Antonio Tarver has some obstacles to overcome if he’s going to defeat Steve Cunningham in their heavyweight battle in Newark, New Jersey, on Friday night.
Antonio Tarver will be fighting for the first time in eight months after gaining a seventh-round knockout of Johnathon Banks in December, so he might have to shake off some rust in the early rounds.
The 46-year-old Tarver also is a decade removed from his prime, when he ruled the 175-pound division and won two of three fights against Roy Jones Jr.
And the 39-year-old Cunningham (28-7, 13 KOs) has more experience fighting as a heavyweight, with Friday’s fight being just the fourth time Tarver will have competed at more than 200 pounds.
That said, Tarver believes he’ll be fine as he takes a break from his ringside analyst role on Spike TV to fight on the network (9 p.m. ET/PT).
“We’ll have the customary feel-out round, but after that, we’re going to both draw the line in the dirt,” said Tarver, a 1996 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist. “Can he land the shots that he wants to land on me? Can I land the shot that I want to land on him? We’ll see who wants it the most, and that’s what it’s going to boil down to.”
Tarver (31-6, 22 KOs) is 3-0 with two knockouts as a heavyweight, debuting in the division in October 2010 with a 10-round unanimous decision over Nagy Aguilera. The veteran southpaw also dropped Mike Sheppard three times in a fourth-round stoppage in November 2013 before defeating Banks in his last bout.
“I like my defense, I like my style, I like my craftiness and I like my reflexes. I have great instincts and I’m going to be counterpunching,” Tarver said.
“I’m so sharp, I'll have opportunities and take advantage of every opportunity. I’ll be able to make adjustments on the dime, turn him and walk him into things. I can be standing right in front of the guy and he can’t hit me with a hand full of rice.”
Tarver, nonetheless, said he respects Steve Cunningham, a former 200-pound champion who has fought at heavyweight in his last seven bouts, going 4-3 with one stoppage win.
In April 2013, Cunningham floored the 6-9, 254-pound Tyson Fury in the second round before losing by seventh-round KO. That followed a split-decision loss to Tomasz Adamek in December 2012 in a fight many observers believed Cunningham had won.
“Cunningham has fought everybody tough, but he ain’t beat nobody. He fights and competes, I fight and I win. That’s the difference between us,” Tarver said of Cunningham, who dropped a unanimous decision to unbeaten Vyacheslav Glazkov in March.
“He’ll have to fight the perfect fight, his chin will have to be able to withstand everything I bring. It’s only going to take one mistake. If I hit him and hurt him with the left hand, I’m going to finish him. It’s over. Ballgame.”
For complete coverage of Tarver vs Cunningham, visit our fight page.