By David Finger
The last time we saw Antonio Tarver as a heavyweight, he was fending off a spirited challenge from a seemingly washed up popular former champion named Rocky Balboa in the film of the same name. Funny how the tables are turned now as Antonio Tarver attempts to do what Balboa did on the silver screen: knock out a heavily favored Eastern European fighter and prove that father time doesn’t yet have the best of him. Of course, the Hollywood story of Antonio Tarver could still get derailed before that Rocky IV moment ever happens. First he needs to get past a 24-year old fringe contender named Nagy Aguilera (16-4, 11 KO’s) on October 15th in Miami, Oklahoma at the Buffalo Run Casino. The fight, which will be televised on Showtime as part of the Showbox boxing series (at 11 P.M. ET/PT) promises to add a shot of adrenaline to a somewhat sluggish heavyweight division. But there are honest questions as to the legitimacy of a 41-year old former light heavyweight champion who is coming into the division off of a pair of losses to Chad Dawson and who is over two years removed from his last victory.
They either think I’m crazy or they think I’m right.” Commented Tarver during a media conference call earlier today, “But there really isn’t a marquee name carrying the torch for Americans. “
It is that lack of serious opposition in the heavyweight division that has motivated fighters like Evander Holyfield to keep fighting well into their 40s, but Tarver wants to be more than just another 40 year old fighter looking for a big payday.
“I think everything happens in time,” commented Tarver, “I feel I have so much more to offer the sport of boxing. In hindsight, I may have taken the jump a little bit earlier. But my time is now. Look at the heavyweight division, there isn’t a recognizable American heavyweight, that we can say ‘that guy is ours.’”
Tarver realizes that this may be the most difficult move of his career, no small statement coming from a guy whose fouht Roy Jones three times as well as Bernard Hopkins and Glen Johnson. But Tarver promises he is up to the challenge and that October 15th will be the first page of the final chapter of what he hopes will be a hall of fame career.
“I think it’s a big challenge, and that’s what I get up for, the big challenges,” added Tarver, “ I set big goals for myself. I look at the things I do in the ring at 41-years old. I think on October 15 well see that I’m far from done and far from shot. I think the next two years will be a crowning moment in my career, that I can reinvent myself and become champion again.”
Some insiders may remain skeptical, but most assume he would have too much for his younger opponent from the Dominican Republic. Tarver promises a unique and dominant performance, which he feels will kick open the door of the heavyweight division for him. But few are closing the book on Aguilera just yet.
““I’ve seen this guy, he’s got punching power,” Tarver said of his opponent, “I’m trying to not to get hit at all but I’m not going to be running. I’m hopefully going to walk him into everything I want him to.”
Tarver feels that the speed and movement that defined his early career will help him as he takes on the heavyweights, and in particular Aguilera.
“ I don’t think these HWT’s can really move at that level,” added Tarver, “I’m going to try to put him in an uncomfortable situation from the start. I’m going to control the whole tempo, make the ring be my domain. Like I said, he’s going to taste my power early. I feel good because I don’t have the stress of losing 30-35 pounds for a fight. Right now I’m just focusing on work. “
But for the 24-year old Aguilera, this is his golden opportunity, one in which he plans to capitalize on.
“I’m younger and I’m quicker,” Aguilera said confidently, “he’s got a lot of experience, but I’m the younger guy and I’m hungrier.”
Aguilera has already proven that he can step up to the plate against the big name opponents. Back in December of 2009 the 23-year old Aguilera exploded into the world ranking and into the heavyweight picture with a devastating first round KO over former world champion Oleg Maskaev. However, he struggled since then, losing to contenders Samuel Peter (in two rounds) and Maurice Harris (by decision in an USBA title fight) this year. Still, Aguilera recognizes that he has time, and youth, on his side. A dominant win over Tarver could propel him back into the world rankings, something not lost on the Dominican.
“It’s a big opportunity for me,” commented Aguilera, “ I was really excited and happy when I found out about the fight. This is a big deal for me.”
Still, Aguilera recognizes that even with time on his side, a loss could close the book on him as a contender completely, and he recognizes that even at his advanced age Tarver is going to be a very, very difficult opponent to beat.
“He’s a slick fighter. It don’t matter if he’s lefty or orthodox. He’s an older fighter with a lot of experience,” added Aguilera, “I expect him to come forward, to try and knock me out.”
Still, Aguilera feels confident that his size, strength, and youth will carry the day. When asked if he had any advice for Tarver as a heavyweight he simply stated: “Be prepared for a lot of power.”
Without a doubt, October 15 promises to give boxing another great Rocky story, of a fighter coming back from the brink to shake up the heavyweight division. The only question is, whose been cast to play the “Italian Stallion”?