The rematch lived up to their classic encounter, as Antonio Tarver and Glengoffe Johnson gave the rabid crowd at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN plenty to cheer about throughout their twelve round battle. In the end, Tarver lived up to his reputation for getting it right in rematches, He outfought Johnson over twelve grueling rounds to earn a unanimous decision and second run as light heavyweight champion.

The first round suggested that the rematch would fall far short of expectations, but turned out to be the lone round featuring little action. Johnson started out in the first thirty seconds with the same swarming style he displayed in the first fight. It was the only action offered through the first half of the round, which played out as a posing contest. Tarver found the range with his straight left, and dropped enough on Johnson to take an otherwise uneventful round

The second round – and the rest of the fight – proved to be the complete opposite. The frame offered plenty of two-way action throughout. Johnson started out strong, working his way inside. Tarver used his straight left to keep Johnson on the outside and on the defensive. Johnson turned the tide midway through the round before Tarver closed the round strong. Unlike the first fight, Tarver was putting away rounds early rather than play catch-up late.

The action did not slow down in round three, a round that allowed Johnson right back into the fight. Tarver was still effective with his straight left, as well as his uppercut, but unlike the first two rounds, Johnson did not remain on the defensive. He instead responded every time with flurries, which caused Tarver to stop punching. The same occurred through the fourth round, only Tarver enjoyed much more success in the first half of the round to take it, which was the general consensus among those in press row. Despite the strong start, Tarver could not keep the pressure on throughout. Johnson conceded the round, but snatched the momentum with a big flurry toward at the bell.

The reigning light heavyweight champ carried it over into the fifth round, with a digging body attack and relentless pressure. For the first time in the fight, Johnson was landing the heavier blows. Tarver made sure to change that in the sixth round, though not before absorbing more punishment to the body early. Antonio took Johnson’s best, and began dialing in with his power toward the second half of the round.

Momentum once again shifted in the seventh. Johnson stalked Tarver throughout the round, with Tarver offering little more than a jab while spending the entire frame in retreat. If his reaction in between rounds was any indication, it was due to exhaustion. Tarver returned to his corner at the end of the seventh round huffing and puffing. Johnson didn’t give him a moment to breathe in the eighth, drawing ooh’s and ahh’s from the crowd of 12,123 with his nonstop pressure.

Tarver looked to will his way back into the fight in the ninth round. Still visibly winded, Tarver elected to stand his ground and sit down on his punches more. Johnson steadily charged forward, but Tarver made him pay with left hand shots. The two traded shots in what appeared to be the closest round of the fight, though Team Tarver knew the momentum was shifting their way.

“I told Antonio that Glen was hurt far more than he was letting on,” said McGirt at the post-fight press conference. “Every time Glen fought back, it was because he was hurt. I give him all the credit in the world. He’s a tough son of a gun. I just kept telling Antonio to stay on his a**, that it was the only way he’d walk out with a win.”

More of the same transpired in the tenth. Tarver was far busier in the frame than had been the case since the early going, but Johnson was right there with him every step of the way. The two fought inside a phone booth for the entire round, but Tarver was able to rally with a late flurry. It was enough to draw chants of “Tarver, Tarver” at round’s end.

“Hearing the cheers in the crowd late in the fight made me feel good,” admitted Tarver. “Most of the crowd was pulling for Johnson early, and pulling for me late. It pumped me up when I needed the lift the most.”

Looking to put the fight away, Tarver came out gunning once the fight entered the championship rounds. He nearly punched himself out, as Johnson ate it all and rallied right back. Refusing to back down, Tarver came right back with heavy artillery of his own. This time, he did run out of gas. Johnson turned the tide in his favor big time, with Tarver forced to hold on several occasions. Johnson failed to land that one final shot to put him away, but did enough to bring the Memphis crowd back on his side heading into the final round.

Tarver started the twelfth with a big flurry, but spent the rest of the round clinching any time Johnson worked his way inside. It was a smart move on the part of Tarver, who was clearly out of gas. The fans didn’t appreciate the strategy too much, but it wound up working perfectly for Antonio, who literally held on to his lead until the bell ending the bout.

The judges were unanimous, with David Hudson and John Rubin scoring it 116-112. Rocky Young had it a round closer at 115-113. Scorecards were all over the place in press row, though most seemed to lean toward the winner and now two-time consensus light heavyweight champion. Both were classy in assessing the twelve round war.

“I really had to bite down and do it all to put on a performance like this,” admitted Tarver, now 23-3 (18 KOs). “I was in much better shape for this fight. Glen is real tough; he is a pit-bull and I had to tame him tonight. We had two great fights and can have a third one – for more money, HBO!”

One of the classiest personalities in the sport, Johnson (42-10-2, 28 KOs) was congratulatory in defeat, his first in six fights. 

“I have no excuses,” said 2004’s Fighter of the Year. “He ducked under every time I set myself, and I had to readjust myself. If HBO liked the fight, I am willing to go again. He was the better man tonight.”

Both were fantastic, and well-deserving of a lucrative rubber match. Tarver left the door open for a trilogy – be it against Johnson, or against Roy Jones, who was at ringside serving as color commentator. Tarver let Roy know of his plans and of the new light heavyweight picture.

“Everyone kept insisting that my knockout over Roy was a fluke,” said Tarver in revealing what he told Roy at fight’s end. “I told Roy, ‘Look, I went to war with this cat on December 18. I went to war again exactly six months later. Glen Johnson is a damn good fighter. His knockout over you was no fluke, nor was mine. Glen is that good, and tonight I proved to be a little bit better. Right now, it’s my division.’”

And on this Father’s Day weekend, he earned the right to be called The Big Daddy of the division.

In the co-feature, Ike Quartey rallied strong in the final round to pull out a razor thin unanimous decision over former junior middleweight titlist Verno Phillips. The two fighters are only separated by two days in age, and wound up separated by a single point when all was said and done in a wild junior middleweight fight.

After a slow start, Ike came back stronger in round two, drawing a reaction from the crowd in dropping a big right hand. Phillips’ mouthpiece came out shortly thereafter. When referee Randy Phillips called time, Quartey seemed to lose any momentum he had, as Phillips dominated the rest of the round. He carried it over into the beginning of the third before Quartey finally was able to land combinations, Phillips remained the busier of the two, but Quartey’s power made the difference for the first time in the fight.

The momentum shifted Quartey’s way, as he was able to work his way inside. Phillips’ activity level dropped, and Ike’s picked up, landing several big right hands throughout the round. The output level seemed to take a bit out of Quartey, as he slowed down in the fifth. Phillips looked to capitalize, but appeared a bit gassed himself, as he was wild with overhand rights. Quartey was able to land enough power shots to win the round.

Rounds six through eight became a reversal in roles. Quartey continuously walked down Phillips with the heavier artillery and higher output, while Phillips slowed and was reduced to one shot at a time. The closest Verno offered in competitive action during that stretch was when he and Ike exchanged pushdowns in the eighth round. By rounds end, it was clear that Phillips needed to land something big to win the fight.

He managed that midway through the ninth round, as a big left hook sent Quartey crashing to the deck. The Ghanaian arose midway through the count, but was on wobbly legs. Phillips could not finish him, though. Instead, he allowed Quartey back into the fight, as Ike nearly brought the round back to 10-9 with heavy shots in Phillips’ corner. Verno took it and gave back plenty in return. A huge flurry toward the end of the round sent Quartey to the canvas for a second time. However, referee Randy Phillips blew the call, ruling it a slip.

The oversight turned out to be the difference on the scorecards, though Phillips didn’t help his cause in conceding the final round to Quartey. Phillips was effective in spurts, but Quartey landed the much heavier blows throughout the round. He ended the fight with a huge flurry along the ropes, in effect putting the icing on the cake.

Judges Gerald Deming (95-94), Bruce Foster (95-94) and Alex McCallum (96-93) all scored the bout for Quartey, though a second knockdown call in the ninth round would have resulted in a majority draw. Instead, Quartey earns his second win into his comeback and his first significant win in over eight years. He improves to 36-2-1 (30 KOs). Phillips falls to 38-10-1 (20 KOs).

The two bouts were carried by HBO’s World Championship Boxing series. The card was promoted by Goossen-Tutor Promotions, in association with Star Boxing, Prize Fight Promotions, DiBella Entertainment and Banner Promotions.

Undercard results: 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist Andre Ward (4-0, 2 KOs) scored a third round stoppage over Ben Aragon (4-3-1, 4 KOs). Ward boxed smartly in the opening round, and wobbled Aragon late in the second. A right-left combo had Aragon out on his feet, prompting the referee to stop the contest at 0:59 into the third … Ann Wolfe (20-1, 17 KOs) teed off on familiar foe Marsha Valley (10-11-4, 4 KOs), stopping her at 1:17 into the sixth round. Wolfe won every second of the fight before scoring a pair of knockdowns in the sixth, the second forcing the referee to stop the mismatch. Wolfe previously twice stopped Valley in 2002 (TKO10, TKO6) … Former lightweight titlist Lakva Sim (20-4-1, 17 KOs) stopped divisional trialhorse Shawn Simmons (26-14-1, 16 KOs) 1:15 into round two … Vinny Maddalone stopped hopelessly overmatched Dennis McKinney in the third round of their heavyweight contest … Anthony Peterson (9-0, 6 KOs) stopped previously unbeaten Anthony Middlebrooks (3-1, 3 KOs) twenty-six seconds into the fight. His brother Lamont Peterson (11-0, 6 KOs) needed a few more rounds, as he took out John Frazier in four rounds. Lamont scored two knockdowns in the opening round before stopping him three rounds later … Donnell Wiggins stopped overmatched Norman Johnson at 1:19 into round three. Wiggins scored two knockdowns en route to the stoppage … Rayonta Whitfield remained unbeaten, stopping local featherweightTerrance Roy (6-13) 2:40 into the third round … Murfreesboro (TN) heavyweight Adam Richards opened the show with a first rounds stoppage over Covington (TN) journeyman Tyrone Muex (10-24-3, 3 KOs).