By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
Published July 31, 2005
Tampa resident Antonio Tarver, a 1996 Olympian and current light heavyweight champion of the world, is one of three boxing champions in the Tampa Bay area. He is loquacious, funny and one of the sharpest trash-talkers in the boxing game. He spoke recently with Times boxing writer John C. Cotey about his upcoming fight with Roy Jones, meeting cool and uncool people and facing off with Winky Wright (on the golf course).
COTEY: You seem extra fired up about your next fight. You and Roy Jones Jr. are getting it on again. This isn't all about money, is it?
TARVER: The rivalry is real. We have real history. We both come from Florida. We fought as youngsters in 1983, he won a split decision at the Sunshine State Games. Boxing was taken away from me and my mom in the inner city where I was raised in, and Roy went on to amateur prominence with the silver medal in Seoul, Korea, which he got robbed. In 1988, I'm sitting on the couch watching that, not knowing what direction my life was going to take. I went out and instantly ran 3 miles in pursuit of that gold medal that eluded Roy Jones Jr.
COTEY: He won a decision the first time you guys met and said it was closer than it should have been because he was coming down from heavyweight. Then you knocked him out.
TARVER: I spoke the phrase that was heard around the world: "Roy, do you have any excuses tonight?" After the first fight (Jones won), that's all there was, excuse after excuse after excuse. Then seven punches later, two rounds, a one-punch knockout of the great Roy Jones Jr. That's like a storybook script.
COTEY: Now we have the trilogy.
TARVER: This is for the all marbles, and I hear that they are labeling this fight, believe it or not, No Excuses.
COTEY: You're thinking you have to knock him out again, aren't you?
TARVER: I feel that if it goes to a decision, I just don't see how I can get the benefit of the doubt. You know, sometimes, being champion works for some people, and sometimes it don't. A perfect example of that is Bernard Hopkins just a couple of weeks ago. I thought the guy won the fight clearly. But politically, they wanted a new, young, fresh face in Jermain Taylor.
COTEY: It's hard to top Mike Tyson saying he was going to eat Lennox Lewis' children. But where does the classic "What's your excuse going to be tonight, Roy?" rank among memorable boxing sayings?
TARVER: It ranks up there at the top because of the significance of the knockout. You must remember, Roy was coming off winning the heavyweight championship of the world. When he met Antonio Tarver, he was immortal.
COTEY: Did you rehearse that line in the dressing room? Honestly?
TARVER: It just came to me. I felt that I was slighted (after the first fight). That's why this fight is so important. I still feel slighted. But come Oct. 1, Roy Jones Jr. is going to have to take his hat off to me.
COTEY: Now that you're a celebrity, who's the coolest person you have met?
TARVER: The coolest person I met is Shaquille O'Neal. He's a real guy and down to earth. Dwyane Wade, too, all the Miami Heat, really. Allen Iverson surprised me with his realness and the love he had for boxing. Cuba Gooding Jr. is a big boxing fan and gave me props. Sylvester Stallone. Sugar Ray Leonard. A host of guys.
COTEY: Who was not so cool?
TARVER: Really, no one has been a (jerk). Warren Sapp and I, we came up together. I know Warren Sapp from when he was at Apopka High School and when I met him a couple times, I felt slighted in a way because he seemed like he forgot, ya know. That was one of the things that surprised me. When I see him now, we don't even speak.
COTEY: Favorite piece of bling?
TARVER: I'm just wearing my Corum watch now. I'm past the bling.
COTEY: Best gift you ever gave someone?
TARVER: The gift of life (laughing). My son (Antonio) and daughter (Taylor), that's the best gift.
COTEY: What's the first thing you bought when you turned pro?
TARVER: My first gift to myself was an Expedition.
COTEY: Orlando or Tampa?
TARVER: That's very tough. I love both cities. I wouldn't trade one for the other.
COTEY: Biggest regret of pro career?
TARVER: That I didn't knock Roy out the first time.
COTEY: Let's play some word association: Winky Wright.
TARVER: Pound for pound.
COTEY: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
TARVER: Pound for pound (laughing).
COTEY: Bernard Hopkins.
TARVER: The Extortionist.
COTEY: Jeff Lacy.
TARVER: The next generation.
COTEY: If you could go back in time, who do you wish you could fight?
TARVER: My idol, Marvin Hagler.
COTEY: Who would you not want to fight?
TARVER: Marvin Hagler (laughing) ... I would say Sugar Ray Robinson.
COTEY: What's your favorite material item?
TARVER: My (Titleist) golf clubs.
COTEY: Great transition for my next question: You and Winky Wright have played a few rounds of golf together. Pick the golf course, and who wins?
TARVER: It doesn't matter what course. And I win.
COTEY: You're branching out and doing a little acting at the American Theater (tonight at Eckerd's Bininger Theater). Who plays you in the Antonio Tarver story?