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Did Tarver Wake a Giant?
By Martin Wade (May 13, 2004) 
Antonio Tarver
Watching Antonio Tarver articulate himself is a site to behold to boxing media types. The well spoken, impeccably dressed Floridian should give tutorials to boxers on how to project themselves and assimilate into mainstream media. Boxing would be better off if more fighters could sell the fights they are competing in; this would only enhance the job the promoter is “supposed” to be doing. Antonio Tarver is by any standard one of the best boxers in the world and he is more than eloquent enough to let us know this fact in his interviews. But (there’s always a “but”) on May 15th he is faced with the very real feat of backing up his words against simply the most talented fighter who ever lived.

Since surrendering his light heavyweight title to Roy Jones, JR. in November by controversial decision Tarver has campaigned tirelessly to get the boxing public to believe he won in dominant fashion. Through websites (none in which we can name) he’s even resorted to the kind of Roy bashing that even prompted his own mother to intercede. Somewhere in Tarver’s proud mind he’s come to the conclusion that the career of Roy Jones, JR. is a farce and this is a dangerous mindset for him to have. Tarver should know better than anyone that boxing is a brutal trade; there are no elite fighters (including himself) that advance to such heights by smoke and mirrors. Historically, even the bitterest rivalries consisted of this silent understanding and underscore of respect.

Though Frazier seemed to hate Ali more than any fighter could hate another he could not help, but to utter “lawdy, he’s a great champion” after the “Thrilla in Manilla”. In my opinion Tarver has made the biggest mistake by transforming a very accomplished Jones, JR. into a hungry fighter with something to prove. The great ones are maniacal that way, Jordan needed minuscule self-perceived slights late in his career and he relished in breaking proud yet worthy foes. I believe Roy Jones, JR. is sensitive to Tarver’s accessibility, baiting and savvy. Roy is sensitive to Tarver’s wit and ability to verbally KO him, why else would he avoid HBO’s joint interview last Saturday? Roy can act detached (mentioning heavyweights) but I believe he is more focused on beating Tarver than he was on beating John Ruiz.

In the Ring

The story changes often (by Tarver) but the theme remains the same. In the first fight Tarver only became aggressive when a depleted Jones, JR. retreated to the ropes. Tarver then impressed most observers with his short variation punching and aggression. In the middle of the ring Tarver was obviously spooked by Roy’s reflexes, he would feint and flinch at Roy’s every move unable to mount an attack. Roy was also able to take the championship rounds, which we all know is a barometer for each fighter’s will to win. What Jones, JR. did was the equivalent of shooting 30% from the field and still winning the game on “hustle plays”. I’m sorry, Tarver brings a lot to the table (southpaw stance, height, and power) but I just can’t overlook this.

On May 15th I see an invigorated Jones, JR. taking the play from Tarver all night long. The added reserves will restore the inventive punching and ability to dictate pace throughout the fight. Tarver will be difficult early on, but in the later rounds only his pride (or Roy’s caution) will keep him standing. After the fight the clichés will run like waterfalls: Pick one, “be careful what you ask for” and my personal favorite (thanks mom) “don’t let your mouth write a check that your ass can’t cash”. For this fight I prefer the old adage; “don’t ever wake a sleeping giant”.

Blood in the Water: A lot of Tarver’s campaigning for this rematch included serious criticism of HBO and several high-ranking executives. Tarver was insightful, well versed on the business of boxing (as a fan I appreciated reading a lot of it) but often times insulting. Last week boxing fans got a glimpse of Antonio’s view of HBO commentators when he told Jim Lampley to “leave the pom poms at home”. Expect Merchant to be in rare form Saturday night aiming for the jugular with every question.

The Lack of Promotion; The nickname “Reluctant Roy” should be applied to Roy Jones, JR. track record in the promotion department. You would think Don King’s Tex Rickard would offset Roy’s Great Gatsby, what happened? This “event” is so far under the radar I felt frustrated having to tell people (some who love Jones, JR.) about the fight. Hey Don, where’s my check?

Until the Next Jones
The Boxing Junkie.
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