Junior middleweight prospect Antonio Tarver, Jr. (2-0, 2 KOs), son of five-time world champion Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver, continues to fight out of his famous father’s shadow this Saturday night in Tampa.
The 27-year-old Tarver faces Julian Valerio (2-3) in a four-round bout off-television on the Premier Boxing Champions on ESPN show, headlined by Keith Thurman vs. Luis Collazo, at USF Sun Dome.
Tarver Jr. grew-up in nearby Daytona Beach and he recently relocated in Tampa where his father also lives. They have both trained in Miami with Orlando Cuellar. “This fight means a lot to me,” Tarver Jr. said. “I’m a young, up-and-coming fighter who has the great opportunity to fight Saturday night in front of family and friends. It’s only a two-hour drive from Daytona Beach. I’d like to thank ESPN, Al Haymon and everybody else who helped get me on this card. I sparred with him (Valerio) two years ago. He probably took this fight because of that sparring session, but I’ve got a big surprise for him Saturday night.”
There are many pros and cons having “Magic Man” as your father, especially when he is still an active, world-class fighter. “I’m my own man,” explained Tarver Jr. who was a basketball college player until he proved to his father that he was fully dedicated to boxing. “He’s more calculated; I’m quicker because I’m a junior middleweight and he’s a heavyweight. He’s a defensive genius and I’m working hard every day to improve my defense. I don’t put any pressure on myself as his son. He always told me to achieve my dreams, I’ve got to work hard, bust my butt, putting it all into my skills and crafts.
“I’ve only had 10 fights in my whole career (2 professional, 8 amateur) and I’m trying to catch-up with everybody else who have much more experience in the ring. But I have my father talking in my ear with advice from all of his experience and a great trainer in Orlando. People are going to see big differences from my first two fights. I’m ready for this fight!”
Antonio’s father is excited about his son’s third professional fight. “This is an unbelievable feeling to following my son’s transformation into the fighter he wants to be,” he admitted. “Nobody works harder than Junior. He’s dedicated, focused and all of that gives me a real easy feeling. All I do is talk to him to help him mentally. I can’t fight for him, but I can guide him, hoping he takes the right strides. He has everything going for him – talent and his head on straight. I never worry about him getting in trouble. He’s a different breed of fighter, my greatest accomplishment as a man, and I’m really excited about his future in this game.
“He was Keith Thurman’s main sparring partner for his fight and there was a buzz from their sparring sessions. Keith is one of the hottest young fighters in the world and Junior gave him everything he could handle. I tell Junior all the time that sparring isn’t the same as a fight. Sparring doesn’t get you paid or championships. Junior knows that in a fight he has to do what he worked so hard on in the gym. The lessons he learned from sparring with Keith made Junior more confident.”
Tarver Jr. has been taught in Tampa by the same coach, 86-year-old Jimmy Williams, who also trained Tarver Sr. when he was 12.
“Every fight is a challenge and test as Antonio works his way up the boxing ladder,” Cuellar commented. “With his limited amateur experience, Antonio has had to learn on the job, cramming for the mental and physical challenges that will be presented. He’s passionate and dedicated on a consistent basis. Antonio seems to have all the tools to make a good run. We’ll grade his July 11th performance and go from there.”
As if Tarver Jr. needed any additional inspiration, he has just that as a father to-be for the first time this September. “The due date for my little boy is September 17,” he added. “That has motivated me even more.”
It also means that 46-year-old Tarver, Sr. will be fighting later this year as a grandfather, on his quest to become the oldest world heavyweight champion in boxing history.
“I’m so happy for Junior but becoming a grandfather doesn’t make me feel old,” Tarver Sr. concluded. “He’s a different cat. I’m preventing him from making the mistakes I made. He’s been settled for five years with his girlfriend and now they’re having a baby. I couldn’t be happier. This is a great time for me. When I do decide to retire, I’ll hand the torch to him, still hot, and let’s see how far he runs with it.”