Boxing: Ranting Tarver must walk the walk to flatten Woods
Saturday 12 April 2008
The last time the British public saw Antonio Tarver in the ring he retained his Hollywood heavyweight title with a disputed decision against the geriatric Sylvester Stallone in the last and final Rocky movie.
Since that 12 rounds of fistic mayhem Tarver has dropped nearly 50lbs and tonight at the St Pete arena in Tampa, Florida, he fights Sheffield's Clinton Woods for the International Boxing Federation light heavyweight title.
During the last six or so months Tarver has been toying with the idea of walking away from boxing for a full-time job in the movies and Woods, who is defending his title for the fifth time, has bought a caravan for his family in Cleethorpes.
The business of boxing is famous for throwing together unlikely partners, mixing in a bit of intrigue to produce something close to a classic and that is exactly what could happen this evening.
Woods is 35 and has been the forgotten and neglected man of elite British boxing for so long that it no longer upsets him that he is overlooked when people talk about the sport's current domestic renaissance.
Tarver, who is 39 now, has been at or near the top in various high-profile American rings for close to a decade but unfortunately his growl and his talk are far more impressive than his punch or his abilities.
Two months ago they came face to face at a press conference in London and it turned ugly and that was because Tarver has always walked the thin line between acceptable and unacceptable pre-fight hype. Woods had scrubbed up nicely after three days of carp fishing and suddenly found himself looking into the diamond-encrusted face of Tarver who was basically telling the Yorkshireman that he was a hopeless bumpkin.
Tonight Tarver's extra motivation for victory has taken the form of a potential fight with Joe Calzaghe in October, knowing that a defeat will end his career. Woods will have several options and many takers if he wins and is not dependent on Calzaghe's grace.
The Las Vegas bookies have struggled to separate the two but Tarver's ranting and raving has upset Woods enough to make the fight both enticing and extremely watchable. Woods can truly lift himself forever from his forgotten box by forcing a stoppage, which in turn will increase his percentage of the take if ever Calzaghe agrees to fight him.
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