It is so simple to talk the talk.
So many can talk the big fight, almost mesmerize us with words as they chatter on endlessly about how great they are, about how they are going to do this, that and everything imaginable to the man who dares step into the ring with them.
But walk the walk?
Not so easy. To truly walk the walk, it takes hours, days, weeks, months and years of sweat and even a bit of blood to be able to walk the true walk.
Saturday night in Memphis, Antonio Tarver walked the walk.
It was hardly spectacular. No knockdowns. No battling through bloody cuts. It was just work. Hard work. And work and work and more work.
We see the 12 round duel, a brutal 36 minute dance on the edge of danger. We are on the edge of our seats, we are on our feet. We all see the fight. What we do not see is all the brutally hard work that makes it possible for a fighter to work right through those 12 rounds — most especially those final unforgiving six minutes, the championship rounds.
Tarver and Glen Johnson have had their own individual fights to get to Saturday night’s moment in the spotlight.
Tarver, of course, was the Olympic bronze medalist. He battled through cocaine, through being just on the edge of the spotlight after he came home with bronze, not gold. He is the ultimate comeback kid. Eric Harding, Roy Jones Jr. and now Johnson have lost rematches with Tarver.
Johnson, the man who started late, has fought most of his career in obscurity. He is almost a modern day Cinderella Man, working as a carpenter throughout his early years as a fighter. He has endured suffocating decisions, decisions that might make most men walk away from the sport. He lost his 10th fight Saturday night to Tarver. But, at age 36, he now commands a spot in moments like Saturday night.
Tarver, the man who can talk with the best of them, said he might not have been in the best of condition for his first dance with Johnson. It happens. It never should. But it happens. He was on top of the world after stopping the legendary Roy Jones Jr. He got outworked by Johnson in that first fight, though some think he might have won that split decision. But one fact remains. It was a loss on his record.
Saturday night Tarver came to work.
The lanky southpaw stayed busy throughout most of the fight. He did take the fifth round off. He did tire a bit, but he kept busy — throwing punches, throwing punches … pitty-pat, pitty-pat sometimes, but point scorers nonetheless.
When Johnson stepped up with that big 11th round, appearing to have taken Tarver perilously close to that land no fighter ever wants to visit — Troubleland — those fans of Tarver could think only one thing: Uh-oh.
But Tarver prepared to walk the walk this time. His hours and weeks of grueling, lonely work in the gym and on the road prepared him for that 12th round. He had a lead and he protected it marvelously — hit a little and hold, hit a little and hold. Johnson could never come close to duplicating that 11th round. And that was the fight.
“I was able to do all I did because I was in better shape,” Tarver told HBO’s Larry Merchant after those 36 minutes in center ring.
The decision was unanimous and not even Johnson could disagree.
And so does this set up a Tarver-Johnson 3?
“Oh yes,” Tarver said. “Two great fights like that. It’s inevitable. We’ve got to do it again.”
Johnson, the man who simply walks the walk and does not talk the talk (“I’m not the best. I’m just the guy willing to fight the best.”), told Merchant, “He was a little craftier. He beat me to the punch. I believe he won the fight. We could do it again. It’s one-to-one.”
It is indeed one-to-one.
Johnson outworked Tarver in the first duel. Tarver outworked Johnson in the second. And, in all the glitz and glamour that surrounds a huge fight, it still comes down to that harshest of four letter words. Work. A third fist-to-face — and body — bang off is in order.
It was not Gatti-Ward. It was not Corrales-Castillo.
But it was two men who wore blue collars, took their lunch pales into the ring and went to work. More importantly, these were two men who went to work for hours and days and weeks to prepare for the 12 rounds we got to watch. It was boxing, professional style.
Maybe not spectacular. But always just a step and a punch away from being dramatic. It was a pair of professionals, trained and prepared and ready for this moment in the sun.
It would be great to see a traveling, hardworking professional like Glen Johnson get another payday, another chance at being Cinderella Man. Tarver certainly earned his money. He is the “Magic Man,” but there was nothing magic about his hard work.
And so, on this June night in Memphis, Tarver was able to go two-for-two. He was able to walk the walk and he had already talked the talk.