Tarver resumes his climb

LYLE FITZSIMMONS, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 12:04 PM ET

OCALA, Fla. -- It's been a rough five years for Antonio Tarver.

At this point in 2005, the Florida-born quote machine was at the top of the boxing world, having just beaten Roy Jones Jr. by a wide decision to win their best-of-3 series and maintain his hold on the IBO championship at 175 pounds.

From there, it seemed, anything was possible.

And to a certain extent, it was.

He landed a starring role in the finale of the Rocky series, squared off with AARP-eligible Sylvester Stallone on film and parlayed the status into a big- money showdown with another elder statesman -- Bernard Hopkins -- who'd lost two straight and was sailing into uncharted weight class waters.

World domination didn't appear far behind.

Until, over 36 painful minutes in Atlantic City, it was.

Startlingly chubby before the fight and certainly listless during it, Tarver dropped a stunningly one-sided verdict to his 41-year-old foe, losing his world title claim and plummeting precipitously toward the mid-ranks of the light heavyweight division overnight.

He clawed back with wins over the likes of Elvir Muriqi, Danny Santiago and Clinton Woods, but was decisively silenced again in consecutive beatdowns from young gun Chad Dawson -- against whom he won no more than four rounds on any card over two tries in 2008 and 2009.

He spent the subsequent 17 months away from the spotlight, honing his color commentary skills and taking a backseat as Dawson first strengthened his hold on the division, then had it taken away in 11 rounds by Jean Pascal two months ago.

Coincidentally, in Pascal's first defense in December...he'll face Hopkins.

As for Tarver, he's chosen yet another path.

Now 41, the 13-year pro is back to take care of the business he'd planned to address after a would-be Hopkins win in 2006 -- rising to the heavyweight division to add his name to a short list of 175-pound kingpins who captured world titles with the big guys.

Michael Spinks did it in 1985. The aforementioned Jones did it in 2003.

Tarver claims he'll be next, in spite of the doubters.

"My dream is to win a world heavyweight title," he said. "It only takes one person to believe in you -- and that's me. The rest will come aboard later."

He'll face 24-year-old journeyman Nagy Aguilera in his first test tonight in Miami, Okla., headlining a Showtime card from the Buffalo Run Casino that'll also feature unbeaten 22-year-old welterweight Shawn Porter. The broadcast is scheduled to begin at 11 p.m. ET.

Tarver tipped in at a puffy 221 on Thursday, 46 pounds heavier than his last match with Dawson and 41 1/2 more than his previous career-high of 179 1/2 for a first-round KO of Ernest Mateen in 2000.

"I'm not going to put pressure on myself and say I want to win impressively, or I need to win impressively," Tarver said. "I just want to do enough to win and look good if possible. I'm definitely excited about this fight and returning to the ring and not having to worry about making weight.

"In this weight division, I'm definitely a work in progress. There are obviously a lot of questions. I have questions. Can I hurt a true heavyweight? Can I take their punches? You will get a glimpse. I hope to break him down mentally, and then physically. Styles make fights, and this is a good fight for me."

Aguilera, whose resume is highlighted by a one-round stoppage of ex-WBC champion Oleg Maskaev, weighed-in at 232 pounds -- a pound more than for a July win over Roderick Willis.

He lost a 12-round decision to Maurice Harris in his most recent fight a month later.

"I'm still young and learning but I think Tarver made a mistake fighting me," Aguilera said. "He picked me from what he saw from ringside in my last fight, but I barely trained for that one. For this I worked very hard for two months and I am in great shape. I had my best camp ever and have never been as prepared for a fight like I am for this one.

"I think people are going to be surprised at my punching power and my speed. I don't think they realize how hard I hit or how fast I am. A fight of this magnitude is a tremendous opportunity for me. It's like a world title fight. He has a lot of experience but I have youth on my side. I am not nervous. I'm ready for the fight of my life."

TV TOPICS (Some fights may not be televised) FRIDAY Showtime -- Miami, Okla. Antonio Tarver (27-6) vs. Nagy Aguilera (16-4) Shawn Porter (16-0) vs. Hector Munoz (18-3-1) Lateef Kayode (13-0) vs. Epifanio Mendoza (30-9-1)

TeleFutura -- Indio, Calif. Eloy Perez (18-0-2) vs. Dominic Salcido (18-2) Seth Mitchell (18-0-1) vs. Derrick Brown (13-5-3)

SATURDAY Integrated Sports Media/InDemand/Direct TV/Dish Network -- Kissimmee, Fla. Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (19-0-1) vs. Ivan Hernandez (28-4-1) WBO junior featherweight title Raul Casarez (15-2) vs. Anthony Greenidge (14-5-1)

Fox Espanol - Monterrey, Mexico Julio Cesar Miranda (33-5-1) vs. Michael Arango (31-9-3) WBO flyweight title

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.


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