Underdog Tarver Can Create His Own Rocky Moment

Billed to start around 02:00 GMT in the early hours of Saturday morning and screened live via Spike TV and their website, Rocky Balboa star Antonio Tarver takes on Steve Cunningham in an intriguing heavyweight bout at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, USA. With each fighter having lost several times, it’s is a last-chance-saloon bout for both.

Tarver v Cunningham Tale of the Tape

Antonio Tarver: 31-6 (22 KO)


Nicknamed ‘The Magic Man,’ Antonio Tarver is best known for beating former pound-for-pound champion Roy Jones Jr twice, and also for starring in the sixth instalment of the ‘Rocky’ film series, Rocky Balboa, as the storyline heavyweight champion, Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon.

Now 46-years-of-age, Tarver won a gold medal at the 1995 Pan American Games as a light-heavyweight, as well as gold at the 1995 World Amateur Championships and bronze in the 1996 Olympics.

Turning pro in 1997 at the – in boxing terms – relatively late age of 28, Tarver won his first sixteen bouts, but was downed en route to a points loss to Eric Harding in his next fight. Recovering to win his next four fights, including a fifth-round revenge stoppage of Harding, Tarver was then matched with Montell Griffin for the WBC and IBF light-heavyweight straps that had been vacated by Roy Jones Jr.

Tarver defeated Griffin on points and later faced-off against former undisputed light-heavy champ Roy Jones Jr. Never quite the same fighter after his remarkable heavyweight title win, Jones Jr looked zapped of energy when moving back down to light-heavyweight and appeared to have lost to Tarver.

Jones Jr, however, was awarded the points verdict, but Tarver won the rematch by spectacularly knocking Jones Jr out in the second round to become a two-time world champion.

A points loss to Glenn Johnson was a surprising result in ‘The Magic Man’s’ next bout, but he avenged that and then defeated Jones Jr – very clearly – on points before being upset by Bernard Hopkins.

Tarver became a three-time world champion when beating England’s Clinton Woods three bouts later, but was twice easily beaten by Chad Dawkins and subsequently moved up to cruiserweight, where his draw with Lateef Kayode was later changed to a no-contest due to Tarver failing a post-fight drugs test.

Debuting at heavyweight in 2013, Tarver knocked Mike Sheppard out, before impressively doing the same to Jonathan Banks – who is Wladimir Klitschko’s trainer as well as a pro boxer.

All in all, southpaw Tarver wants to become the oldest world heavyweight champion in history – and with the winner of his bout with Cunningham expected to get a shot at WBC champ Deontay Wilder, ‘The Magic Man’ has to win if he’s to stand any chance of fulfilling his dream.

Steve Cunningham: 28-7 (13 KO)


Like Antonio Tarver but younger, 39-year-old Steve Cunningham is a veteran boxer who’s in a last-chance-saloon, career crossroads bout after losing five of his last nine fights.

Dubbed ‘USS Cunningham’ due to his time in the navy, Steve Cunningham won a 1998 Golden Gloves tournament as an amateur before turning pro at the turn of the century.

Winning nineteen bouts in a row as a cruiserweight, Cunningham then suffered defeat at the hands of Krzysztof Włodarczyk when challenging for the IBF title. Emerging victorious in the rematch to become champion, Cunningham then defeated Marco Huck before losing his strap to Tomasz Adamek.

Beating the lightly-regarded Troy Ross to become a two-time IBF champ, Cunningham lost twice in a row to skilled Cuban Yoan Pablo Hernandez, before recording an easy win against club fighter Jason Gavern.

Now fighting at heavyweight, Cunningham again lost to Tomasz Adamek and was later stopped by Tyson Fury in an entertaining bout in which he had Fury down.

Most recently, the American won three fights in a row before controversially losing a fight that everyone – me included – thought he’d won against Vyacheslav Glazkov.

Put simply, with more defeats than wins in his last nine bouts, while considering his age, veteran boxer Cunningham has to defeat Tarver to remain in contention for a heavyweight title shot.

Tarver v Cunningham Betting

Tarver is offered around 13/8, Cunningham is available at 8/13 and you can bet on a draw at 20/1. In terms of method of victory, Tarver is priced around 9/2 to win by KO/TKO/DQ, or 10/3 to win on points, while Cunningham is 5/1 to win by KO/TKO/DQ, or 11/10 on points.

The Tarver v Cunningham Betting Verdict

I can understand why Cunningham is the favourite because he’s younger, more natural at the weight and has a seven-inch reach advantage, but as southpaw Tarver is the classier boxer who’s carried his punching power up to heavyweight, I see it as a 55/45 bout in Cunningham’s favour, so 8/13 is not a value price.

Since Tarver’s never been stopped, Cunningham to win on points at 11/10 looks like a good wager, and the natural betting selection in this bout, but the 9/2 about a Tarver KO just seems too big. After all, with the age and reach difference between the two, Tarver’s best chance of winning is via a knockout/stoppage.

Indeed, when I watched Tarver KO Banks, ‘The Magic Man’ was producing a low punch output each round and being outworked – it was just that Banks couldn’t take his punching power.

However, the word in the boxing world is that Tarver is the most-focused he’s been for any fight since facing Roy Jones Jr and is in the best shape he’s been for many years.

Having just watched the pre-fight weigh-in, Tarver – though nowhere near as muscled and sculpted as Cunningham – does look in better physical condition than he’s been in for some time, so I’m inclined to believe what I’ve heard.

All in all, once again, Cunningham on points is the logical pick, and I wouldn’t disagree with it in principle, but he’s been stopped once in his career, has struggled with southpaws in the past, and since betting is partly about finding value, I think that it’s worth taking a chance on Tarver landing his big left hand and winning by KO/TKO to move towards creating his own ‘Rocky’ moment with a bout against WBC champ Wilder.

However, if you can get 13/8 on a slimmer – and perhaps faster – than normal Tarver winning by any method, that’s also attractive, so take it and go with the KO/TKO/DQ at 9/2 for a smaller stake.

Worth a punt: Tarver to win at 13/8
Worth a small punt: Tarver to win by KO/TKO at 9/2
Of course, whether you do or don’t opt for a wager, have a great weekend and feel free to contact me on Twitter via @JCLaLiga if you have any questions or feedback.

Photo credits – Wikipedia (Creative Commons – CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) )
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