By Jake Donovan
From the moment their fight was inked, the June 2 cruiserweight showdown between Antonio Tarver and Lateef Kayode has been billed as a grudge match.
The seeds for the rivalry were planted well over a year ago during a Showtime “Shobox” broadcast. Tarver - who serves an announcer for the series – was critical of Kayode during his Feb. ’11 fight with Nicholas Ianuzzi, a fight in which Kayode won a very unpopular ten-round decision.
Kayode took the comments personal and has had plenty of choice words for Tarver leading up to their upcoming cruiserweight fight at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Some of the return verbal fire has taken Tarver by surprise, as the former light heavyweight champ insists that none of his feedback was ever intended as a personal attack.
“I’m a little surprised (by his reaction),” Tarver (29-6, 20KO) states of what has transpired over the past year. “I’m not sitting behind the desk to promote or market a fight. I am seeing it from my eyes. I’m coming at it from years of experience.
“I wasn’t trying to be overly critical of Lateef. I think he’s a solid contender. If he wasn’t worthy, I wouldn’t be fighting him. But there is always improvement. You think I didn’t have to go to the gym to improve? What I was telling him was areas he can improve on.”
Time will tell if Kayode (18-0, 14KO) absorbed any of the feedback from that fight. The unbeaten contender – raised in Nigeria but now a resident of Hollywood, where he trains with Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym – looked better in two subsequent performances, though going the distance in each against Matt Godfrey and Felix Cora, Jr.
The June 2 fight with Tarver marks the stiffest test to date for Kayode, who hasn’t scored a knockout since Dec. ’10 after developing a reputation as a banger. Tarver doesn’t seem particularly concerned about what’s standing in front of him, other than it being an obstacle along his current path.
“I’m going for the heavyweight title and you’re in my way,” Tarver says of the challenge that lies ahead. “This man has threatened me. Telling me if he see me in the streets what he’s gonna do. Fair enough. Be ready to back it up. I’m going to defend my title and be ready for anything Lateef going to be bringing.
“If he’s going to get fired up and get emotional – like he’s been this whole promotion – then he’s going to fall right into my hands.”
Tarver has endured an up and down career through 16 years as a pro. Back-to-back losses to Chad Dawson were thought to be the end, but the southpaw returned to relevance with a 9th round knockout of Danny Green last year.
The 43-year old believes one or two more cruiserweight fights will help him properly grow into the heavyweight division. Standing in his way is Kayode, who has a chance to upset those plans. Tarver is well aware that his name alone brings extra motivation to anyone standing in the opposite corner.
The question is whether or not Kayode can properly channel his emotions and implement it into his attack in his efforts to make a name for himself at Tarver’s expense.
“Lateef Kayode, you have a chance of a lifetime to be a legend for one night,” Tarver states. “But you gonna have to bring yo’ ass to get it.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]