Tarver v Hopkins - Legacy

08.06.06 - By Garry Hunter: Bernard Hopkins will, on Saturday June 10th, attempt to add one last scalp to an already glittering resume. However this name is one Antonio Tarver and although the grizzled Hopkins is in his twelfth year as a world championship fighter this may very well be his toughest fight to date.

Way back in October ‘88 The Executioner started out on a career track that would lead all the way to Canastota, with a loss. In response to this set-back Hopkins lost only once - to a peak Roy Jones - in almost seventeen years. During this staggering run Hopkins won and defended the IBF title a record twenty times. In 2001 he became the first man in fourteen years to unify the middleweight title with a masterful demolition of the previously unbeaten and much fancied Felix Trinidad. These truly are hall of fame statistics. However, save Trinidad and Oscar de la Hoya this reign was set in a middleweight era of mediocrity, even these two fellow hall of famers’ were men who were at their blistering best at welterweight. In Antonio Tarver though, he faces a man who could comfortably fight at cruiserweight, this is a completely different task.

Tarver turned to the paid ranks after winning an Olympic bronze medal in Atlanta 96 and slowly worked his way toward title contention. Then in June 2000 Tarver proceeded to lose a crucial fight with Eric Harding with a dream match with Roy Jones tantalizingly close. However after avenging this loss and defeating Montell Griffin for the vacant IBF and WBC titles the magic man had finally arrived.

In November 2003 Tarver finally stepped into the ring with WBA champion Roy Jones jnr, and after dropping a hotly disputed decision it was apparent to all, Jones was a shadow of his former self. Having to drop 25 pounds to come back down from his heavyweight adventures had taken a terrible toll on Jones’ body, one which Tarver would take full advantage of by destroying Jones with one left hand bomb in the second round of the rematch. Since then Tarver has generally been considered light heavyweight king after splitting a couple of matches with Glen Johnson and confirming his superiority over Jones.

The term “styles makes fights”, is commonly used in and around boxing, and in this case carries some significance. Hopkins is a highly skilled methodical counter-puncher at best, and a hesitant defensively minded fighter at worst. Tarver on the other hand is an awkward gangly southpaw all of the time, and carries legitimate knock-out power in the left hand he uses like a spear. Combine these styles and Corralles v Castillo it is not.

For both combatants here, legacy is what ultimately is being contested, for Tarver a win against such a middleweight legend and consummate professional as Hopkins would confirm his status as the premier light heavyweight of his era. Three time world champion and conqueror of legends Jones and Hopkins along with the Olympic bronze medal will provide an impressive resume. For Hopkins the motivation is the same, a jump in weight of 15 pounds and a victory against a fighter the calibre of Tarver will go some way to relieving the disappointment of losing to Jermaine Taylor, twice. Also, to retire from boxing as the light heavy champion of the world at the age of forty will be an outstanding achievement , and without doubt elevate his status in boxing history. Although this match-up has huge significance in terms of both pugilists’ place in history, the combined age of both boxers is a geriatric 77. Given that this is a pay-per view event in America, it also carries significance in terms of the state of the heavier divisions of boxing. Jeff Lacy’s recent implosion against Joe Calzaghe, left little or no young, exciting fighters competing at world level above 160lbs.

If the fight pans out as expected, I see Tarver quietly dominating the encounter. Using a stiff right jab and booming straight lefts to keep Hopkins at bay, and unless Bernard switches to a more attacking style to get inside the lanky Floridians punches a landslide points victory seems imminent. However as has been witnessed many times in the wonderful history of the noble art, fights of this magnitude rarely fail to surprise in one way or another and at the Boardwalk hall on Saturday night another page will be written.

Article posted on 08.06.2006

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