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From the Top

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 18, 2005

In fighting his way to the world lightweight heavyweight championship, Tampa's Antonio Tarver has made a pretty decent name for himself. But fighting under a different name, as Mason "The Line" Dixon in the upcoming Rocky movie, could vault him from the boxing world to true stardom.

Tarver plays a heavyweight champion who battles the aging star, once again played by Sylvester Stallone , in what will be the sixth installment of the wildly popular series. The latest, titled simply Rocky Balboa, is due out Feb 9, 2007.

And, from the sound of it, Tarver is having a blast.

"I saw Antonio in Vegas on the afternoon of the (Dec. 3) Bernard Hopkins -Jermain Taylor fight. He told me he's having a lot of fun with it," said Mario Diaz , the WTSP-Ch. 10 morning anchor who does Spanish language TV work on major fights. "He and Stallone were in the ring at Mandalay Bay going through the motions of their fight sequence. At one point, Antonio got knocked down. Was he out? Not sure. It is Rocky though."

Of course, the script details are supposed to be a secret. But if you believe the hype, Tarver isn't going to have to do much acting as Stallone insists the scenes look as authentic as possible, bragging on the film's rockybalboablog.com Web site that they are "trying to push the limits of film boxing" and "crossing the line" by employing Tarver, an active champion.

"(Tarver) brings an air of realism and danger and professionalism," Stallone said.

"More danger than realism," Tarver added.

At last month's Vibe awards, Tarver said: "We've been working a lot of long hours and I think the people are going to be surprised at how real this is. People won't know the difference between a fight with me and Roy Jones Jr. and a fight with me and Rocky Balboa. The contact, the intensity, this is what's going to sell this movie."

Ultimately, Tarver is hoping that life imitates art.

"Mason Dixon is a very brash, very skillful heavyweight champion," Tarver told eastsideboxing.com. "Unfortunately, he came along at a time when the heavyweight division is much like it is today, and people are remembering the great days when Rocky Balboa was on top.

"It must have been a fortune teller who wrote the script because that's what we're gunning for in the near future. Acting in this film gives me an opportunity to really feel what being the heavyweight champion of the world is all about."

SEEN AND (OVER)HEARD: USF football coach Jim Leavitt , Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer and Northeast High coach Jerry Austin were among the guests at Rays pitcher Doug Waechter' s wedding last week. ... Tampa's Gary Sheffield showed up at Winky Wright' s recent fight at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut, but got booed by the pro-Red Sox crowd. ... Zimmer's grandson, Beau, is a news reporter at WTSP-Ch. 10. ... Diaz is slated to do a half-dozen fights in 2006 and said the one that intrigues him the most would be Taylor against Wright. ... Another upgrade by the new Rays ownership - the annual staff holiday party moved from Vince Naimoli' s house to the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Spa.

NEWS BRIEFS: The Bucs jumped from 36th to 22nd in ESPN's ranking of MLB, NBA and NFL franchises based on fan voting on things such as success, affordability, ownership, stadium and bang for the buck. The Rays dropped from 73rd to 85th (and last among MLB teams), ranking in the bottom seven of all teams in stadium experience, coaching and ownership. ... Clearwater's Paige Riley and Tampa's Jeff Linton are among the finalists for U.S. Sailing's yachtswoman and yachtsman of the year awards. ... Lightning players, coaches and staff hosted Christmas Dec. 11 for their "adopted" families from the children's cancer center. ... Bucs players, including Cadillac Williams , last week visited patients at All Children's Hospital and sang holiday songs for residents of the North Shore retirement home. The Bucs Women's Organization is providing gifts for children at the Spring domestic violence center and Brookwood home for teenage girls. ... The Rays hosted a holiday party and gave gifts to 50 youngsters from area Boys & Girls Clubs. ... Yankees owner George Steinbrenner held his 17th annual holiday concerts for at-risk students from Pinellas and Hillsborough public schools. ... UCF plans to build a 45,000 seat on-campus football stadium.

DID YOU KNOW?

Wizard of odds

Will there be a championship celebration in the bay area in 2006? The odds, according to the updated postings at vegas.com, are not particularly good:

Team Title Odds

Lightning Stanley Cup 8-1

Bucs Super Bowl 22-1

Rays World Series 100-1

JUST WONDERING

Which is now the area's more famous restroom - the cheerleader "stall" at Banana Joe's or Vince Naimoli's former throne at Tropicana Field?

Has anyone gone from being deified to doubted and back to deified around here as quickly as Jon Gruden?

Is sharpshooter Jessica Dickson , a 5-11 junior forward who leads the nation at 25.6 points a game, the best player on either USF basketball team?

Does it just seem that no one is any longer questioning the Lightning's decision to not re-sign Nikolai Khabibulin , whose .880 save percentage is worst, and whose 3.38 goals-against average is second worst, among all NHL regulars?

Was the bigger news that the Rays are spending $10-million on improvements to Tropicana Field, or that they have a crew scrubbing every seat, some of which haven't been cleaned - or used - since 1998?

How much "undercover" work will be required in the Raymond James parking lot Saturday with the Bucs returning home for the first time since the discovery of the stripper bus?

Was it more ridiculous that the Blue Jays gave a five-year, $55-million contract to a pitcher, A.J. Burnett, who has 49 career wins (and 50 losses), or that they included eight round-trip limo rides between Burnett's Maryland home and Toronto for his wife, Karen, who doesn't like to fly?

How exactly would it work if Winky Wright goes through with the idea of hiring Mike Tyson as a talent scout and, say, there is a discrepancy over an expense account?

Does Alex Rodriguez' s decision to drop out of the World Baseball Classic because he didn't want to "dishonor" either the United States or Dominican Republic by choosing which team to play for sound like a weak copout?

Has anyone heard Steve Young question Chris Simms ' mental toughness lately?

Would the Bucs be better off holding Booger MacFarland out of the September games so maybe he can actually play in a meaningful game in December?

[Last modified December 18, 2005, 01:02:23]


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