Antonio Tarver and Clinton Woods should have been in the co-feature slot at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida on Saturday evening, and the Chad Dawson/Glen Johnson barnburner should have been the headliner, but all in all, it was an enjoyable set of prizefights that unfolded on Showtime, with Tarver and Dawson exiting with wins tucked under their belts.
Tarver, in a solid showing which was made more impressive with the uninspired effort by the Brit Woods (no relation), coasted to a unanimous decision nod, as the judges scored his 12-round title fight, 116-112, 117-111, and 119-109. His match looked that much worse in comparison to the compelling Dawson/Johnson meeting, which saw the 25-year-old Dawson prove his skills and heart against the still hungry and capable 39-year-old, Johnson.
Woods, a resident of Sheffield, England weighed in at 175 pounds, while the Floridian Tarver weighed in at 173 3/4 pounds. This was Tarver's best showing in some time, as he came to the ring in fighting trim, aware that he has one more run in him, and mindful that a loss to Woods would stick a fork in his legacy.
Tarver's IBO and Woods' IBF titles were on the line.
Woods, age 35, entered with a 41-3-1 mark, and the 39-year-old Tarver brought a 26-3-1 record with him to Tampa. The two light heavies tore into each other after a strong opening act, the Dawson/Johnson youth vs. aged squareoff, so the bar was set rather high. Both men promised fireworks before, each projecting a KO victory.
Frank Santore was the referee for the "headline" scrap, and he didn't have to work that hard, as Tarver's skill set was on a different level than Woods.'
In the 12th and final round, Tarver came out looking to punctuate his effort with a stoppage. The straight left against the static target of Woods worked well. The crowd was up, roaring, hoping to see Tarver score a KO down the stretch, but the Brit would not go down.
In the 11th, Tarver was back lefty. He drew cheers with a straight left that knocked Woods' head back. The same punch, even more flush, had the crowd on their feet. Woods actually got more offensive at that point, and pressed the issue, but Tarver deflected his advance.
In the tenth, Tarver went righty. Maybe he was bored, being in such a dominant position. He basically gave away the round, but with so many in the bank, it didn't impact his effort.
In the ninth round, Woods scored with a left to the body, a smart choice against Tarver, whose head movement was on message. Tarver landed uppercuts, which tossed Woods' head back and made inroads with the judges.
In the eighth, Tarver had a busy period, and Woods was unable to do much of anything, until the 40 second mark. He put together a combo, but soon, Tarver was back at it, pecking away effectively, even if the pace and mood didn't match the previous faceoff.
In the seventh, Woods tried to come out with his guns blazing. But his hand speed wasn't up to snuff against Tarver, who saw everything coming from a mile away. Tarver picked up his pace late in the round to open the judges' eyes.
In the sixth, Woods winged left hooks, apparently fired up by the corner lashing. But Tarver wasn't put off. He threw his long jab, and came up from underneath with his left. Woods' face was scratched up and one wondered if he'd soon hit the floor. Tarver was slipping punches adeptly, and moving his feet to get himself decent angles to work with in this round; he looked to be in complete control.
In the fifth, the ref told Tarver not to hold Woods with his right hand. Tarver potshotted the Brit, landing right hooks and straight lefts. Woods had no answer for him. Woods' corner laced into him hard after the round.
In the fourth round, Woods stepped it up, some. His jab came at Tarver more quickly, and he tried to bury some hooks in Tarver's torso. Tarver grabbed his foe several times, when he wanted a breather. Some booing was heard from those he had been impressed with the previous beef.
In the third, Tarver looked to be warmed up. He threw more combos, and kept his feet moving. Woods didn't yet seem to be in gear, as he plodded forward, without unleashing a meaningful jab, or much of anything else. Was he overwhelmed by the big stage, or because he was away from his home turf?
In the second, Woods perked up some, and backed his man up, though nothing of consequence landed. But Tarver didn't wow anyone in this round, either, until the end of the round, when he piled up about seven shots in a row.
In the first, Tarver hit home with a left uppercut, and then did it again. What did it say that he could land that from so far out? Tarver's ring generalship edge meant that he kept Woods at the distance he wanted.
Chad Dawson found out in minute one of his title defense against Glen Johnson that he was not fighting a typical 39-year-old-man, and he eventually decided that it would be smarter to rely on his legs as much as his fists if he wanted to keep his WBC light heavyweight crown.
Dawson, age 25, switched from fighter to boxer mode a third of the way through the
bout, and thus was able to take enough rounds on the cards to exit with a unanimous decision win, to the hoots of those in attendance.
Judges Nic Hidalgo, Peter Trematerra and Jack Woodburn all saw it the same way, 116-112.
The crowd booed heartily when the decision was announced, as they admired the energy and fighting spirit of the ageless Johnson; but Dawson showed wisdom beyond his years when he switched up midstream, and used his legs to propel him to the win. He deserves a pat on the back for recognizing that he needed to avoid a phonebooth-type tussle, and TSS had no problem with the judges' decision.
Johnson said afterwards that he felt ripped off, and he felt let down by the judges' call. He said he'd accept a rematch, but deserved to get the nod. Dawson indicated that he'd rather go in another direction, and told Johnson to watch a tape of the fight, and see how much more he landed.
The Connecticut resident Dawson, age 25, weighed in at 173 3/4 pounds, as he defended his 25-0 record and WBC light heavyweight title in Tampa. This fight was the third defense of the belt for the lefty.
His foe Johnson, age 39, had a 47-11-2 mark coming in; the Jamaican-born Miami resident weighed in at 172 1/2 pounds. His face, as it typically is, looked the picture of serenity pre-fight.
In the 12th and final round, Dawson got back into movement mode. Johnson followed him, but without the crazed urgency you might have liked to see, seeing as how it was certain to be close on the cards. He hit home with rights at the 1:30 mark, and Dawson came back with some effective work of his own. Dawson looked to be pretty gassed at the close, while Johnson looked like he craved another three rounds. We'd go the cards. Johnson soaked up the love from the fans as he waited for the judges to present their tallies. Dawson drew boos when he postured for the fans, as the crowd didn't care for the time he spent moving in retreat.
In the 11th, Dawson came out with some jabs, and his legs looked to be in fine working order. Johnson stepped it up, and landed another heavy right. Dawson wasn't moving by this time, and the fans were on the edge of their seats. It was toe to toe time at the 1:30 mark. Just when you though Dawson could hit the deck, he'd hurl a straight left to remind us he had something left.
In the tenth, Dawson kept his movement up, moving left, then right, then tossing a flurry, and moving on. Then Johnson caught him with a banging right to the chin at the 50 second mark, and had him in deep trouble. His legs were rubbery, but he kept standing, and even returned fire. Dawson proved his mettle in this sequence.
In the ninth, it was clear Johnson needed to step up his urgency. Easier said than done, as Dawson's energy didn't lag. Whereas earlier Johnson was stealing rounds with his late inning efforts, it looked to be too little, too late by this juncture.
In the eighth, Dawson kept the feet going. He did stay in center ring some, and was accurate when he sat down on his shots. Then, he gave the fans salivating for toe to toe action something to chew on, which is smart, as a fighter is an entertainer, and fight fans must be entertained, or they will switch their allegiance to another hitter.
In the seventh, Dawson continued with his fan-unfriendly style, of movement, movement, movement. Johnson was a step behind the titlist, and a viewer had to wonder if maybe the ageless Johnson would indeed show his age. Dawson stopped and popped often enough to take the round.
In the sixth, Dawson again was active with his feet, but not so much his hands. He'd move, and plant, not find an opening, and then move again. Johnson, meanwhile, kept inching forward, picking off shots, and trying to tire out his younger opponent. The crowd didn't care for Dawson's tactics but his corner approved. Conventional wisdom said that the younger guy would try to sap the juice of the oldster, but Glen Johnson defies conventional wisdom.
In the fifth, Dawson started out with heavy movement, a wise decision against an older foe. But his jab lacked pep, though he did throw it in bunches. Johnson clipped him with a right hook and then a left hook, and finished the round with a clubbing right and a left hook, an impressive climax, and it was likely enough to sway the judges.
In the fourth, Johnson kept his momentum up. Dawson wasn't as busy, and he let Johnson get up in his grill. What were the judges thinking at this point? Dawson kept backing up, and Johnson kept plodding forward, clearly intent on working every minute of all 12 rounds.
In the third, Dawson started out with the tablesetter, the jab. He placed right hooks on Johnson's body, but the elder ringmaster kept on advancing, stubbornly. Johnson kept his guard high, confident in his ability to shrug off body shots. In the last third of the round, Johnson found a home for right hands, as he tried to steal the round. A right cross wowed the crowd, and after the round, Dawson heard from trainer Eddie Muhammad, who told him to get in, fire and then jet.
In the second, Johnson came forward, looked to parry punches, and searched for the right time to launch rights. Dawson went upstairs more, and was just plain busier.
In the first round, both fighters got their hands going immediately. Dawson stood out with his body work, his reach, his sharp lead lefts, and his constant movement. Johnson made sure Dawson knew he was there, with right hands.
After the fight, Woods said he's thinking about hanging up the gloves for good, and will talk it over with the missus. He gave credit to Tarver as being the best 175 pounder in the world. Tarver gave Woods props for being a tough nut to crack. He said Chad Dawson would be "easy pickings," that Glen Johnson had softened him up.
SPEEDBAG Ugh, I hate it when Showtime press row judges are as bad as some of the professional cretins who screw up. But Martin Rogers and Patrick Sheehan's cards for the Tarver/Woods fight deserve some attention, if not scorn. Rogers had it 115-113 for Tarver and Sheehan had it 115-114 for Tarver. The margin was far larger and both those cats should book time with an eye doctor.
--Michael Buffer's surgery for throat cancer went well, we were informed.