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Spike TV will televise a heavyweight showdown between Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver (31-6, 22 KOs) and Steve “USS” Cunningham (28-7, 13 KOs) on Friday night, Aug. 14,  at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Tarver is of course best known for besting Roy Jones Jr in two out of three meetings while Cunningham is a former Cruiserweight champion. 

Tarver's stated goal is to become the oldest heavyweight champion of the world in boxing history. At age 46, he no doubt sees that as a doable proposition given the vulnerabilities of Wladimir Klitschko and the newly minted champion, Deontay Wilder.

“I respect Steve Cunningham,” Tarver explained in a Miami press release. “I’m not looking past him, I’m looking through him. If I have to go through Wilder to get Klitschko, so be it. I’m getting that world heavyweight title and when I defeat Klitschko it’ll be the biggest story in sports. But I know that I won’t get my title shot unless I get by Cunningham.

“The ‘Magic Man’ is bringing 1000 tricks in his bag but it’s only going to take one to take him out. I’ve been working hard in training camp and he hasn’t been focused. Steve is a solid durable opponent who has proven himself in the heavyweight division, coming off a close eliminator that many thought he won. I have the test of fighting a guy who you can’t make quit, so you have to knock him out because he’s proven his heart and guts. Steve’s also motivated because he knows what beating me can do for his career.”

In Tarver's defense, he may not be as remembered by history as well as he should. He defeated Jones Jr. twice, split a pair of decisions with Glen Johnson but bested some decent fighters in Montell Griffin, Eric Harding (avenging a loss) and Reggie Johnson. He has lost big fights against Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson (twice). 

He'll be best remembered, however, by that 2004 knockout of Roy Jones Jr that shocked a boxing world that thought Jones Jr was the best pound for pound. 

Tarver revitalized his career with an impressive stoppage of Emanuel Steward protege Johnathon Banks where his technical skills were put on display. 

“I learned the fundamentals of boxing and that’s why I’m still here at 46,” Tarver said. “My whole game is built on deception because, by the looks of it, I’m not supposed to be as fast, as quick and strong, as tough, or hit as hard as I do. So, that makes it hard to prepare for the fighter like me. I am sure Cunningham may have prepared for a physical war but has he prepare for the mental part of our fight? He’ll be fighting in a ring full of mine fields, one wrong step and, Kaboom!”

Tarver's trainer, Orlando Cuellar, has taken over the reigns on the "Magic Man" and has him looking as good as he has in years. 

“We know each other much better now in terms of how much to push him in camp and what to expect from each other,” Cuellar said. “He may be 46 but he’s never been beat up. His ring savvy is off the charts and he’s knowledgeable. Antonio’s a sharp puncher and vicious competitor. He does exactly what I ask of him in the gym. I’ve come to realize that he doesn’t need 160-200 rounds of sparring for a fight. He remembers everything from his fights against so many great fighters, storing information in his mind to use in his fight. He outthinks his opponent. I watched him set things up and put it all together. Antonio is a special fighter, super intelligent, a breeze to work with and most capable in the ring. I’m blessed to be working with him.

“Cunningham is going to come in and apply pressure, but he’s never fought anybody as elusive and intelligent as Antonio, who can catch or slip, block or counter. He has so many tricks up his sleeve. Antonio is going to fight to his speed. Just when Cunningham thinks he has Antonio where he wants him, it’s going to be too late and Antonio is going to knockout Cunningham. Tarver is a much sharper puncher than people think. Like Antonio says, we’re not looking past Cunningham, we’re looking through him.”

I'll pick Tarver in this match-up although I don't think he'll stop Cunningham as impressively as he did Banks...I see this as a distance fight, say 117-111 in points. Cunningham always looks TIGHT to me in the ring, he's heavily muscled but that never translated into punching power for him. Cunningham himself is no rising superstar at the age of 39 and Tarver appears to have more in the tank despite being seven years older. 

 

 

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