Antonio Tarver has never really been one to dream small. The man who became one of boxing's top names following his 2004 knockout of pound-for-pound king Roy Jones Jr has been thought finished more than once since then, but has kept himself in the game and is currently regarded as one of the best cruiserweights in the world.
Following his defeat of Jones, Tarver promptly was upset by Glen Johnson, but got that win back, beat Jones again, and then was derailed by Bernard Hopkins in 2006. Many thought Tarver, by that time 37, was closing in on his own final days in the ring. A year out of the ring led to shaky comeback wins over Elvir Muriqi and Danny Santiago, where he looked badly faded and like a fighter who had little left, even against glorified club battlers.
[ Related: Tarver vs Kayode Press Conference Quotes/Photos ]
A win over Clinton Woods gave Tarver a new lease on his career, but that was followed by two one-sided defeats to Chad Dawson in 2008 and 2009. A one-fight heavyweight experiment against Nagy Aguilera met mixed reviews at best, so Tarver dropped down to cruiserweight, and pretty well destroyed Danny Green in July of last year.
(Photo by Jeff Young/Showtime)
Now 43, Tarver hasn't fought in the last 10 months, focusing on his job as a Showtime broadcaster. It was there that he made an enemy of his upcoming opponent, Lateef Kayode. The two will headline the June 2 Showtime broadcast from the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and Tarver believes that at his age, he's the true last of a dying breed.
"There are no more guys like myself," Tarver said at Tuesday's media workout. "Shane Mosley lost. Bernard Hopkins lost. I'm the last Mohican. I'm the last guy who is 40-plus."
And being the last of a dying breed, Tarver recognizes that comes with the acknowledgment that he can't afford to lose this type of fight, and that if his in-ring career is to continue, he must win.
"We have a storyline here: A young guy who took offense to what I was saying as a commentator. I was just doing my job. I think the youth, the inexperience got the best of him. He's got his handlers saying that he's ready to roll the dice. But you've got to respect his position."I had a chance to commentate a few of his fights and he didn't like the things I was saying. But as a young fighter, you can't always feed them cake and ice cream. Sometimes you've got to put something in the back of his head so he could say, ‘You know what? Maybe there is something I can go back and work on.'"
"He's a young fighter coming up that has nothing to lose. So Kayode is in a beautiful position and if he loses to me, what has it done? It's going to set him back a little bit but he can regroup. I can't regroup if I lose to Lateef Kayode. There would be an asterisk and a question mark by my name and we can't have that.
As for his comments on Kayode while broadcasting, Tarver takes nothing back, hasn't second-guessed what he said about Kayode, and says it was his job to offer constructive criticism.
"I had a chance to commentate a few of his fights and he didn't like the things I was saying. But as a young fighter, you can't always feed them cake and ice cream. Sometimes you've got to put something in the back of his head so he could say, ‘You know what? Maybe there is something I can go back and work on.'"
Kayode (18-0, 14 KO) has gone from a brute strength knockout artist to a guy whose last three fights -- Showtime wins over Nicholas Iannuzzi, Matt Godfrey, and Felix Cora Jr -- have drawn criticism from more folks than just Tarver. Experts and non-experts alike now wonder whether Kayode, 29, is really a true contender, or just a carefully-handled guy who has received a favorable TV push, one his skills may not really be able to command going forward.
Tarver believes he's just the man to test Kayode like the Nigerian-born fighter has never been tested to date.
"He's only got two hands and he can't throw them but one at a time. We're going to simplify it. I've fought a lot of strong guys that didn't get lucky, that couldn't hit me, couldn't find me. So he's coming in here trying to get lucky.
"I'm coming in here to rely on my skills, my experience and my conditioning to win this fight. I'll take Kayode places he's never been. And that's in deep waters. He's never been in there with a fighter like me and I'm going to show him what it's all about."
(Photo by Jeff Young/Showtime)
Tarver continued, "It's about skill and I got it. We're not going to wait for anyone to tell us how great we are because if you wait for someone to give you a compliment, you'll be waiting forever and a day. We know who we are and we are going to continue to display it. We're going to kill our critics with success. We got the skill, us throwback fighters. And I'm a throwback fighter because I'm older now, I'm sitting down [on my punches] more and I'm a fan friendly fighter."
The veteran ex-champion was even willing to go into specifics when it comes to chopping down the younger man.
"This guy is predicting he'll knock me out in the fifth round. If Kayode comes in with that type of recklessness, he can be out before that because he has never been hit by someone who can punch as hard as me. And not just punching hard.
"I'm a sharpshooter. I punch organs. I target organs: liver, kidney, heart. I don't just punch mass, I punch organs and I punch that chin. Remember that the chin is not a muscle so you can have all the muscles surrounding your neck and body, chest and abs, because if I touch that chin the right way, it's lights out, baby."
Regarding the fifth round KO prediction from Kayode, Tarver added, "We're putting everyone on notice. Expect the unexpected. Kayode said the fight is going to end, that he's going to knock me out in the fifth round. He might have a good prediction in the fifth round but I think he's got the storyline a little twisted."
(Photo by Jeff Young/Showtime)
Tarver's next prediction is nothing new: He's planning to make a run in the heavyweight division after this, and has his sights set firmly on Wladimir Klitschko, and welcomes the scoffs of those who think he's crazy.
"What keeps the fire burning? Critics, naysayers and my own personal achievement. People can laugh now when I tell them I'm going to become heavyweight champion. They don't want to buy into it but they will because at 210 pounds, I'm elusive. I'm powerful. I'm strong and they can't hit what they can't see. I'm not a big, robotic fighter that can't move. So those are they're advantages. The only hope they got is to hit me on the chin and knock me out. And that's never been done before."
"I'm going to get that heavyweight title. Wladimir Klitschko, here I come. I'm going to get that heavyweight title. That's coming back to America, baby. Trust it. Stamp it. Write it down."