Light Heavyweights Collide in Tampa

By Francis Walker
Updated: April 10, 2008

GlovesNEW YORK — Chad Dawson, Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson, and Clinton Woods are four of the most talented light heavyweights in the world. All four men will be featured in a Showtime Championship Boxing doubleheader (9 pm ET) on Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tarver’s hometown of Tampa, Florida.

Tarver (26-4, 19 KOs) will challenge Woods (41-3-1, 24 KOs) for his IBF light heavyweight title in the main event. Dawson (25-0, 17 KOs), making the third defense of the WBC 175-pound title in the toughest fight of his career with Johnson (47-11-2, 32 KOs) in the co-feature.

“I’m passionate about this fight,” Tarver said during a recent conference call that also featured Woods, Dawson, and Johnson. “I’m excited. It’s in my hometown. This man is coming all the way from England to take something that is rightfully mine.”

Aside from Bernard Hopkins, Tarver is perhaps the biggest name in the light heavyweight division today and he believes that everyone is gunning for him.

“I know Chad Dawson and Glen Johnson are fighting for the opportunity to dance with the man,” Tarver said referring to himself. “But Clinton Woods has a chance right now today to shut it all down and move on to be a superstar in England.”

“Let the fireworks begin on the 12th, baby. I’m ready to put this whole light heavyweight division on a whole different perspective.”

Tarver’s resume is impressive. Tarver owns two victories in three fights against Roy Jones, Jr. — including a one-punch second round KO in April 2004.

Tarver also has wins in rematches against Glen Johnson (W 12) and Eric Harding (TKO 5), twice floored Montell Griffin (W 12) in an exciting light heavyweight title fight in 2003 and beat former IBF light heavyweight champion Reggie Johnson (W 12) despite a lopsided decision loss to Hopkins (L 12) in 2006.

Tarver has won his last two fights since the loss to Hopkins, but looked vulnerable in a majority decision win over Elvir Muriqi and looked lethargic before finally stopping Danny Santiago (TKO 4) in has last bout in December.

At age 39, Tarver doesn’t appear to be a fighter that will turn 40 in November. Tarver’s longevity in boxing is remarkable, considering he started his professional career in hi late 20s. Tarver credits his longevity in boxing toward doing what he’s supposed to do.

“It’s all about living well, being happy and having people that truly love you around you,” Tarver said. “That adds years to your life. With this boxing game, I started late. I didn’t turn pro until I was 27. So I’m still young.”

Tarver added: “I don’t even have over 30 fights. Every opponent I face has 40 or 50 fights. I just took the right fights. I didn’t have 25 fights just to get my record built up. I went out there and fought the best. When I was 11-0, I was fighting main event type fights. I was fighting tough fights. Every fight was meaningful.”

Woods has arrived

Woods has come a long way since his sixth round TKO loss to Jones, Jr. more than five years ago. The 35 year-old from Sheffield, England fought Glen Johnson three times for the IBF light heavyweight title.

The score is currently 1-1-1 with Woods beating Johnson on points in September 2006. Woods has also beaten Julio Cesar Gonzalez twice, and has made four successful defenses of the IBF 175-pound title in a three-year reign.

Woods will not have the support of his Yorkshire backers, as 44 of his 45 professional contests have occurred in the United Kingdom.

“People keep talking about why I’ve always fought in England,” Woods said. “The reason I fought in England is because the purses.”

The one time Woods left the United Kingdom for a fight was back in September 2002 when he challenged Jones for the undisputed word light heavyweight championship. Woods proved to be tough, but could not handle Jones’ speed and ate too many straight shots.

“When I fought Jones, I was not doing the proper training,” Woods remarked. “I wasn’t eating the proper food. I just trained for that fight.”

But now I’ve got people around me. I have a nutritionist, which I never had before. They’re guarding my food and guarding my weight. That has made me into a stronger, fitter fighter. Right now I’ve got a proper team around me. I’ve got proper people to look after me.

Woods will be returning to the U.S. as a world champion, but he will be fighting Tarver in his hometown of Tampa. Tarver will definitely have the hometown advantage; something that Woods has been accustomed to during his whole career in England. Woods, however, says that he isn’t worried if the fight reaches the twelve round limit.

Remember, although Tarver suffered a broken jaw in is first bout with Eric Harding, he has never been stopped.

“I’m just going to go in there with no doubts in mind,” Woods added. “I’m going to go in there want to win the fight. You’ll make up your own mind I just feel as though there will be no way that you can give it to Antonio, so I’m not worried about it.”

“I’m just confident I’ll win the fight. I predict I’ll win it.”

Chad Dawson’s the real deal

Since winning the WBC 175-pound title from previously unbeaten Tomasz Ademek, the young 25 year-old from New Haven, Ct. has called out Hopkins, Tarver, and any other fighter in the light heavyweight division. Dawson, who walks around at 172 is even willing to move down a weight class to 168 pounds for a title fight as a super middleweight.

Hopkins has repeatedly asked: “what does a fight against a Chad Dawson do for the legacy of Bernard Hopkins?” Hopkins refuses to fight Dawson, who is 18 years younger, slightly taller, faster, and perhaps just as strong as “B-Hop.”

Tarver has apparently showed no interest in a fight with Dawson. Showtime has featured both Tarver and Dawson in separate fights on similar telecasts in 2007 and will be featured together once again on Saturday, but it appears that a Tarver-Dawson light heavyweight fight isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

“I’m just fortunate enough to be a young guy in the Top 10 with these guys” Dawson said. “Antonio Tarver has had a great career. Glen Johnson’s had a great career. Roy Jones Jr., has had a great career. I’m just honored to be mentioned among those names.”

“Come April 12, I’m going to show everybody I’m not just the future of the division, I am the division, and I am the best light heavyweight in the world.”

2007 was a fantastic year for Dawson. He won a world championship and breezed through title challengers Jesus Ruiz (TKO 6) and Epifanio Mendoza (TKO 6).

Dawson would have fought his mandatory in Adrian Diacanu, but he pulled out of the fight after meeting Dawson up close following a press conference about two weeks before the fight.

It appears as through everyone in the light heavyweight division is ducking Dawson except Johnson, a 39 year-old Jamaican, who will be the toughest opponent that Dawson has ever fought in his career at this point.

Johnson’s experience will test Dawson’s youth

Johnson is brining a lot of experience into his fight with Dawson. Johnson has competed in three different weight classes as a middleweight, super middleweight, and light heavyweight.

In addition to the three fights with Woods, Johnson has knocked out Roy Jones, Jr., decisioned Tarver, knocked out Montell Griffin, and has fought Syd Vanderpool and former undefeated 168-pound champion Sven Ottke (now retired).

Johnson has lost 11 times during his 15-year professional career, but has only been stopped once. In 1997, Johnson was stopped in the eleventh round by Hopkins, who was then the IBF middleweight champion. It wasn’t until February 2004 when Johnson won his first world title at age 35.

“For me, when there’s a loss, it takes me a year or so before I get another chance or another [title] shot,” Johnson said. “It’s been an up-and-down road in that sense. But looking back on my whole career, I have my share of disappointments, but I’m pretty pleased. It really makes me who I am as a person and as a fighter.

Dawson will have the advantage in height, speed, and power. However, Johnson is a fundamentally strong fighter and although he is 14 years older than Dawson, he should not be underestimated. If Dawson makes a mistake, that could spell a major opportunity for Johnson to score an upset.

“Everybody thinks Glen Johnson’s going to be stronger, but I don’t know about that,” Dawson said. “I am fully focused for this fight and I’m in the best shape of my career.”