TAMPA — Antonio Tarver promised a spectacular victory.
It took 10 rounds, but the Tampa fighter finally started delivering on his promise to close out a unanimous decision over Clinton Woods on Saturday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Tarver (27-4, 19 KOs) smacked Woods around in the final two rounds to put an exclamation point on an easy 116-112, 117-111 and 119-109 decision in an otherwise plodding affair.
The victory, which adds Woods' IBF title to Tarver's waist, might finally set up a showdown with WBC champion Chad Dawson, who battled past a game Glen Johnson to win a close and exciting fight and took more punishment than expected.
"Chad Dawson right now is easy pickings," Tarver said. "He's not the fighter he was before tonight. He got hit by Glen Johnson. Getting hit by Glen Johnson is different than getting hit by Antonio Tarver."
Tarver didn't have any problem with Woods. He looked like the younger fighter (though he's four years older) and as if he could have his way with the English fighter at any time.
He chose the 11th round, teeing off with straight lefts and following it up the next round with more of the same.
"I fought the best light heavyweight in the world, and he proved it," Woods said. "Tarver is the champion."
Woods' high-pressure attack was vastly overstated in the prefight hype.
Tarver frustrated Woods (41-4-1, 25 KOs) the same way he did Johnson in their second fight, by sticking a few punches in his face and sliding away.
"He just couldn't find that spark; he seemed flat," said Dennis Hobson, Woods' manager. "Maybe the occasion got to him."
In Dawson's fight, the 25-year-old got exactly what he expected against Johnson — the toughest test of his career.
He passed it.
Dawson (26-0, 17 KOs) proved in the end he was the better all-around fighter. Johnson (47-12-2, 32 KOs) showed why he is, as he typically is no matter whom he fights, the fan favorite.
The crowd booed lustily at the decision — all three judges scored it 116-112, and the Times scored it 115-113 — as Dawson held his arms up in the middle of the ring and again as he left to return to the locker room.
"Of all the tough losses I've had, this is the worst one," said Johnson, who has lost 12 times, most close decisions he disputed.
"At my age (39), I can't afford to lose fights like this anymore. I hurt him many times; he hardly landed any good punches on me. … I deserved this decision."
It was Johnson's hard right hands that rocked Dawson in at least three rounds, including the 10th when Dawson stumbled and almost went down.
Dawson fought through the round. But he was at his best when he moved and controlled the ring with his jab and straight right. When he stood toe-to-toe with Johnson, the veteran got the better of him, but not often enough for the judges.
"We knew Johnson was a warrior, and we trained that way," Dawson said. "Glen is a great fighter. He caught me with some great shots, and I took them. But I executed my game plan, and I landed more punches."