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November 21, 2017

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Aged underdog leads in word war

Full of bravado, champ faces skilled, youthful challenger in title bout


Steve Marcus

Light heavyweight boxers Antonio Tarver, 39, left, and Chad Dawson, 26, face off during a news conference this week at the Palms as promoter Gary Shaw looks on.

Antonio Tarver vs. Chad Dawson

Antonio Tarver and Chad Dawson continue their war of words at a prefight press conference prior to their light heavyweight title fight set for Saturday, October 11th at the Palms.

Tarver trains for Dawson

IBF light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, left, of the U.S. hits a medicine ball held by strength trainer Raphael Ruiz during a work out at the Mayweather Boxing Club in Las Vegas Tuesday, October 7, 2008. Tarver will defend his title against undefeated former WBC light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson at the Palms on Saturday. Launch slideshow »


Alex and Andy Samuelson break down this weekend's IBF light heavyweight fight between Chad Dawson and Antonio Tarver.

Fight Facts

  • Principals: Antonio Tarver (27-4, 19 KOs) vs. Chad Dawson (26-0, 17 KOs), 12 scheduled rounds
  • At stake: Tarver’s IBF light heavyweight world championship
  • Time/site: Saturday at the Pearl at the Palms; doors open 3 p.m., first undercard bout 4:15 p.m.
  • Tickets: $153 to $753; or the Pearl box office
  • TV: Showtime (Cox cable channel 240)
  • Betting line: Dawson minus 260; over 11 1/2 rounds minus 240

1. Holding on tight

The story line of the fight frames it as a clash between an unbeaten up-and-comer in Dawson and an established yet aging world champ in Tarver. While delivering his usual prodigious amounts of prefight trash talk, Tarver seems to be taking well to his lion-in-winter role, dispensing bile and bravado and acting as if he’s virtually invincible rather than a decided underdog. “He’s never faced a fighter that has all of the tools that I possess,” Tarver, 39, said of Dawson. “I’m not a one-dimensional brawler. I can do that, but I have so many other facets to my game: boxing ability, punching ability, defense, ring generalship. He’s facing a fighter who has perfected the craft of boxing.”

2. Life lessons

Four years ago Tarver sent an electrical charge through the sport of boxing with one punch, a devastating left-cross haymaker that knocked out Roy Jones Jr. in the second round of a unification light heavyweight world title bout at Mandalay Bay. Tarver’s career has slid, however, since Bernard Hopkins manhandled him in a 2006 fight in Atlantic City. The loss by 12-round unanimous decision was a hard lesson but a valuable one for Tarver. “When I lost to Hopkins, I took it upon myself to do a soul search,” said Tarver, of Tampa, Fla. “I asked myself what I really want to get out of this game. How do I want to be remembered? I am more of a professional today. I come to every fight in tremendous shape now. I’m conditioned to go 12 hard rounds now. Whatever (Dawson) brings to the table, we’re going to be ready for.”

3. Strategic planning

Most fighters are loath to discuss their game plan in any detail before a bout, though Tarver had no problem laying out in some detail how he sees this one unfolding. He stopped just short of a flat-out prediction of a knockout victory, but he came pretty close: “He’ll come out fast, throwing everything he can,” Tarver said. “And then he’ll lose his head. He’ll make a mistake and I’ll capitalize. It’s gonna be over in a flash. It’ll be competitive as long as he’s standing, for as long as that lasts. But it will end suddenly and abruptly.”

4. Clear and sincere

The buildup to the fight has been marked by more hostility than any promotion in recent memory, with the fighters first quarreling on a heated media conference call and then reprising their argumentative roles at a news conference Wednesday at the Palms. It would seem natural to point the finger at Tarver, a notorious hothead, for goading Dawson into playing his game. But the younger, heretofore more soft-spoken man insisted he’s comfortable mixing it up verbally as well as in the ring. “There’s nothing staged about me,” said Dawson, 26. “There’s nothing staged about my career. He can talk all he wants. You can win the talk game but you can’t win a fistfight (by talking) and he knows that.”

5. Eddie in his head

Dawson, who has displayed superb hand speed and precision punching in compiling his flawless record as a pro, beat Tomasz Adamek in 2007 and Glen Johnson in April in his two biggest bouts. He won the WBC light heavyweight title against Adamek and defended it three times before relinquishing it to secure the showdown with Tarver. Dawson prepared for the bout in Las Vegas under the guidance of trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, himself a former light heavyweight world champ. “It’s good to have a trainer who’s been there, done that,” said Dawson, of New Haven, Conn. “He can tell me what’s going on inside my opponent’s head before the fight even happens. He’s saying the same thing I’m saying about Tarver: Tarver’s scared. He knows he’s in for the fight of his life.”

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