Antonio Tarver returns to action on Thursday night, and at age 46, the former light heavyweight champion is still dreaming big, now as a heavyweight. Tarver, who hasn't fought since November 2013, will face Johnathon Banks in a must-win heavyweight clash.
"I'm not concerned with rust," says Tarver. "If I'm rusty, it will only be until I'm hit. I've been trying to wear off ring rust with intelligent sparring but that's not like getting reps of a fight."
Tarver still hopes to make a splash in the heavyweight division, where he's gone 2-0 in fights against mediocre opposition, beating Nagy Aguilera in 2010 and Mike Sheppard in 2013. Between those two fights, he beat Danny Green at cruiserweight before a draw that was changed to a no-contest against Lateef Kayode, when Tarver failed a post-fight drug test.
Though the odds are against Tarver, "The Magic Man" believes he can get it done.
"I have to beat a solid heavyweight with power like Banks to get where I want to be. I will become the oldest world heavyweight champion in boxing history! He will be surprised by a lot of what I bring into the ring."
Trainer Orlando Cuellar, working with Tarver for the first time, hasn't seen rust, but is speaking cautiously, too.
"I can honestly say Antonio hasn't looked rusty, but working in the gym and actual fighting are two different things, and we really won't really know until this week's fight," says Cuellar. "Antonio has always told me that he's not a good gym fighter but that once the bell rings for the first round, he's a great fighter."
Cuellar also sees their partnership extending beyond this fight. "With our experience, his as a fighter and me as a trainer, I expect nothing less than the best from Antonio. It'll be much easier for both of us, training-wise, for his next fight."
Banks (29-2-1, 19 KO) hasn't fought since a June 2013 loss to Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell, as he's been more focused on his role as Wladimir Klitschko's trainer. The 32-year-old veteran isn't a serious contender, but Tarver absolutely cannot afford a loss if he's going to convince anyone that this is a serious heavyweight career. Even if he wins, it might be hard to do that.
"Every fight is independent in itself," Tarver says about the matchup. "So I can't say I've fought anybody like Banks. I have fought a lot of guys with power who know how to box. Everybody has two hands and two feet but he can only use one hand at a time. I simplify things. I will be in my best shape and I won't be surprised by whatever he brings into the ring."
Tarver vs Banks will air on ESPN2 on Thursday night, as part of a special memorial card for late promoter Dan Goossen.