Monday, December 15, 2014

Is Tarver In The Hunt?

There is no doubt that one of the most interesting storylines in the current landscape of the Heavyweight division is unified IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO Heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko’s march towards Boxing history. A consistent topic of discussion following a Klitschko title defense over the years has been who may come along that can provide a legitimate challenge to the champion. This topic did include Wladimir’s brother Vitali for several years as the two brothers ruled over the Heavyweight division with two iron fists. With Vitali now retired, the discussion has centered on who can provide a legitimate challenge to Wladimir.

This observer has consistently analyzed who may be considered a future opponent for Wladimir as he has continued to compile successful title defenses. Some readers may recall following Wladimir’s fifth round knockout win over top contender Kubrat Pulev last month that I stated that I only saw two realistic options for Klitschko as 2015 approaches as potential opponents. Those were to face the winner of the recent rematch between top contenders Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora, or to face the winner of the upcoming WBC championship fight between champion Bermane Stiverne and top contender Deontay Wilder. Readers may also recall statements I made following Tyson Fury’s victory over Dereck Chisora in their rematch in stating my opinion that Fury as the only fighter currently who has a mandatory title shot to challenge Klitschko, earning the number one ranking in the WBO Heavyweight ratings with his victory over Chisora should be next for Klitschko.

Although my opinion has not changed, another fighter may have emerged as a potential Klitschko opponent. Former two-division world champion Antonio Tarver. Tarver, the multi-time Light-Heavyweight champion, who went on to briefly hold a world title in the Cruiserweight division has been in the midst of a comeback as a Heavyweight.

Tarver returned to the ring in November of last year after testing positive for a banned substance following his IBO Cruiserweight title defense against Lateef Kayode in June 2012 to score a fourth round knockout of veteran Mike Sheppared. Tarver’s comeback however, was briefly put on hold as he suffered an injury to his left thumb while in training for his scheduled September bout with Heavyweight contender and Wladimir Klitschko trainer Johnathon Banks. The injury, which caused the temporary cancellation of the fight would result in it being eventually is scheduled for December 11th in Temecula, California.

The primary question that I had in my mind when the forty-six year old Tarver entered the ring to face Banks was whether ring rust would be a factor. Most would say of course that a necessity for a fighter as they begin a comeback would be for that fighter to stay as active as possible. This would be especially crucial for a fighter who is forty-six years old. Ring rust however, would not be a factor as the fight was fought at a tactical pace, which frankly at times resembled a sparring session. What did stand out was Tarver’s ability to be effective with his offense. Neither fighter threw many punches at one time for much of this fight, but Tarver was able to be more effective when he did let his hands go, particularly when he was able to counter Banks’ offense with his left hook. Tarver was also able to control the tempo of this fight.

Tarver would bring an end to the fight in round seven when he dropped Banks with a combination. Banks to his credit did get up from the knockdown, but could not fend off Tarver’s follow-up barrage which resulted in the fight being stopped by Referee Jack Reiss. Although this fight did not ultimately provide much of a test for Tarver in his first fight following a year layoff, Tarver’s timing and accuracy throughout this fight was impressive and it did serve the purpose of resuming his comeback.

It will be interesting however, to see where Tarver goes from here. Although Tarver is rated number ten in the world in the current WBA Heavyweight ratings, much of the division is in limbo as 2015 nears. It is unclear as of this writing as to who Wladimir Klitschko might face next. Although this observer believes that Klitschko should face Tyson Fury next, contenders such as Bryant Jennings, Vyacheslav Glazkov, and former WBO Heavyweight world champion Shannon Briggs might all be considered options for Klitschko.

One might argue that Tarver may enter the realm of discussion of potential Klitschko opponents per not only his stoppage win over Klitschko’s trainer Johnathon Banks, but also due to the name recognition that Tarver has. It is a possibility that Tarver could receive title shot per his name recognition value and the intriguing storyline of him trying to win a world title in the Heavyweight division at forty-six years old in attempting to surpass George Foreman as the oldest fighter in the division’s history to win a world title.

Although one should not dismiss the possibility of Tarver getting an opportunity against Klitschko at some point, this observer believes that it is of more importance that Tarver remain active while attempting to secure a fight with Klitschko. One has to remember that Tarver is forty-six years old and I believe that if he remains active and is able to fight more frequently that it will keep his name out there and if he continues to win, the idea of him facing Klitschko may become more relevant.

There are certainly fighters in the Heavyweight division who are looking to accomplish the same thing that Tarver is by looking to secure an opportunity to fight Wladimir Klitschko and would likely welcome an opportunity to face Tarver due to his name recognition value and look at a fight with him as a potential vehicle to springboard themselves into a potential title fight. Fighters such as David Price, Lucas Browne, Alexander Povetkin, and Vyacheslav Glazkov, just to name a few could each provide an interesting fight stylistically for Tarver.  If Tarver were to be successful against either of these fighters it would obviously elevate him in the Heavyweight rankings.

Wladimir Klitschko has for the moment fulfilled his mandatory title defense obligations in each of the sanctioning bodies, whose titles Klitschko currently holds. Some may believe that Klitschko wants to avenge his trainer’s defeat at the hands of Tarver. This observer does not think that a fight between Klitschko and Tarver will happen in the near future. If Tarver does remain active and continues to win however, and Klitschko remains at the top of the Heavyweight division it does have the makings of what would be an interesting fight. It remains to be seen if Tarver can still become a top contender.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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