Ten years after KO'ing Jones Jr, Tarver back at heavyweight vs Banks
By Michael J Jones
This Thursday December 11, in California, a ten-round heavyweight match takes place between former world light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver and Detroit’s Johnathon Banks.
It will be both men’s first bout in over a year and it should prove an intriguing contest between two men who began their careers in lighter weight divisions.
Tarver, now 46-years-old, has averaged just one fight a year since his second title defeat to Chad Dawson five years ago. Always a massive 175lb fighter, the 6’2 southpaw moved up to heavyweight following the Dawson clash but, after out-pointing Nagy Aguilera, dropped back to cruiserweight for an impressive stoppage of tough Aussie Danny Green.
A year later the “Magic Man” would box to a draw with Nigerian prospect Lateef Kayode with the decision later changed to a ‘no decision’ (after a failed post fight drug test by Antonio).
Tarver wouldn’t be seen in the ring again for over a year but popped up for another heavyweight bout in November last year. Opponent Mike Sheppard would fall on three occasions in the fourth round to make Tarver the winner with his first KO in the higher weight division.
Although the former champion is now in his middle 40’s its worth remembering he turned pro late at the age of 28 and has been relatively inactive for the majority of his long career averaging just over two bouts a year in his 17 as a pro.
The southpaw puncher would win his first 16 contests before suffering a points defeat to slippery Eric Harding (later avenged). It would be in 2003, Tarver would make the boxing world sit up when pushing Roy Jones Jr close in their light-heavyweight title fight.
After Jones Jr edged an unconvincing majority decision, he blamed his coming down from heavyweight following his WBA victory over John Ruiz six months earlier for his sluggish performance.
The two would face each other in a rematch to settle the score but Tarver landed a superb left in the second and the prime of Roy Jones Jr was gone forever. It was one of the biggest shocks in boxing history and, unbelievably, over ten long years ago now.
Tarver’s form for the remainder of his light-heavyweight years was patchy; he lost a close decision to Glen Johnson in a unification bout in his next fight after the Jones knock-out but beat him in an immediate return.
He’d then defeat Jones Jr in their rubber match before being drubbed by former middleweight boss Bernard Hopkins to lose his linear championship. In recent years, Tarver has made several attempts to goad Hopkins into a rematch stating that he’d had poor notice and bad preparation for the bout (after appearing in the movie Rocky Balboa).
The charismatic Tampa fighter is currently 30-6 (21) and has said this week he is seeking to become the oldest heavyweight champion in history. The man he faces this Thursday is ironically the trainer to the current world heavyweight ruler.
Since the much-mourned passing of Emanuel Steward a couple of years ago, Johnathon Banks has been (mostly) the main trainer to reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko but his duties as coach appears to have cost something in his own career as a heavyweight contender.
In November 2012, Banks, who turned pro a decade ago as a cruiserweight, scored a blistering early KO of prospect Seth Mitchell to reignite his career. However, a disappointing performance in the rematch seven months later would see him drop a unanimous decision to the same man.
Banks is 29-2-1 (19) and has remained inactive since his last defeat. At 32, he should certainly have youth on his side against Tarver. Banks was just 15 years old when Tarver began his own path in the pro ranks.
Both men have blown hot and cold at various points in their respective careers so it may come down to who brings their A game on the night. The Detroit puncher has a slight advantage in height and reach and should still have the faster, heavier hands.
Both usually weigh around 220lbs so I doubt either will have a significant weight advantage (Tarver weighed 221 for both his heavyweight contests). Banks is the naturally bigger man though after campaigning above 200lbs far longer than his opponent on Thursday.
Tarver is still a crafty fighter though and very fresh for his advanced years. Even twelve years past his best, his right jab and sharp straight left may give the younger man some problems early on. Antonio has always had a very sturdy jaw which is bound to get drilled by Banks who is a decent puncher.
It’s a hard call but one suspects Banks, assuming he has prepared correctly, will take over from the third or fourth and win a unanimous decision over the aging former champion.
Worth noting is that in the last four years, Tarver is just 2-0 (with one no decision) while Banks has been slightly more active at 4-1. The Banks fight will also mark Tarver’s first under new trainer Orlando Cueller.
Interestingly, Banks has had 32 contests compared to Tarver’s 37 despite the fact he turned pro over seven years after the “Magic Man”.
The Tarver-Banks match was originally supposed to take place on September 29 but was postponed after Antonio fractured his thumb in training.
The Goossen Promotions bill will also feature former WBA light-middleweight champion Austin “No Doubt” Trout and Canadian super-bantamweight star Tyson Cave in respective bouts.