TAMPA — The way Antonio Tarver sees it, Clinton Woods doesn't stand a chance when they fight Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum.
How can he possibly, Tarver continues, considering Woods is taking on the best light heavyweight in the world. The fittest light heavyweight. The prettiest light heavyweight.
"I will win in spectacular fashion," Tarver promises.
Now, the question: Do you believe him?
If you're torn about whether the Tampa resident is really back (trust us, this fight for the IBF and IBO light heavyweight titles is enough of a toss-up; you aren't alone), we give you five reasons you should believe what Tarver says, and five you shouldn't.
Yes, Tarver is back
1. He looks and sounds marvelous
Tarver is not only fit physically but seems to be a more balanced, happy and introspective guy. Yes, he is still as arrogant as ever, but it's toned down and strangely endearing this time around. Maybe it's the influence of trainer Jimmy Williams, one of the nicest guys around.
2. He's the better fighter
If he's on his game and at his best (and really, a fight this big, how can he not be?), he's the more talented fighter. He just needs to use that talent (and jab) to keep Woods off him and set him up for one of those straight lefts.
3. He's fresh, he's so fresh
Minus the loss to Bernard Hopkins, Tarver has never taken a good beat-down in 11 years and 30 fights as a pro. He might be the freshest 39-year-old fighter on the planet. Woods has gone 12 hard ones with Glen Johnson three times and twice with Julio Cesar Gonzalez since 2003 and looks it.
4. Tuning up
Yeah, it wasn't pretty to watch, but Tarver took a pair of tune-up fights after the loss to Hopkins, proceeding slowly while he regained his mojo. It was a smart move, and he looked better in the second fight than the first, another good sign. After filming Rocky Balboa, Tarver jumped right into an ill-advised fight with Hopkins and wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. Or he was just ducking champ Chad Dawson? Definitely one of the two.
5. St. Pete Times Forum
The place is magic for the locals. Jeff Lacy became a star here by knocking out Robin Reid in 2005. Two months later, Tarver beat the great Roy Jones, while on the same card current lightweight champ Nate Campbell saved his career by stunning hot prospect Almazbek Raiymkulov. And Winky Wright beat Ike Quartey in 2006. Just saying.
No, Tarver is not back
1. Echo chamber
Tarver says he has never had a better camp and is as fit as ever. We've heard that before … where was it again? Oh yeah, right before the Hopkins fight. (Just once we'd like to hear a fighter say he had a terrible camp and will you check out these love handles?)
2. Get off my lawn
Fighters get old. Sometimes overnight. And they are really bad at admitting it. Maybe that night was when Hopkins beat him in 2006. It's hard to tell if Tarver has anything left in the tank considering the quality, or lack thereof, of his last two opponents. Heck, since that 2004 KO of Jones, what has he done that made anyone say wow?
3. Excuses, excuses
Tarver blamed the loss to Hopkins on his stint in Hollywood. Then he said he was poisoned. Then he claimed that martians replaced his gloves that night with black holographs. (Okay, so we made that last one up.) But are the excuses a sign of a faded fighter who can't admit it (see: Jones)?
4. Weight and see
Remember when Jones went up to heavyweight and was never the same when he came back down, the yo-yo weight issue wrecking his body? Well, Jones beat John Ruiz weighing 226; Tarver says he weighed 235 for Rocky.
5. Year of the upset
Paul Williams. Juan Diaz. Andy Lee. Kassim Ouma. Cory Spinks. Antonio Tarver?
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4612.