There isn’t a lot of guess work with Antonio Tarver. He’s an open book with block letters, as easy to read as a stop sign.
He’s also got the arrogance of a guy holding a royal flush for the biggest pot of the night, which is why they could use him in the heavyweight division once he’s done fooling around with the light-heavies. They need some personality up there, and with a little luck, Tarver could bring the heavyweight division back from the dead, which is where it’s spent the summer and most of the last three years.
But before he does any resurrecting, Tarver, who lives in Tampa, has to get past Roy Jones Jr., the former boxing icon who has so much to prove after so much went wrong.
Of course, Tarver will tell you he doesn’t have to get past Jones, it’s Jones who has to get past him. But it’s all depends on what side your standing on.
The two are set to meet Oct. 1 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa in their rubber match and for Tarver's IBO light-heavyweight title (HBO pay-per-view). Jones (49-3, 38 KOs) won their first fight on a close decision in a fight Tarver still claims he won. Tarver (23-3, 18 KOs) won their second fight with a one-punch knockout that wiped out half the bookies in northern Florida.
For what seems like forever, Jones was the guy everyone pointed to when the bar talk turned to the greatest fighter in the last 10 years. He was the king, the supreme ruler, the best there was at a game that was in dire need of heroes. When he was stopped by Tarver and then by Glen Johnson, it was as though someone had played a trick on us, turned out the lights in the middle of the party.
It was that kind of reverence for Jones that Tarver doesn’t understand, that he’ll never understand. He thinks the media made Jones into more than he ever was, and Tarver might be closer to the truth then any of us want to admit.
“He’s the great Roy Jones,” Tarver said on a conference call this week. “I didn’t proclaim him to be the greatest thing since Sugar Ray Robinson, you (the media) did.
“But a changing of the guard has occurred, and why not give him a chance to reclaim his glory and vindicate himself? I’m the only man that gives him that. For once in his life, he’s taking a risk, not playing it safe. He‘s picked the most dangerous fighter in the light-heavyweight division.”
Tarver didn’t pick a round, but he offered a peek into what he thinks will happen on fight night.
“If he’s less than 110 percent, he’s going to get knocked out,” he said. “He’s not the champion, I am. I don‘t want it to be misconstrued that he is giving me an opportunity. I’m giving Roy Jones an opportunity . . . I wouldn’t be surprised if he had on track shoes instead of boxing shoes on the night of the fight.“
While Tarver is doing what he can to sell this fight, Jones has been painfully quiet while he trains. No press conferences, few if any public appearances, and not much word coming out of his camp.
“The guy has no compassion for the sport that made him a wealthy man and pretty much an icon in many ways,” Tarver said. “But he’s given nothing back. It’s a shame. Shame on him . . . The guy hasn‘t come out and said a damn thing about this fight.”
What has come out of Jones’ camp is that he may have suffered an injury in training. But Tarver said that’s all part of the game.
“Anybody that goes through camp without a little pain ain’t working hard,” he said. “I’m not complaining about my injuries. That’s what we do, we’re in the hurt business, so suck it up. The theme of this fight is ‘No Excuses.’ Just show up on Oct. 1 and leave all those excuses in Pensacola.”
Tarver said he’ll never be appreciated until he finally walks away from the game.
“But that’s all right,” he said. “It’s the cards I’ve been dealt. But at the end of the day, you’ll never be able to say [Jones] was a better fighter than I was.
“When you compare the two of us, you can’t put him above me. I‘m fighting for my legacy, and I‘m the best fighter in Florida right now.”
Right now, that's saying a lot.