Each of the eight boxers who comprise the excellent HBO and Showtime double-headers have something big to prove. Miguel Cotto wants to prove his continual worthiness for a career-defining match with the sport’s pound-for-pound best, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Antonio Tarver wants to prove that, contrary to the beliefs of everyone but himself and his inner circle, he is the best light heavyweight alive, deserving of his seemingly absurd contract demands. Antonio Margarito wants to prove, by matching then surpassing his career-best win over Kermit Cintron, that he is the elite welterweight that everyone once believed he was but that has been somewhat in doubt of late. Chad Dawson wants to prove that he’s the heir apparent at light heavyweight. Clinton Woods wants to prove that the Woods who got smacked around by Roy Jones, Jr. in 2002 is a better fighter now, deserving of a rematch or a fight with fellow wildly popular Brit Joe Calzaghe. Alfonso Gomez wants to prove once and for all that being on the reality boxing TV show “The Contender” doesn’t disqualify him from being considered a truly good, indisputably good fighter. And Cintron wants to prove that the boxer who was reduced to tears by his beatdown at the hands of Margarito has improved drastically.
We visited with the four boxers who are on HBO’s double-header here. Now, let’s visit with the four scheduled to rumble on Showtime.
TARVER – WOODS
Pre-“Rocky Balboa,” Tarver was among the pound-for-pound elite of the sport. Then he swelled up reportedly as high as 230 pounds for the movie role, far from his 175 lbs. comfort zone, and he hasn’t looked the same since. There’s an irony in this, of course. Tarver’s finest moment came in his KO of Jones in 2002, who’d spent some time coming down from heavyweight himself, and had, after Tarver-Jones I, complained that his sluggish performance was a result of that. During the face-off for Tarver-Jones II, when asked by the referee if they had any questions, Tarver issued his famous, fantastic line: “Got any excuses tonight, Roy?” Tarver’s been nothing but excuses himself of late. In the 2006 Bernard Hopkins loss, Tarver alleges he was poisoned. Quite dubious, that. More likely, he suffered from what Jones suffered from, the transformation from a hulk to a sleeker model.
I think that’s the question of the night: Has Tarver recovered from his sluggish performances of late? It’s not out of the question. Jones himself is a diminished force compared to the time when he ruled all, but a few years after the fact, it looks like he’s rebounded physically and is a quality contender. But it’s not easy to do at 39, as Jones has and as Tarver aspires. Jones is an athletic freak, too, so that helps.
Because really, Tarver at his best is the better fighter. Sure, Tarver’s basic — wait, one-two counter — but Woods is, too, and he doesn’t have the same physical tools Tarver was born with. He’s essentially a nice right hand, mixed with desire, and he’s a little younger. It’s been enough to get him over some steep hurdles since Jones blasted him away. Coming away 1-1-1 in three fights with Glen Johnson, as Woods did, ain’t easy. Tarver went 1-1, then didn’t want anymore. Certainly, Woods has matured as a boxer, and he’s a fan-friendly, tough boxer who is a legitimately good light heavyweight titlist. It’s just that most everyone thinks Tarver is the better overall combatant.
As for me?
My prediction: Woods by close decision. Tarver showed glimmers of life in his last fight, but only after he realized he was in against a complete no-hoper and could knock him out. Elvir Muriqi before that gave Tarver all kinds of hell. Woods can do what Muriqi did, only better — outwork Tarver. Even when Tarver goes into his little turtle shell with his hands held high against his head, he’ll be the aggressor.
Confidence: Not so high, 52%. I haven’t seen as much of Woods as I would have liked to, and the fact that the fight’s in Tarver’s backyard in Florida bodes ill for judges favoring Woods. Tarver might be able to rock Woods, as Johnson did, should Woods charge in recklessly, but I doubt he’ll knock him out. No, I see this one going to the scorecards.
My allegiance: Tarver is perhaps boxing’s most grating personality, and that’s saying a lot. He gets booed in his home state, even. I’ll root for Woods, as I would for anyone going up against Tarver.
JOHNSON – DAWSON
It’s not that I think Tarver-Woods won’t be a good fight — it has a decent chance, despite Tarver stinking out the joint lately, because Woods will almost certainly bring the aggression — but if you ask me, Johnson-Dawson is the second-best fight of the night, behind HBO’s Margarito-Cintron II.
For one, I can’t lie, Dawson’s my kind of fighter. He’s speedy, skilled and hits hard enough to pose a knockout threat. He’s just coming into his prime, having won his belt against the dangerous Tomasz Adamek last year and since has been sidelined with soft match-ups because his mandatory challenger, Adrian Dioconu, fell through with an injury. Johnson’s not my kind of fighter, but I like him anyway. Anyone who has 9 losses on his ledger then knocks out Jones and then beats Tarver after a lifetime of barely losing close decisions on foreign soil that most people think he didn’t deserve to lose… well, what’s not to like? That’s one gritty bastard. He’s up to 11 losses these days, at age 39, but even those last two were close. He’s a deceptively good boxer, he’s a strong puncher and he’s relentless in the ring.
Nobody in the light heavyweight division wanted either of these guys. Dawson’s too good, too young. Johnson’s too tough. That they’re fighting each other is a credit to their guts, even if it was their only way to score a big fight.
I think Dawson’s going to get severely tested. But if he wants a blueprint on how he can beat Johnson, he could look to Tarver’s hunt-and-peck, stick-and-move kind of approach in their rematch. It was unappealing to fans, so I hope Dawson stands and trades a little more. It won’t do Dawson any favors to win that via keep-away, as feared junior lightweight (130 lbs.) Joan Guzman discovered last year in his own battle-of-the-most-avoided against Humberto Soto. If Dawson wants one of the bigger light heavyweight fish, he needs to be fan-friendly so that demand builds.
My prediction: Dawson by fairly close decision. Alas, I suspect he’ll play a lot of keep-away with Johnson. It’s what is most likely to work.
Confidence: 65%. Johnson could clock Dawson, though. Adamek decked him, but Dawson, as he has before when down, recovered. By the point Johnson wears Dawson down enough for that, Dawson should be ahead on the scorecards, I expect.
My allegiance: I’ll be happy for either fighter, whoever wins, but I gotta stick with Dawson.