pro at light
heavyweight. I don’t know what you plan on doing but I plan on becoming
champion.” So when people say it was a fluke, that’s disrespectful to me. Ask
anyone of my 1996 Olympic teammates what I said about beating Roy Jones Jnr. “I’m
the only man who can do it. They don’t give me my respect.”
AW - Who do you consider to be the best fighter you ever
fought and what do you consider your best win?
AT – Of course, Roy Jones because of his ability, his
talent, his gift. But at the time, it allowed me to raise the bar; it brought
out the best in me. I beat him the first fight and because he took so much
punishment in the first fight, it allowed me to knock him out the second fight.
It was the abuse he took in the first fight that softened Roy Jones up; it
wasn't [former WBA heavyweight titlist John] Ruiz. He came off the Ruiz win,
the best win of his career, and he’s a shot fighter?! Come on, man; it don’t
happen like that. You don’t beat a fighter three times and you’re not better than him. I don't care
what happens. Hopkins beat me; I weighed 233 two-and-a-half months before the
fight. They give Hopkins all the credit for beating me but I don’t get the
credit for beating Roy Jones. I never got my rematch [with Hopkins].
AW - What has commentating allowed you to
view, learn or just look at differently about the sport of boxing?
AT - Commentating has allowed me to see the
sport from a different perspective and what I've learned is that the fight
you're watching may not be the fight that the judges see.
AW - What fighters are your favourite to watch or who you
would like to call a fight for?
AT - Of
course, [Floyd] “Money” Mayweather is one I like to watch and would love the opportunity
to call one of an all-time great’s fights. The trickery and mastery of the
boxing science being used so gracefully.
AW – Finally, do you have a message for your fans and also Kayode?
AT - I like to just thank all my fans
worldwide for all their continued support. I'm preparing feverishly for this
fight June 2 and taking Lateef deadly serious and the message for Lateef is: Some
lessons are learned the hard way and what he'll learn is I was trying to help
him because he didn't need everyone telling him how hard he hit or how much power
he had. He needed someone to be brutally honest with him and tell him he's a
long way away from being a finished product. Now I gotta teach you; you gonna