By Jake Donovan
The heavyweight clash between Antonio Tarver and Steve Cunningham officially has a home. Confirming previous rumors, the crossroads bout has landed at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Spike TV will televise live, serving as its next installment of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions series. PBC first premiered on Spike in mid-March; the aforementioned bout will serve as its fifth live card in the series.
"I'm thrilled to be part of this great fight on Spike," said Tarver, who will take a break from his role as Spike TV expert analyst. "I take nothing away from Steve Cunningham, who is a proven veteran who is always in good shape. It's going to be a great fight. This is a challenge I wanted and needed. August 14, I'm going to let people know I still got the 'Magic."
The 46-year old Tarver (31-6, 22KOs) is unbeaten in his last five starts, though the streak includes a win-turned No-Decision versus then-unbeaten Lateef Kayode in June ’12. The win was overturned after Tarver tested positive for a banned substance, an instance that proved costly in and out of the ring. The former light heavyweight champion was fined and suspended, and hit equally as hard outside the ring—he was removed from his role as an expert analyst on Showtime, and was also removed from consideration for a similar role in the 2012 London Olympics.
Tarver returned to the ring in Nov. ’13, but has only fought twice since the suspension. His most recent bout came last December, scoring a 7th round knockout of Johnathon Banks, a fringe heavyweight contender who is best known these days as head trainer for World Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
The trip to New Jersey will be Tarver’s first as a fighter in more than nine years. His last fight in the state saw his light heavyweight run crash and burn, suffering a landslide loss to Bernard Hopkins-41 at the time and having just moved up from middleweight following back-to-back losses to Jermain Taylor.
Tarver’s current five-fight unbeaten streak has taken place at cruiserweight and heavyweight. His win over Banks saw the former light heavyweight champ weigh in at a fleshy and career-heaviest 225 3/4 lbs.
Conditioning has never been an issue for the supremely chiseled Cunningham (28-7. 13KOs). Getting fights at or near his Philadelphia home, however, has been. Much of his 15-year career has been spent abroad, including the launching point for both of his cruiserweight title reigns.
His first title win came in a revenge-fueled decision win over Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, claiming the belt in May ’07, while avenging his lone career defeat to that point. Both fights took place in Poland, with much of his two title reigns being staged in Germany.
Cunningham finally landed stateside for a big cruiserweight title fight, in fact at the very venue hosting his bout with Tarver. Fittingly, his U.S. homecoming resulted in a loss, dropping a heartbreaking decision to Tomasz Adamek in their first fight. a 12-round war in Dec. ’08.
A follow-up win over fellow former cruiserweight champ Wayne Braithwaite in July ’08 was Cunningham’s last domestic fight for the next three years, fighting four straight times in Germany before returning to North America for each of his last seven starts, all of which have come at heavyweight.
The biggest fight of Cunningham’s career has taken place outside the ring, with his family scoring a huge victory when his nine-year-old daughter Kennedy successfully underwent surgery for a heart transplant last December.
His lone fight since then came in March, suffering a highly debatable 12-round loss to Vyacheslav Glazkov in a title eliminator. A win would have put Cunningham in line for a title shot versus Klitschko, a payday that would have went a long way to offsetting incurred medical bills.
The 38-year old has since ended his relationship with Main Events—the two sides insisting the split came on amicable terms—and resurfaced with powerful adviser Haymon in tow. The clash with Tarver marks his official PBC debut.
"Tarver is a big name in boxing and I'm looking forward to this shot,” Cunningham said of the fight. “I do my talking in the ring. August 14, be prepared for a great fight. The USS Cunningham will be prepared for battle because this is an opportunity of a lifetime."
Also on the telecast:
Longtime cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck (38-2-1,27KOs)—whom Cunningham stopped in the 12th round of their Dec. ’07 title fight thriller—fights for the first time in the U.S. as he faces unbeaten Krzysztof Glowacki (24-0)
Heavyweight slugger Artur Szpilka appears versus a yet-to-be-determined opponent
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox