Two very experienced but undersized heavyweights face off this Friday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, as former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver meets former cruiserweight champ Steve Cunningham.
Both of these guys rate close to the top 10 in the heavyweight division, though the age and small stature of each makes them unlikely future champions. Nevertheless, this should be a very good fight between two extremely skilled boxers.
An Olympic bronze medalist in 1996, Tarver is most well known as the man who brought Roy Jones Jr.’s long reign of dominance to a crashing halt, as he knocked the former pound-for-pound king out in May 2004, in one of this century’s most memorable stoppages. Jones had beat Tarver by majority decision the previous November, in a widely contested decision. Tarver won a rubbermatch against Jones in October 2005.
In between his second and third fights with Jones, Tarver split in two fights with Glen Johnson. Following his third fight with Jones, he lost to Bernard Hopkins in June 2006.
Jones won the IBF light heavyweight title by defeating Clinton Woods in April 2008, but lost it to Chad Dawson in his first defense. In a rematch with Dawson, he again came up short.
Tarver looked terrific against cruiserweight contender Lateef Kayode in June 2012, although the fight was ruled a draw and later turned to a No Contest when Tarver tested positive for a banned substance. He re-emerged as surprise heavyweight hopeful last December, when he knocked out the crafty Johnathon Banks less than a month after turning 46.
Cunningham was one of the top cruiserweights of the first decade of this century. He lost a split decision to Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in November 2006, then avenged it with a majority decision the following May. He stopped tough Marco Huck in Round 12 in December 2007, then lost a split decision to Tomasz Adamek in December 2008.
Cunningham dropped back-to-back fights to Yoan Pablo Hernandez in 2011 and 2012, then moved up to heavyweight. As a heavyweight, he has continued to be a top talent, though he has suffered some poor luck. I thought he deserved to win his heavyweight rematch with Adamek in December 2012, but only one of the judges agreed with me.
He put Tyson Fury, who faces Wladimir Klitschko this October, flat on his back in April 2013, but the gigantic Fury came back and used his tremendous size advantage to eventually over-power Cunningham, knocking him out in Round 7.
Cunningham came out on the winning side of one of 2014’s best fights when he survived Amir Mansour in April of that year. Last March, Cunningham was flat-out robbed when he dropped a unanimous decision to the top-10 rated Vyacheslav Glazkov.
At 39, Cunningham is the young man in this matchup, an advantage he won’t enjoy often at this point in his career. Both Tarver and Cunningham have the name recognition to garner a bigger fight with a win in this one.