Tarver visits Woods to gain back respect

Apr 8, 2008 7:00 PM

Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz | In this, the second of two exciting installments on the April 12 dueling double-headers on subscription cable TV, we look in on the light-heavyweight division, which suddenly has become very active.

It is not like the Golden Age when every Tom, Dick and Muhammad (Matthew Saad and Eddie Mustafa) seemed to be thrilling us on weekend network TV. However, the 175-pounders are represented in good stead on the April 19 Showtime card.

Bernard Hopkins, the division’s titular leader, faces the longtime ruler of the 168-pound supermiddleweights, unbeaten Joe Calzaghe. Also featured is former heavyweight titleholder Chris Byrd.

Last week, we discussed the HBO welterweight doubleheader from Atlantic City. Miguel Cotto being worthy of even laying 10-1 against a "Contenders" alumnus, Alfonso Gomez. And, a risky 5-2 favorite Antonio Margarito meets a man he already defeated but who may have matured, Kermit Cintron.

We expressed our preference to wait for the "live underdogs" in the light-heavy doubleheader from Tampa on Showtime. We’re not as dumb as we look.

There really is not an "underdog" in one matchup, Antonio Tarver, age 39, used to be the division’s real ruler. He’ll face 35-year-old Clifton Woods of England. This is a pick’em fight and the very closeness of the odds demonstrates the diminished respect for Tarver. Antonio was the first man to beat Roy Jones Jr. and has a 2-1 edge on the once top pound-for-pound fighter.

The tall southpaw, who stunned Jones with a second-round knockout back four years ago, saved his best recent performance for the final (we hope) "Rocky" movie with Sylvester Stallone. He can only "play" champion these days. Hopkins, who had come out of retirement at age 42, completely mastered Tarver in taking the light-heavy title two years ago.

Tarver looked like a shot fighter last year in gaining a majority decision over the very ordinary Elvir Muriqi. He is not worth a bet at any price, but then Woods is no bargain if you have to lay -105 to win 100, especially since he does not have the greatest chin in history.

Woods has been around a long time. He’s 1-1-1 in "title" bouts with another, but more respected veteran, Gentleman Glen Johnson. In 2006, he won a split decision in his native England against the Road Warrior.

The reason I am not enthusiastic about his chances in Tarver’s hometown of Tampa is that the Magic Man’s powerful left hand is still the equalizer. Woods doesn’t have the punch to make this a short fight, which should give the southpaw Tarver 12 rounds to land something definitive.

I am more intrigued by Johnson, who is a rather big dog with a rather big bite against the No. 1 talent in the division, 25-year-old Bad Chad Dawson.

Dawson was a revelation when he burst upon the scene, winning the WBC version of the title from the previously undefeated Tomasz Adamek of Poland with a masterful performance. The unbeaten southpaw showed speed and terrific all-round skills to dominate the tough Pole.

While virtually on cruise control, however, he did trip over an uppercut and was down. In trouble, he showed magnificent resilience to recapture his poise and close the show in style.

Johnson, 39, has beaten a lot better fighters than Adamek in his long and distinguished career. He turned pro in 1993 and won his first 32 contests before being stopped in the 11th round of a middleweight title challenge of Mr. Hopkins in 1997.

He’s had some dry patches since, which is to be expected when you’re not backed by any big promoter and usually wind up fighting in the opponent’s backyard. But he knocked out Jones right after Tarver did, then split a couple of bouts with Antonio.

A lot of undefeated fighters have lost their "0" in the last month or so – Juan Diaz, Andy Lee, Michael Katsidis. Maybe they were overrated, maybe not. For Dawson, this is a step up in quality opposition and I don’t think he is worth laying more than the 3-1 odds I’ve seen quoted. At 5-2 or so on the buy-back, Johnson has to be given a big shot.

Dawson might yet be someone special. He’ll have to be to defeat the Road Warrior.