Tarver and Johnson: Did we know?

03.12.04 - By Coach Tim - Does the light heavyweight division seem uninspiring these days? We are on the verge of watching the two defeaters of Roy go head to head on December 18th and no one seems to notice. Or is it no one seems to care? Does anyone know that Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson have done what we wish other boxers would do? Forego there mandatory defenses in search of greater competition. On paper that is what it seems these two legitimate champions did but in reality it might not be so black and white.

Tarver knocked out Roy Jones in two rounds, Johnson knocked him out in nine rounds, and then these two champions sat their titles on the back burner, ignored their sanctioning bodies suggested mandatory defenses and collectively screamed “Let’s get it on!” Shouldn’t the boxing public be on the edge of their seats in anticipation of this fight? Wouldn’t we love to see Vitali Klitschko receive an exemption from boxing politics and be allowed to man handle Ruiz, Brewster or Byrd? Wouldn’t we love to see Joe Calzaghe take on Jeff Lacy? Seeing Bernard Hopkins take on Jermaine Taylor would be great. I wait for the day when Tszyu, Mayweather, Hatton and Cotto’s names are dropped into a hat and randomly matched. That sounds like the olden days when the best fighters took on the best.

Johnson, who is the epitome of persistence, has a great attitude for the sport. Tarver with his almost WWF-like persona has the ability to make you love him and hate him. With each boxer so well defined in their good guy and bad guy roles why is this fight not being hyped to heavens?
The answer to that question is written in the record of Roy Jones Jr.
When Tarver defeated Jones the boxing public was in awe. In Tarver we had found a man with enough tenacity and skill and heart to not only step into the ring with Roy but ultimately walk out with his hands raised in victory. Then four months later Jones took on the lesser known Johnson and we witnessed the second KO of Jones. This is where things got sticky because Johnson was viewed as a tough setup fight for Jones/Tarver III. The Jones knockout was bad but the way the KO came was worse. In his prime against the best the division had to offer Jones rarely lost a round. Johnson repeatedly beat Jones to the punch and was convincingly winning the fight on the score cards. This from a guy who went 12 rounds twice with Clinton Woods to win the IBF title.

In an awkward way the Johnson win over Jones devalued the Tarver win. Water cooler talk became debates over whether Tarver beat an old Jones and in the time it takes to retract a jab Tarver’s win became a win over a deteriorated fighter. This of course led to questions of the legitimacy of Tarver as the light heavyweight king. Enter Paul Briggs. Briggs was slated as the WBC mandatory defense for Tarver after defeating Stipe Drews and Jesus Ruiz in eliminator bouts. Tarver, who is openly in a financial slump, opted out of the WBC belt rather than take on Briggs who is 7 years his junior. By all accounts Tarver is making similar money for fighting Johnson as he would have made for fighting Briggs so the relinquishing of the belt appears to be something more than a financial decision.

For Johnson it is all financial. Johnson is probably very close to retirement and won’t make nearly as much for fighting anyone else as he will for fighting Tarver. After a career of lows and highs, who is to say that Johnson doesn’t deserve a decent payday?

Maybe we should recognize that what Tarver and Johnson are attempting to do may not be historic but at least they are following their instincts. They are at least trying to give fans what they think fans want. It is possible that taking on their mandatory defenses might have been tougher but probably would not have been seen outside the mainstream boxing fan.

Article posted on 03.12.2004

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