Five-time world champion Antonio "Magic Man" Tarver (31-6, 22 KOs) will be looking through - not past - former two-time IBF champion Steve "USS" Cunningham (28-7, 13 KOs) on Friday night, Aug. 14, in their 12-round heavyweight showdown at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
WBA #9 Tarver vs. IBF #6/WBC #14 Cunningham is the main event on a Premier Boxing Champions series show airing live on Spike TV, the same network Tarver serves as its boxing color commentator.
Tarver is on a mission to become the oldest heavyweight champion of the world in boxing history. The 46-year-old southpaw realizes he has to get past Cunningham in order to get a world title shot against Wladimir Klitschko or Deontay Wilder.
"I respect Steve Cunningham," Tarver explained. "I'm not looking past him, I'm looking through him. If I have to go through Wilder to get Klitschko, so be it. I'm getting that world heavyweight title and when I defeat Klitschko it'll be the biggest story in sports. But I know that I won't get my title shot unless I get by Cunningham.
"The 'Magic Man' is bringing 1000 tricks in his bag but it's only going to take one to take him out. I've been working hard in training camp and he hasn't been focused. Steve is a solid durable opponent who has proven himself in the heavyweight division, coming off a close eliminator that many thought he won. I have the test of fighting a guy who you can't make quit, so you have to knock him out because he's proven his heart and guts. Steve's also motivated because he knows what beating me can do for his career."
At 46 and a grandfather-to-be next month, Tarver realizes that he may not be the same fighter he was during a nine-fight stretch between 2002-2006, in which he was one of the world's top pound-for-pound fighters, shocking Roy Jones, Jr. (see picture to the right) in two of three fights, splitting a pair with Glen Johnson, defeating Montell Griffin, Eric Harding and Reggie Johnson, and losing to Bernard Hopkins. Tarver, however, feels that his aforementioned experiences and overcoming so many struggles will be enough to take him back to the top of the boxing mountain.
"I learned the fundamentals of boxing and that's why I'm still here at 46," Tarver noted. "My whole game is built on deception because, by the looks of it, I'm not supposed to be as fast, as quick and strong, as tough, or hit as hard as I do. So, that makes it hard to prepare for the fighter like me. I am sure Cunningham may have prepared for a physical war but has he prepare for the mental part of our fight? He'll be fighting in a ring full of mine fields, one wrong step and, Kaboom!"
Tarver and his head trainer, Orlando Cuellar, have been together a full year for what amounts to three training camps considering Tarver's originally scheduled fight against Jonathan Banks was postponed several months due to Tarver's broken hand, followed by his impressive seventh-round stoppage of Banks last December in his last fight.
"We know each other much better now in terms of how much to push him in camp and what to expect from each other," Cuellar commented. "He may be 46 but he's never been beat up. His ring savvy is off the charts and he's knowledgeable. Antonio's a sharp puncher and vicious competitor. He does exactly what I ask of him in the gym. I've come to realize that he doesn't need 160-200 rounds of sparring for a fight. He remembers everything from his fights against so many great fighters, storing information in his mind to use in his fight. He outthinks his opponent. I watched him set things up and put it all together. Antonio is a special fighter, super intelligent, a breeze to work with and most capable in the ring. I'm blessed to be working with him.
"Cunningham is going to come in and apply pressure, but he's never fought anybody as elusive and intelligent as Antonio, who can catch or slip, block or counter. He has so many tricks up his sleeve. Antonio is going to fight to his speed. Just when Cunningham thinks he has Antonio where he wants him, it's going to be too late and Antonio is going to knockout Cunningham. Tarver is a much sharper puncher than people think. Like Antonio says, we're not looking past Cunningham, we're looking through him."