By Thomas Gerbasi
When youíre magic, how could you possibly disappear? Thatís the question Antonio ďMagic ManĒ Tarver is asking just before he steps into the ring with Danny Green in Sydney, Australia on July 20th.
Sure, heís 42, but being over 40 hasnít stopped Bernard Hopkins and Glen Johnson from maintaining their relevance in the fight game. And with just 34 fights over 14 years, just a couple wars, and no knockout defeats, you could probably scrape a few years off his clock, right?
ďIíve been trying to tell everybody that but they donít want to hear me,Ē he laughs. It is true though, and while a sporadic fight schedule at his age probably isnít preferable, the former light heavyweight champion isnít looking at sticking around just to fight anybody. As always, heís been smart about his career, so if itís not a big fight, heís really not interested.
And at least in Australia, the Green fight is a big one.
ďIím excited about the fight, I really am, and at age 42, I know Iím not gonna get these opportunities a lot going forward, and Iíve got to take advantage of this one as if this is my last and this is how we approach it,Ē said Tarver, who left for the land down under on July 6th to get acclimated and ready for his bout for the IBO cruiserweight title.
Itís his second straight bout above the 175 pound weight limit where he made his name, and while the first Ė a ten round decision win over Nagy Aguilera at heavyweight last October Ė didnít set exactly set hearts racing, it did push him back into the win column after back-to-back losses to Chad Dawson and got the wheels turning again when it comes to the latest stage of his career.
ďI think when I first made my debut at heavyweight, I kinda rushed it and I wasnít in the best physical condition that I should have been in,Ē admits Tarver, who weighed in at 221 for the bout with the journeyman. ďIt was trial and error and the fight showed that. I got injured early and I had to fight through pain and everything, but overall I did what I went to do, which was win, against someone who I felt at the time was a credible guy. He had only been stopped by Samuel Peter, who is one of the most devastating punchers in that division, I hurt the guy, and I never thought in a million years that he would end up running in that fight, and thatís what happened. He started running and he really didnít want to come at me, and thatís because he felt my power early. Who knows what would have happened if he would have stood still and fought. But I canít question a guy when heís getting hit Ė should he stay in there or should he get out of there. He felt my power and he was on his bicycle for the majority of the fight, which was surprising to me, but it just goes to show you, I can punch.Ē
Tarver wasnít the ďMagic ManĒ of old in there that night in Miami, Oklahoma, maybe just an old ďMagic Man,Ē but after a layoff of over a year and with the shoulder injury he sustained in the bout, heís earned the benefit of the doubt. The Green fight should tell the tale when it comes to Tarverís continued relevance in the fight game, even though the Perth native and former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion isnít exactly a spring chicken himself at 38. On the plus side, Green is unbeaten since 2006 and has fought three times each in 2009 and 2010, so heís staying busy, and heís going to be there to fight, which is exactly what Tarver expects next week.
ďHeís a real tough guy and heís very strong,Ē said Tarver of Green. ďA lot of people say his strength is somewhat out of this world, but Iím strong too. I sized him up already and Iím gonna be the bigger guy, and heís gonna come in with his tough man attitude and try to bully me, and heís gonna be aggressive because he knows he canít stand on the outside and box with me. He canít stay on the end of my punches so his whole thing is gonna be to try and get inside, but then heís gonna realize that Iím a great inside fighter as well and I throw great, short combination punches. If he donít get me out of there, itís gonna be a long night and I feel like this is judgment day because I feel like I have to knock him out in order to secure victory. Iím approaching this fight just like I approached the Roy Jones rematch Ė I gotta get him out of there. Thatís what Iím focused on, and Iím working hard enough to say that when I land my punch, itís gonna be with power, itís gonna be with devastation, and if he can take that, then more power to him.Ē
Thatís old school Antonio Tarver right there Ė confident to the point of brash, while still making complete sense when it comes to selling himself. When he tells you why heís going to win a fight, itís hard to argue with him. But of course, he has to do it in the ring, and while 42 used to be a death sentence for a boxer, the aforementioned Hopkins and Johnson have both showed that while the reflexes might slow, if you have your fundamentals, veteran tricks, and smarts in order, you can win fights against those with more athletic gifts. Thatís something thatís lost on younger fighters these days, as they think theyíll be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, knock down trees, and race through rush hour traffic without getting touched forever. When age sets in and the reflexes go, theyíre in trouble. Look no further than the man Tarver battled three times during 2003-05, Roy Jones Jr.
Tarverís secret to longevity? He doesnít hesitate to let the world know.
ďI always had an old school trainer,Ē he explains. ďJimmy Williams right now is 83 years young, heís still whippersnapper smart, heís sharp, he outdresses me at times (Laughs), and he just has his wits about him. And heís always taught me defense. Thatís the key to longevity. A lot of these fighters donít understand that. They go out there, they put their body in the way and they donít understand that the body is a target. And once that target gets hurt, itís hard to recover and itís hard to come back. Itís like any dog that gets hit by a car but survives; he ainít gonna be the same dog. Heís gonna walk with a limp. And thatís what itís all about.Ē
ďIíve always been smart enough to know that if I get hit in the head enough times, Iím gonna be hurt, so Iím always conscious of getting hit, even in practice,Ē he continues. ďEven when Iím just sparring, I donít take that for granted. And thatís the key to my success and my longevity. Itís because I never liked anybody hitting me and Iíve always protected myself. If you look up the word boxing in the dictionary, itís the art of self-defense, and that self-defense sometimes goes out the window for a lot of these cats and they wind up getting hurt, abused, and theyíre never able to have longevity because of it. If I had any advice for these young fighters, get yourself a great trainer and learn defense and donít take it for granted. We all have two hands, but itís the person that can protect themselves the best and still fight back is gonna be the winner in the end.Ē
As youíve noticed if you ever heard Tarverís commentary on Showtime boxing broadcasts, he knows the game and heís not shy when it comes to pointing out its shortcomings. Thatís why heís a must see for those wanting to learn more about the sport. And while bad decisions, fighters hanging on too long, and all the rest of the negatives can weigh you down at times, Tarver continues to go to the gym, lace on the gloves, and fight. Why, especially given the fact that he doesnít need to fight anymore?
ďMan, thereís nothing like boxing,Ē he said. ďItís mano e mano, and I think itís the best sport out there. I love this game, itís given me so much, and I have to be thankful for everything I have because of boxing. And I can still win. Thatís why Iím doing it. I can still fight at a top level, and Iíve never been hurt, never been outclassed or dominated, and never been knocked out. There are a lot of never beens, so until I can no longer compete at the top level of the game, and that means fight for titles and win championships, then Iíll rethink my position. But until then, Iím gonna fight until I canít fight no more at this level.Ē
Thatís no magic trick.
Tags: Danny Green , Tarver-Green , Tarver vs Green , Antonio Tarver