VERO BEACH, FL, May 9th – The countdown is on and light heavyweight champ Antonio Tarver is now a little over a month away from one of the biggest fights of his career on June 10th at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey against middleweight legend Bernard Hopkins.
‘A little over a month,’ or as Tarver said last week from his training camp in Vero Beach, Florida, “36 days, 11 hours, and 25 minutes for another victory.” For the pride of Tampa, Florida, this fight isn’t just about another payday or another victory to add to his stellar 24-3 (18 KOs) record; it’s about legacy, and that’s very important to Tarver.
“For everything I’ve accomplished in my career, there’s always someone trying to chip away at it,” said Tarver. “But when I beat Bernard Hopkins on June 10th, no one can ever take that away from me. For 100 years, people will look at Antonio Tarver and say, ‘There’s the legend killer.’ First Roy Jones and now Bernard Hopkins. This win will cement my place in Canastota.”
Talent alone won’t get Tarver a victory though, so he’s been putting in long hours at the Elite Boxing Gym in Vero Beach with trainer Buddy McGirt, and off-site with strength and conditioning coach Dudley Pierce.
“Team Tarver is stronger than ever and as BB King once sang, ‘I’m paying the cost to be the boss,’” laughed Tarver. “Seriously though, there’s no fun and games, no joking around; it’s strictly business, and the only thing I’m thinking about is June 10th and beating Bernard Hopkins.”
McGirt can vouch for his fighter’s focus.
“Antonio’s focused because he’s looking at himself as a legend killer, and he knows he’s got to be right,” said the renowned trainer of champions. “Antonio’s got something to prove. He gets up for these fights when he feels he’s being disrespected him by fighters challenging him.”
Adds Pierce, “He knows this fight is very, very important. His legacy’s on the line and he’s more focused, more determined, and on a different intensity level. All the other fights were important, but this is the key one to make him one of the greatest fighters ever.”
Of course with such a rigid training schedule, there is always the risk of overtraining. But not with a trained pro in the corner, and since Pierce (who holds a Masters degree in Exercise physiology and biomechanics from the University of Toledo, and who has worked with world champions Ricardo Mayorga, Tim Austin, Byron Mitchell, Will Grigsby and Randall Bailey, as well as Olympian Nate Jones, contender Larry Donald, and a host of NBA players) also lives with Tarver during camp and prepares all his meals and sets up his conditioning program, he’s keeping a close eye on his charge and making sure he peaks at the right time.
“Antonio’s one of the hardest workers and he has a high intensity level,” admits Pierce. “So sometimes I have to cut the work back because he’s doing too much, but everything’s going perfect for this fight. His weight is perfect – he’s under 190 pounds – it’s never been a factor.”
Skeptics believed that after Tarver bulked up to over 200 pounds for his starring role in the upcoming ‘Rocky Balboa’ film that dropping back to 175 pounds for the Hopkins bout would be an issue, but it’s never been a concern for the team.
“I was working so hard that I didn’t even think about the weight until I stepped on the scale and saw that the pounds were flying off,” said Tarver. “My camp is focused now on staying sharp and working on our game plan to beat Bernard Hopkins, not on my weight, which is right on target.”
“Believe it or not, it didn’t affect him at all and it came off kinda quick because mainly it was from eating and living in Hollywood for a while,” laughed McGirt. “It’s not like he put on muscle. So it came off easier than I anticipated. I knew it wasn’t gonna be a problem, because after he came back from LA, he went right in to do his conditioning work.”
Pierce, who cooks Tarver three to five meals a day, agrees, noting, “He has not missed a meal.”
So is there a favorite meal for the champ during training camp?
“He likes them all,” chuckles Pierce.
With no weight concerns, and Tarver’s focus strictly on beating Bernard Hopkins, does the former middleweight champion, who is moving up 15 pounds in weight to take on the best light heavyweight in the world, even have a chance?
“When you get a great champion in a position where he’s got nothing to lose, that’s a tough man to beat,” said McGirt of Hopkins. “If you’re a real boxing person, you’ll know that Bernard wouldn’t take on the challenge that he felt he couldn’t win. Bernard must see something, so it’s not gonna be an easy task.”
But Antonio Tarver’s a great fighter too, and he wants to put a stamp on his legacy on June 10th with an emphatic victory.
“I have cleaned out the light heavyweight division, beat the two best fighters in it – Roy Jones Jr. and Glen Johnson – yet if I lose on June 10th, all of that will be forgotten,” said Tarver. “So I’m looking at this fight like the second Eric Harding fight, the second Jones fight, and the second Johnson fight. It’s do or die for me, and the only obstacle standing between me and greatness is Bernard Hopkins. I will make a statement on June 10th, and no one can deny me after I knock this man out.”
The Tarver vs. Hopkins “Fight To The Finish” pay-per-view telecast, beginning at 9pm ET/6pm PT on June 10, has a suggested retail price of $49.95, will be distributed by HBO Pay-Per-View and will be available to over 56 million pay-per-view homes. The telecast will be available in HD-TV for those viewers who can receive HD. HBO Pay-Per-View is the leading supplier of event programming to the pay-per-view industry.