Tarver vs Kayode: Fight Nearly Done For May 26 on Showtime

Antonio Tarver tells ESPN.com's Dan Rafael that his rumored May 26 fight against Lateef Kayode is nearly a done deal, and that Al Haymon is trying to make the fight in Florida, Tarver's home state:

"The date is locked in and Lateef Kayode and me will be a good fight," Tarver said. "People will see what I'm doing at 43 and realize that age is nothing but a number. Kayode is a fight I'd like to have. I will be in great, great shape, show my boxing ability, and I should be able to win that fight."

Both fighters are promoted by Gary Shaw, whose ties with Showtime are lengthy (and at one point earned the network the nickname "Shawtime"), and this seems to fit the bizarre new mold for too many 2012 Showtime events: Fights nobody really much cares about but seem to be featured as some kind of favor.

I don't mean to say that Tarver vs Kayode is some awful fight. It's OK -- by my reckoning, they're both back-end top ten cruiserweights, but there are a few problems with that:

  1. The back end of the cruiserweight top ten isn't that impressive.
  2. American fans have had a long time to try caring about the cruiserweight division at this point. They don't, and it's unlikely they're going to start. It's just never caught on here, and forgive me if I don't think 43-year-old Tarver, who can't sell tickets and might as well disappeared after Bernard Hopkins thumped him six years ago, for all he's done in the casual fan's world since then.

Tarver (29-6, 20 KO) is, of course, a Showtime employee, and his Haymon connection doesn't hurt either. He's become a very good commentator, a quick learner who has added to the Showtime fights, but as a fighter, he may not be truly finished in the ring, but his star has burned out for American fight fans.

In fact, he was never really a star. He was the man who beat the real Roy Jones Jr, which should have been a big deal, but he never capitalized on it: He lost his next fight to Glen Johnson, and a year and a half later Hopkins dominated him and all but destroyed his credibility as a top fighter with U.S. fans. Tarver, in some ways, is probably seen as a fluke, or a footnote (guy who knocked out Roy) more than a top fighter of his era, which is probably unfair for the most part -- I'm not saying he isn't or wasn't a good fighter. He was a very good fighter. But he never had a run; he never put together two really good wins in a row with the spotlight really on him as a top guy, and he never became the star he thinks he is.

After Hopkins, he beat some overmatched fighters, and had two miserable fights with Chad Dawson that combined failed to sell 2,000 tickets in Las Vegas. Then he had a bad showing (but a win) as an out-of-shape, old guy fighting as a heavyweight, followed by a trip to Australia to beat the tar out of Danny Green, himself an old and worn-down fighter.

Kayode (18-0, 14 KO) is Freddie Roach-trained and has a good look, so he's had a bunch of chances on Showtime, each one seeming to expose more flaws in his arsenal than the last. But he's kept winning, and he's as ready as he's going to get at age 29. The Nigerian-born fighter isn't quite the puncher he was thought to be (similar to Tavoris Cloud in that regard), which has turned out to be a pretty big deal, because he's an awkward, unnatural boxer.

I just don't know why Showtime would pay money for this fight. What's the target audience? Neither of them has a fanbase and if they're going to actually do anything in the cruiserweight division, they have to go to Europe and fight there, where people care about the division and give it the respect that it does deserve. I guess the greatest possible upside is that somehow, Tarver can lure a Klitschko brother to the U.S. for a fight, but would Showtime even be able to afford that if it happened, or will they have spent too much money on fights like this, Paul Williams vs Nobuhiro Ishida, Jermain Taylor vs Caleb Truax, Erislandy Lara vs Ronald Hearns, and Gary Russell Jr build-a-record fights?

And keep in mind, Carl Froch and Lucian Bute will be fighting on May 26. That fight was turned down by Showtime. I'm not saying Showtime has done nothing right this year, but the questionable-to-downright stinky is outweighing the good about 3-to-1 in this new era for their sports division.

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