Photo: Gene Blevins – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy
It’s no act. It will be a serious grudge match when IBO cruiserweight champion Antonio Tarver and challenger Lateef Kayode collide in a nationally televised on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Kayode takes offense at Tarver’s critical comments about him during telecast where Tarver works as a ringside analyst. The fighters showed their distain for each other during a media conference call last week.
Lateef Kayode: “I’m going to prove that all the things he said about me were wrong. First of all, he said all my punches were sloppy and second of all, he said I’m not fighting with any spirit. Every time I fight on ShoBox he says the same thing. I saw him in downtown L.A. and said, ‘Why do you always says those things about me on ShoBox?’ He said he’s just doing his job, but when I was doing good and connecting on my punches he just quiets down and says nothing. He only concentrates on my mistakes. If this fight were in the streets, I know I would win. I come from far away and have struggled all my life. My prediction is that I think I’m going to knock him out in the fifth round or the sixth round…He’s going to get hurt so bad, so bad. I’m coming for him.””
Antonio Tarver: “I’m not paid to stroke anybody or sit behind that desk and promote or market a fighter. I’ve got to see it with my own eyes and tell it how I see it. The way I see it may not be the way your average viewer sees it, but I come from years of experience as one of the most decorated amateurs of our time and I’ve been a very successful professional fighter, so I think I know the game of boxing back and forth. I’ve had one of the best trainers and philosophers since I was 10 years old so I’ve been schooled very well. What I see may not be obvious to the naked eye. I wasn’t ever trying to be overly critical of Lateef. He’s a guy who is ranked high across the board and if he wasn’t worthy, then I wouldn’t be fighting him. That’s what he needs to understand. It’s not all about him. We all need to go back to the gym every time.
“You don’t think I didn’t work every time to get better? Yeah, you always work to get better and there are always improvements that can be made. What I was telling him were the things that I saw that he could have improved on. I’m not thinking of him being able to hit somebody hard or whatever. I’m looking at the intangibles that you need to be a world-class fighter and he could not understand that. He showed his inexperience and his youth by getting all emotional and out of whack approaching me and confronting me. Right there that tells me that his emotions got the best of him and now he’s bit off more than he can chew. So now instead of trying to tell him what I thought he should do to improve, now I’ve got to show him. This is going to be an experience of a lifetime for Lateef and he’s going to remember this fight for his lifetime. This is where he is going to be compared and judged for the rest of his career, and if he’s adamant about what he says he’s going to do, then I’m going to have to show him very early in this fight that I’m not some little boy he’s been facing. I’m not one of these kids he can just run up to and bully. You can talk all you want, but you can’t bully me because your struggle is nothing compared to my struggle here in America and what I’ve had to overcome to get to where I had to go.
“I don’t care anything about you being from Africa. I respect you because you’re a brother from another (mother), but that don’t mean anything to me because my struggles you can’t relate to. I’m the fighter I am today because of what I had to overcome, you feel me? You’ve been here five years in America. I’ve been here all my life. I had to go through everything. There’s no one that gave me anything. Not one thing. I didn’t even have a promoter when I started boxing professionally. I was an Olympic bronze medalist. So you have no idea what it feels like to have to beat everybody in front of you to get to where you’re going. You’re in my way. I’m on to bigger and better things. I’m going for the heavyweight championship and I’m not going to let Lateef Kayode stop me from my destination. So I’m looking forward to June 2 and just like you hear it in my voice, I am fired up because this man has threatened me in so many ways. Coming up to me in the streets and saying, ‘What are you going to do?’ OK. That’s all I need to hear. Be man enough to say what you’re going to do and back it up, because when I say something, I’m going to do it. I’m going to defend my title with whatever I’ve got. I’m ready for whatever Lateef Kayode can bring. If he thinks he’s going to be the bully in this fight, then he’s got another thing coming. If he thinks he’s going to bring power to this fight, he’s going to find out early that he’s got another thing coming. He better have an A, B, C, D plan, because it’s going to take more than one game plan to beat me, and just coming with power isn’t going to do it, because I’ve felt power punchers before and I’ve knocked them out. I’ve fought bullies before and I’ve knocked them out. I’ve fought the very best in the world and I’ve beat them. So Lateef Kayode has a chance of a lifetime to be a legend for one night, but he’s going to have to bring his butt to get it.
“I haven’t taken Lateef Kayode lightly by any stretch of the imagination. That’s what they need to understand. I take this guy as a serious threat. I know in this fight one punch can change the entire fight and one punch can end a fight, and what I’ve done in training camp is to eliminate any chance of him getting lucky and the only way I can do that is to make sure I’m in the very best shape mentally and physically. I haven’t been this tense for a fight in a long time. This feels like it did before some of the biggest fights I’ve had because this guy is strong and has gone on record as saying he’s going to knock me out. He’s holding strong to that assumption. I know he’s coming in strong to try and hurt me. That’s just going to make me very strong and very alert and make me very sharp in that ring. I’m going to dial in on this guy and it’s going to be tunnel vision. I think this fight is going to show everybody my ability and my skill.
“There isn’t going to be no running. He doesn’t have to worry about that. I’m 43 years old. I’m not trying to run anywhere unless I’m running in preparation for a fight. I don’t have to run. I have confidence in my ability and I’m a sharp-shooter. I’m trying to hit that kidney and I’m trying to hit that chin and I’m accurate. So you don’t have to worry about me missing. I’m going to be on point. I’m going to beat you down with my defense. I’m going to trust my defense. I’m going to stay in close and I’m going to work. I’m going to work for the knockout. I’m not going to look for the home run. I’m going to put some shots on this guy combination style, something he doesn’t know anything about. We’re going to use our angles and we’re going to out-smart him and then when it’s comes down to it, we’re going to show that he’s not the only one with muscles in the fight. If I have to hurt this guy, that’s what I’m going to do.
“I have never been hurt. I can rely on my defense to get me through. My instincts are still intact and my reflexes are there. I trust my defense. My coach tells me all the time we haven’t gotten hurt yet, so we’re not going to get hurt until I retire. That’s my goal to walk away from the game with all my faculties and still have never been knocked down in a fight. That’s what I pride myself on: never been knocked out, never been stopped. I feel good about June 2. I’m going to turn back the hands of time and you’re going to see a 43-years-young fighter in the there, but you’re not going to know which of us is 43.”