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Antonio Tarver-Magic Man


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In many ways, the career of Antonio Tarver is an anomaly. Starting out as a pro uncharacteristically late for an American and Westerner, at 28, after chasing the Olympic gold for too long and failing to get it, Tarver was a world quality fighter, who could've had an even better career perhaps, had he turned pro earlier. Certainly longer, if nothing. The 6'2 Tarver was one of the tallest light heavyweights in his time, which was of course a significant advantage for him, but that wasn't all he had. He also could hit hard and had a good jab, good boxing IQ and a good chin-he was never stopped. In short, he was an all-around fighter. He became and remained most famous when he became the first man to not only knock out but also beat Roy Jones jr for real and their rivalry was what made the division exciting during the first years of this century. However, Tarver you might say was never too favored by the judges and he lost by a controversial split decision to Glen Johnson, not long after that Jones-triumph. Some have also called his previous loss to Jones on points controversial. Whatever the truth, Antonio "Magic Man" Tarver was one of the most formidable light heavies in his era and can be considered one of the best ever, especially regarding his talent.

 

He was born in Orlando, Florida (Disneyworld home) 21 November 1968, as Antonio Deon Tarver. I'm not sure wether it was for the connection with the basketball team Orlando Magic that he called himself "Magic Man". He later relocated to Tampa. He started boxing first as a teen, but then got mixed up with bad company and drugs, which landed him in prison in the late 80's. After coming out of prison at the end of 1990, he began training with former WBC heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas, who was once an addict to Cocaine himself. Under Thomas' tutelage, he won the 1992 State amateur championships. He parted ways with Thomas not long after that. He won a few other minor championships before participating at the 1993 World championships in Tampere, Finland. He lost there in the first round on points against Jacklord Jacobs. In 1995 however, he won the gold at the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Before that, he won the 1994 Golden Gloves. Also in 1995, he was victorious at the World championships in Berlin, where he defeated Vassiliy Jirov in the semi-finals, 9-6 on points. Tarver failed to make the US Olympic team for 1992, so he waited until the next Olympic trials, which was very unusual, instead of turning pro. He did make the 1996 team, where he again faced Jirov in the semis, but this time he lost in a very close fight by 9-8. He started the fight well, but then changed his style and went all out, in the end exhausting himself.

 

Having won the bronze medal, a consolation prize, he now embarked on a professional career. His first fight there happened on 18 February '97 and the opponent was the 4-0 Joaquin Garcia. Tarver easily won by a TKO2, stopping Garcia with a flurry. He went 16-0 with 14 ko's, beating guys like Rocky Gannon (TKO2), Mohamed Benguesmia (TKO9) and Ernest Mateen (KO1), before being given an IBF-eliminator against Eric Harding, who was also undefeated at 18-0-1. Though lacking true power, Harding was a very tricky and clever boxer and at 6'1 only an inch shorter. The fight happened on 23 June 2000 in Biloxi, Missississippi and Tarver started out well but then suddenly faded after round 8 and was knocked down in round 11, also suffering a broken jaw. In the end, he lost by 111-116 on all scorecards. After this unexpected setback, few believed he could one day become a world champion. He went back on track by stopping the 22-0 Lincoln Carter by TKO5 and Chris Johnson by KO10, before fighting Reggie Johnson in another IBF-eliminator, where Johnson's NABF and USBA titles also were on the line. It was 25 January 2002 in Rosemont when Tarver again found himself down in round 9, but in the end he turned out to have won enough rounds to get a split decision victory in what was a very close fight. Reggie Johnson was far more experienced but also 4 inches shorter. On 20 July he got the opportunity to avenge his first loss when he fought Harding again in Indianapolis. Harding started best and outboxed Tarver for the first 3 rounds, but in the fourth he was caught and dropped twice by hard shots and barely made it out of the round. In the next round, Tarver went for the kill and again dropped him twice before the referee had no choice but to wave it off. He had just scored a ko victory over the man whose only previous loss was to Roy Jones jr-and due to an injury in a close fight. He now started calling out Roy Jones himself, but he was more preocuppied with winning a world title at the highest weight, so Tarver was matched against Montell Griffin for the vacant WBC and IBF titles, 26 April '03. It was a good fight but Tarver controlled every round and put Griffin down once in the first and once in the last round, in the end winning by a shutout UD. And then came Roy Jones.

 

After beating John Ruiz for the heavyweight WBA strap, Jones said yes to coming back down to 175 to fight Tarver, who was louder than ever in his challenges to him. It was 8 November '03 when they met at Mandalay Bay and it would be an unforgettable fight. Tarver took the fight to Jones, throwing and landing many fast flurries and had a strong showing in the first four rounds, but faded somewhat in many of the middle rounds. He came back again later and made fight a close one. In the end, two of the judges favored Jones while the third had it even. Tarver just sank in his corner in despair and disappointment. However, lucky for him, Jones gave him a rematch, also because too many in the crowd had been against the verdict, chanting "bullshit". They met again at Mandalay Bay 6 months later, 15 May. As the referee Jay Nady asked if anyone had any questions, Tarver entered popular legend by saying:"I got a question-you got any excuses tonight, Roy?" It was aimed at Jones' excusing his "poor" performance in the first fight on having to lose too much weight. It looked like there would be another tough night for Tarver, as Jones thoroughly dominated the first round. After it, Tarver could be heard in his corner talking to his trainer Buddy McGirt sounding very determined not to lose again. And sure enough, if you want it badly enough-sometimes you get it. In the second round, they went back at it and just in the middle of the round, as Jones had landed a stiff right, Tarver countered with his left hook and down went Jones, for only the second time in his career! This time however, he didn't make the count and the impossible upset was now a fact! The fight was named the KO of the Year by The Ring and Tarver won the WBC, WBA Super, IBA, IBO and WBF titles. However, he was soon stripped of both the WBC and WBA titles, WBC for choosing to fight Glen Johnson instead of their mandatory and WBA for unknown reasons. Only title on the line was the IBO one when Tarver faced Johnson, 18 December at Staples Center. It was a competitive fight that went the distance, and in the end, Johnson was proclaimed the winner by SD, controversially. (I myself had it 115-113 Tarver.) However, Tarver reclaimed his belt in the rematch 18 June '05 and won by an UD, 115-113 and 116-112 twice. With that, he regained The Ring title. He then had his third fight against Jones, who by now was a spent force, after also getting knocked out by Johnson himself. Still, their fight was an entertaining one and Jones had his moments, but Tarver nearly stopped him in round 11 and cruised to a deserved UD. It took place 1 October in Tarver's hometown Tampa and that concluded their trilogy in Tarver's favor. Among others, Michael Jordan was in attendance, cheering for his buddy Jones jr.

 

After becoming a celebrity, he was given a major role in "Rocky Balboa", the sixth installment of the franchise. However, there was one problem-he had to play a heavyweight. Therefore, he bulked up to 218 pounds, around 35 pounds over his normal fighting weight, which he then had to remove in order to stay at 175. That process took too much out of him and therefore, when he faced one of his greatest opponents, Bernard Hopkins, in one of his biggest fights, he looked lethargic. It was 10 June '06 in Atlantic City and Tarver was a 3to1 favorite, but soon it turned out he was far from his old self. He was even ruled down in round 5 after he supposedly touched the canvas with one glove after a Hopkins right. It was unclear however if he really touched the canvas. Needless to say, he lost the fight clearly, 109-118 on all cards. He got 3.5 million for the fight. Compubox stats showed he only landed 48 power punches and 78 in all. After that, he had a year's layoff, before making that tough comeback in a fight against the Kosovo-born Elvir Muriqi, a tough but much shorter fighter, 9 June 2007 in Hartford, Connecticut. Tarver won by a majority decision as Muriqi appeared to fade after round 8 but came back strong for the last round. With that victory, Tarver once again won the IBO title, for the third time. After making one rather easy defense by stopping Danny Santiago by TKO4, he signed to fight the IBF-champion Clinton Woods, 12 April 2008 in his hometown of Tampa, FL. Woods was as tall as Tarver but technically not as good. Tarver outboxed and outpunched him to win by wide scores, thus again winning a major belt. However, he would lose that belt in his very next fight, on 11 October, as he took on the new rising star of the division: Chad Dawson. Tarver was simply outboxed by the 13-year younger Dawson and suffered a flash knockdown in the last round, losing by a wide UD. In the rematch on 9 May next year, Tarver did better-but not much better. He once again dropped a clear UD to Dawson, who was also an inch taller and very slick. His last achievement came on 20 July 2011, when, at the age of 42, Tarver stopped Danny Green by corner retirement in 9 to win the IBO cruiser title as well. He defended it next year against Lateef Kayode, on 2 June, but the fight, originally scored a split draw, was turned into a no-decision after Tarver tested positive for the steroid Drostalolone. He then became a heavyweight and scored his last impressive victory in 2014, when he knocked out Johnathon Banks in 7 rounds, at the age of 45. Thus showing that power is the last thing to go. In his last fight on 14 August 2015, he drew against Steve Cunningham.

 

His record is 31(22)-6-1. His son Antonio jr is now a pro boxer. Antonio Tarver was a guy whose career had almost as many downs as ups, but who showed his worth more than once and was never destroyed. He was only unlucky about the circumstances before the Hopkins fight, otherwise it surely would've been a totally different fight. With his characteristic shaven head and long, lean build, he resembled a black panther in the ring, stalking his victims. He had fast hands and could stop his opponent with a flurry or with a single punch or a few. His chin was made of iron and he has only been down for real three times. Some people have disliked him because of his overly self-confident, cocky and at times arrogant persona. But deep down inside, Antonio proved himself a class act, not least while working as a color commentator. Good luck with whatever you're doing, Magic Man.

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