Repacking Tarver/Johnson Wouldn’t Make it any Better

23.12.04 - By Coach Tim - If you had the opportunity to tune into HBO’s Antonio Tarver vs. Glencoffe Johnson bout Saturday night then you witnessed history unfold. The story line was dramatic theatre even at office water coolers. The premise, a mega fight showdown between the light heavyweight champions of the WBC and IBF. More specifically those who had beat Roy Jones. The villains, sanctioning bodies suppressing this face-off in lieu of their mandatory challengers. The hero, both champions renouncing their thrones to get it on and it would all be shown on regularly subscribed HBO.

Unfortunately for many boxing fans this brush with history surmounted to a demonstration in the ordinary rather than the benchmark of things to come. The bout was billed as “The Quest for the Best.” Given their uninspiring performances it may have been more appropriately titled “The Quest of the REST.”

In this twelve round campaign Glen Johnson ultimately defeated Antonio Tarver by a split decision and was clearly more appreciated by the crowd. As scores were read in favor of Tarver a wispy chorus of boos filled the arena. In contrast Johnson’s performance and results were met with much more enthusiasm. Still it was a typical Johnson fight. Ring pressure that was unequaled by his competition coupled with continual punching in a northerly direction. The relentless style of Johnson reduced Tarver to a backpedaling part-time counter puncher whose every solid connection begged for two or three in return. Still the fight never fully grabbed our attention.

Maybe expectations were just too high. After all Tarver and Johnson had toppled the light heavyweight king and those singular acts earned them light heavyweight praise and ushered them into spot light roles that neither had ever experienced. To the boxing industry crowning Johnson and Tarver as the world’s two best light heavyweights was necessary yet unrealistic. History shows that the light heavyweight division needs a star and without one the division falls into pugilistic purgatory.

Tarver, once he was given a stage to premier his talent, acclimated to a position in the boxing consortium by asking the question that resonated thru the boxing world, “What excuses do you have tonight Roy?” When faced with the spot light he earned on his own and outside the boxing ring Tarver resorted to antics. He proclaimed himself the best and openly stated that he was the breath of fresh air that boxing needed. The public’s initial interest in Tarver was fervent but that slowly deteriorated into contempt as many fans became weary of him for manipulating the system in a similar manner by which he criticized other boxers. A lot of talking and very little boxing. Since beating Jones in May 2004 Tarver had the WBC jumping through hoops with eliminator bouts and then at the last minute opted out of WBC belt and a mandatory defense against very tough Paul Briggs to take on Johnson who some had deemed a journeyman fighter.

If Tarver’s question was the most resounding of 2004 then Johnson’s post fight comment after knocking out Roy Jones must have been of equal value. When asked if he was the best light heavyweight in the world Johnson modestly stated, “I’m not the best I’m just willing to fight the best.” Whether he knew it or not that statement painted him as a good guy. His willing to fight demeanor and Saturday night performance is certain to up his pay scale by at least a half million to a million as well. Still the fight wasn’t great. It won’t go down as fight of the year or be mentioned as one of the greatest ring battles of all time. It was a blue collar performance where one boxer imposes his will on the other only by the slightest of margins. Two judges had the bout 7-5 for Johnson while the other had the bout 8-4 Tarver.

Already some banter of Tarver/Johnson II is beginning to stir up in boxing circles but the fight wasn’t good enough to warrant sitting thru a part two. Unlike the battles of Ward/Gatti or Barrera/Morales or PacQuiao/Marquez that begged for a sequel there doesn’t seem to be any reason to do this one again. Without discrediting Tarver or Johnson or their accomplishments we have seen their best and it isn’t great it’s good. They are good boxers who rose to the occasion in defeating Jones similarly to how many of Ali’s competitors put on their best show against him.

I wish both boxers well but would hope that we aren’t served this particular bout again. The bout never lived up to the real life drama that surrounded it and simply renaming it and repackaging it won’t be enough to make it great. A part two will be only left-overs from an otherwise mediocre meal. Move on fellas.

Article posted on 23.12.2004

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