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Tarver-Johnson: Not quite Ali-Frazier

Dec 14, 2004 7:40 AM

"He’s Joe Frazier, and I’m Muhammad Ali."

Antonio Tarver has been known to be a bit effusive, but his upcoming battle against Glencoffe Johnson could resemble Ali-Frazier Lite, at least in terms of style.

Johnson, who has spent his late-blooming career (he didn’t start boxing until age 20) traveling to rivals’ home towns, or countries, and often being robbed of decisions, has never been identified as "Smokin’ Glencoffe." He doesn’t punch hard even for a light- heavyweight, since he is really a blown-up middleweight.

Johnson does come off a ninth-round knockout of Roy Jones Jr. and that puts him in the same league (at least temporarily) with Tarver, who accomplished the now pedestrian feat first. Tarver’s one-punch second-round stoppage of boxing’s pound-for-pound best in May could have softened Jones for the journeyman Johnson.

"Roy looked like a shell to me," said Tarver in the buildup to the Dec. 18 bout at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Perhaps, but Johnson’s knockout was more impressive than Tarver’s in that it was a methodical, steady beating. He got on Jones’s chest and stayed there. His work rate is reflective of his ethic.

Even after finally winning a major title this year against Clinton Woods, in England, of course, he kept his daytime job in construction. The man is a builder. Now at 37, he finally took a hiatus from putting up buildings in Miami to concentrate on his boxing career.

The odds are that the boxing won’t last long. Tarver is about a 7-2 favorite and though no less an expert than my longtime New York guru, Johnny Bos, gives Johnson a major chance ("styles make fights," says the fight manager), I believe Tarver will be able to survive a spirited assault. Tarver understands that Johnson will be putting the pressure on him, getting inside the long arms and beating the body.

"We’re going to challenge Barrera-Morales for fight of the year," said Tarver. "He’s a hungry fighter with a lot of pent-up emotion and I’m the sophisticated counter-puncher. He’s Frazier, I’m Ali. I know he’s looking at me, lickin’ his chops like I’m a big steak. But he’s never been hit by a guy like me."

Johnson said he sees "a few loopholes" in Tarver’s game. It’s hard not to like a fellow who said he prefers his nickname of Gentleman Glen to Road Warrior. "Gentleman is more representative of me as a person," he said. "Road Warrior is representative of my career."

That career reached a strange bump after his first defense of the IBF title against Jones. He gave up the belt, the same as Tarver did with his WBC trinket, in order to make this unification bout. In fact, they are unifying the division. However, the alphabets mandated Rico Hoye (for Johnson) and Paul Briggs (for Tarver) as must defenses. Who cares if you’ve never heard of either challenger!

The fact is, HBO is getting what it wants and it doesn’t take a genius, or Ring magazine, to realize that this is for the real marbles at light-heavyweight, a division that has little interest right now other than for this matchup.

Tarver has not fought since knocking out Jones in May. He was embroiled in promotional and financial problems, but after Johnson his professional troubles may be just beginning. He’s 35 and while hardly abused in his very sporadic career, is anxious for big-money fights.

There’s no way Bernard Hopkins would move up to fight him. After Johnson there’s no one else at 175, so undoubtedly he’ll have to move up to heavyweight (cruiserweight is pointless). He failed to strike when the iron was hot.

Tarver thinks it won’t matter who he fights, that from now on, "I’m an A fighter." That’s what Sugar Shane Mosley thought, too, after first beating Oscar de la Hoya. But beating The Man doesn’t make you The Man. It won’t happen.

HBO wants to use him as fodder for its heavyweight champion, Vitali Klitschko, rather than have to deal with Don King and his three heavyweight champions. Tarver against Klitschko could be held in a slaughter house.

Say this for Antonio. He’s as good as it gets to interview in the game. He knows his fight with Johnson will be the lone live action HBO will telecast Dec. 18. The rest of the show will be the replay of the pay-per-view Klitschko-Danny Williams bout.

"It’s going to look like they’re on my undercard," said Tarver.

It certainly won’t look like Ali-Frazier and in this one I like "Ali." Tarver is too quick and, unlike his role model, he’s the heavy puncher in this matchup. rior is representative of my career."

That career reached a strange bump after his first defense of the IBF title against Jones. He gave up the belt, the same as Tarver did with his WBC trinket, in order to make this unification bout. In fact, they are unifying the division. However, the alphabets mandated Rico Hoye (for Johnson) and Paul Briggs (for Tarver) as must defenses. Who cares if you’ve never heard of either challenger!

The fact is, HBO is getting what it wants and it doesn’t take a genius, or Ring magazine, to realize that this is for the real marbles at light-heavyweight, a division that has little interest right now other than for this matchup.

Tarver has not fought since knocking out Jones in May. He was embroiled in promotional and financial problems, but after Johnson his professional troubles may be just beginning. He’s 35 and while hardly abused in his very sporadic career, is anxious

for big-money fights.

There’s no way Bernard Hopkins would move up to fight him. After Johnson there’s no one else at 175, so undoubtedly he’ll have to move up to heavyweight (cruiserweight is pointless). He failed to strike when the iron was hot.

"I had to clean up some messes I had," said Tarver.

Some of it was back taxes.

"But Uncle Sam, we can invite him to the table now," he said.

Tarver thinks it won’t matter who he fights, that from now on, "I’m an A fighter." That’s what Sugar Shane Mosley thought, too, after first beating Oscar de la Hoya. But beating The Man doesn’t make you The Man. It won’t happen. HBO wants to use him as fodder for its heavyweight champion, Vitali Klitschko, rather than have to deal with Don King and his three heavyweight champions. Tarver against Klitschko could be held in a slaughter house.

Say this for Antonio. He’s as good as it gets to interview in the game. He knows his fight with Johnson will be the lone live action HBO will telecast Dec. 18. The rest of the show will be the replay of the pay-per-view Klitschko-Danny Williams bout.

"It’s going to look like they’re on my undercard," said Tarver.

It certainly won’t look like Ali-Frazier and in this one I like "Ali." Tarver is too quick and, unlike his role model, he’s the heavy puncher in this matchup.