By Jake Donovan
Former light heavyweight king Antonio Tarver, now the IBO's champion at cruiser, has aspirations of one day conquering the Klitschko brothers and claiming the heavyweight throne.
Those dreams – a wild stretch to begin with – remain way down the road after struggling to a split decision draw with Lateef Kayode in their cruiserweight battle Saturday evening in Carson, California.
Scores were 115-113 Tarver, 115-113 Kayode and 114-114 in their Showtime-televised main event, which began slow but picked up steam as the rounds progressed.
The early rounds saw the much younger Kayode winning the fight purely on activity. The transplanted Nigerian wasn’t exactly a ball of energy at any point in the fight, but early on was far more active than Tarver, who fell to old habits in looking for opportunities rather than letting his hands go.
The deliberate start by the 43-year old southpaw essentially cost him the fight, though it also stands to reason that a faster start means that Tarver doesn’t have as much energy in the later rounds.
What became a matter of fact was that Tarver was able to hurt Kayode far more than the opposite proved to be true, despite the younger fighter being billed as the power puncher. It was Tarver who landed the more telling blows in the second half of the fight, scoring with a huge left hand in the eighth round to stun Kayode for the first time in the fight.
The sequence was a much needed shift in momentum and drama, as the bout lacked sorely lacked both prior to that point. The boo birds began early in the evening on a televised card in which all four bouts went the distance and didn’t deliver a lot of action and were loud and clear for much of the first half of the main event.
Tarver’s burst of energy in the later rounds helped turn the jeers into cheers. In the end, it also helped avoid an embarrassing defeat, even if the veteran didn’t quite see things that way.
“I was trying to feel the guy out. Maybe I fought down to his level. But I got busy at six. There's no way they could give him a round from six on. He flung and missed all night,” Tarver insisted during his post-fight interview.
The final punchstats don’t exactly dismiss such claims. Kayode threw and landed slightly more punches over the course of the 12-round affair, but nothing to where any sort of separation was provided between the two. The perception was that Kayode won the bulk of the earlier rounds that Tarver inexplicably chose to give away, while the tide turned in the second half of the fight.
Tarver had his chances to put the fight away just as he did in stopping Danny Green during their cruiserweight fight last summer. Left hands landed with conviction in rounds eight and nine, but Tarver was unable to follow up with the home run swing to close the show.
Instead, it was Kayode who rallied back by the end of the ninth, scoring with an uppercut which caused Tarver to momentarily double over. The tide appeared to shift in the direction of the unbeaten 29-year old, but nearly punched himself into trouble in the 10th when he frequently threw south of the border.
The infractions never became an issue, but neither fighter was able to gain a stranglehold on the momentum in the championship rounds. Despite the lack of dominance by either combatant down the stretch, each raised their hands in the air by fight’s end, believing victory was clear.
General perception was anything but that, as was the case with the final scorecards.
It’s the first time that either fighter has been forced to settle for a draw. Tarver managed a two-fight win streak heading into the fight. He still remains unbeaten since returning to the ring in 2010, but his record now reads 29-6-1 (20KO) as opposed to gaining another win and – in his mind – another step towards chasing heavyweight glory.
“It's a blemish on my record but we won't lose no sleep tonight.” Tarver insists. “If he'd have hurt me, dropped me, had me on the ropes, then I can see (retirement). But that never happened.”
Physique-wise, cruiserweight looks like a permanent home for Tarver. Not so, says the part-time fighter and announcer, who insists that it will take a big fight to keep him below 200 lb.
“I really hope I (stay active),” says Tarver, who has only fought once each year since returning in ‘10. “We'll get back to the table with (advisor) Al Haymon to see what’s next. I'll stay one more fight at cruiserweight. I'll only do that by fighting guys like Marco Huck or El Diablo (Krzysztof Wlodarczyk).”
A rematch with Kayode may or may not be on the minds of Showtime brass. But it takes two to make that happen, and the “other guy” in that equation seems to believe that he already did enough the first time around to move on with his career.
“Everybody knows I f***ed him up,” insists Kayode, who suffers his own first blemish as his record moves to 18-0-1 (14KO). The once noted power puncher – who trains under Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym – has now been taken the distance in each of his past four fights.
At no point was the threat of a knockout evident in this fight, but Kayode believes the outcome should have never been in doubt.
“Look at me, look at him,” Kayode stated afterward, though perhaps too angry and hyper to notice that neither fighter looked particularly beaten up. “I am a strong man. I did my job and did what I said I'd do.”
The truth is that neither fighter did what they initially set out to do, which is what produced the stalemate. With that, dreams of Tarver chasing heavyweights and Kayode chasing cruiserweight titles remain exactly where they were before the evening began – well out of reach.
Peter ‘Kid Chocolate’ Quillin scored a dominant decision over former 154 lb. king Winky Wright. Scores were 98-91 (twice) and 97-92 in a lopsided affair that saw the 40-year old Wright (51-6-1, 25KO) – inactive for three years and winless since Dec. ’06 – suffer a rare knockdown when Quillin (27-0, 20KO) drilled him with a right hand midway through the fifth round.
Austin Trout won a lopsided decision over Delvin Rodriguez over 12 dull rounds. Scores were 117-111, 118-110 and 120-108 in favor of Trout (25-0, 14KO), who makes the third defense of his alphabet 154 lb. title. Rodriguez falls to 26-6-3 (14KO), hardly resembling the fighter who looked impressive in 20 combined rounds with Pawel Wolak last year.
Leo Santa Cruz opened the telecast with a spirited 12-round win over Vusi Malinga in their vacant bantamweight title fight. Scores were 120-108 (twice) and 119-109. Despite the lopsided scores, Malinga (20-4-1, 12KO) fought hard every step of the way. Unfortunately for the South African, he was in with a better class of fighter as Cruz (20-0-1, 11KO) was the far busier of the two.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments via e-mail.