Fighting for his young family, as well as to expand the legacy associated with his last name, the son of five-time world champion and 1996 U.S. Olympian Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver – unbeaten junior middleweight prospect Antonio Tarver, Jr. – this past weekend continued establishing his own identity in the ring.
After a nine-month absence, the 28-year-old Tarver (4-0, 3 KOs) returned to the ring in Lakeland, Florida, stopping Jose Cortez in the second round. Tarver displayed his improving skills, especially a punishing body attack, during a thoroughly dominating performance. He broke-down Cortez and closed the show in style.
“It took me one round to get rid of ring rust,” he explained. “We had a game-plan to go to the body, then the head, body and head, but it took me a round to do it. God’s really blessed me and I owe all thanks to Him. My father and coach, Jimmy Williams, have always told me not to look for a knockout but that it’ll come. I’m not a one-punch knockout fighter. It’s all about setting up shots and putting them together. I may not connect with every single body shot I throw, but if I get in three of four each round, it’ll eventually cause damage. I’m focusing on my opponent’s liver and ribs, trying to be a body-snatcher.”
Tarver was an athlete, playing basketball and football, who didn’t start boxing until he was 19. He had a very brief amateur career and fully realizes that he’s consistently going to be fighting more experienced boxers.
“In the ring,” Tarver said, “I’m still a baby. My opponents may be much more experienced than me, but I do have a lot of experience around me: my father, coach Williams and Darrell Foreman. My father wouldn’t support me as a fighter until I proved to him that I was worthy (sacrificing and training). I’m worthy now and believe I’m coming into my own as I continue to learn.”
“As a father,” Tarver Sr., noted, “I wanted him to know what he was getting into and have the tools to succeed. He’s as tough as nails. When he realizes how strong he really is…..look out. There’s a difference between hitting an opponent with a punch and punching through him like he’s doing now. I just wish he’d get started quicker. He doesn’t get going until he gets hit and then he turns into a beast. A ferociousness comes out from inside that I never had. He’s improving all of the time. He’s putting punches together better and sitting down on his punches.
“Antonio is going to be a fan-friendly fighter. I know I put him under a lot of pressure, but he’s fighting much more experienced guys. I’ve never been worried about him fighting a tough guy. It’s the guys who think in the ring and have amateur pedigree that can be problems for him.”
Understanding that his opponents get pumped to fight him because of his last name, Antonio Jr. rationalizes that, taking advantage of the situation he is in. “It’s very important for my opponents to beat me and the name,” he admitted. “My father set this stage for me and my name is, Antonio Tarver, Jr., so they’re trying to give us both a loss. I’m fighting for my family and to protect the legacy of my last name. I try and take advantage of being my father’s son and accept everything that goes with that. I don’t try to put pressure on myself but, of course, I want to be the best Antonio Tarver Jr. I can be.
“People are always going to compare me with my father but we fight in different weight classes. Light heavyweights, other than Roy Jones Jr., are slower than junior middleweights, who are much quicker like Floyd Mayweather, Jr. I’m always going to be fighting opponents taller than me, or sometimes the same height, but I’m 5′ 9″ and a lot of my opponents are going to be 6′ 2” or so.
The father has another important lesson he’s teaching his son. “Antonio became a father for the first time last September and he was slow getting back in the gym,” Antonio Sr. added. “He has to learn how to balance fatherhood with his pro boxing career, making sacrifices to become a champion!”