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Tarver starts comeback with TKO

Antonio Tarver, who lost his last fight to Eric Harding, returns to the ring at the Ice Palace, stopping previously unbeaten Lincoln Carter.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


TAMPA -- Antonio Tarver is back. And for good this time, he says.

Showing he still has a strong area following and the skills that made him an Olympian, Tarver rebounded from his first career loss by dismantling previously undefeated Lincoln Carter on the undercard of the Roy Jones Jr. card Saturday night at the Ice Palace.

And speaking of Jones, Tarver hopes that is his reward for an impressive performance.

"Where you at Roy?" Tarver shouted as he skipped down the hall beneath the stands. "Bring it on, baby."

Tarver, the IBF's No. 5 light heavyweight, knocked Carter down in the fourth round and finished him in the fifth with a flurry of hooks.

Carter was ranked No. 6 by the IBF and entered with a 22-0 record and 18 knockouts.

The biggest win of Tarver's career improved his record to 17-1 and might have launched him back into boxing's mainstream.

Nicknamed the "Magic Man", Tarver marked his return from a disappearing act he pulled after his last fight in June.

Against Eric Harding, Tarver was fighting for a title shot. But Harding broke Tarver's jaw in two places, and a couple of Tarver's ribs and the Orlando native went the final four rounds of a unanimous decision loss virtually punchless.

Harding went on to a big payday and loss against Jones. Tarver did some soul searching.

"You don't know how much you love something until it's taken away," Tarver said. "I've had a lot of time to think about things. I'm hungry again."

Tarver made wholesale changes in his boxing life.

He fired his trainer, Tampa's Jimmy Williams, and moved his operations from Calta's Fitness Center in Carrollwood to West Palm Beach, under new trainer Buddy McGirt.

"It was time for a change," Tarver said. "I stayed home for all my fights. After the Harding fight, I got away for four weeks. It was the best thing I could have done for myself, mentally as well as physically."

Tarver claims to be "the only man with the talent, ability and skill to defeat Roy Jones Jr., bottom line," a claim he has made since he turned pro and was an up-and-coming star.

The loss to Harding took away his perfect record, but apparently not his bravado.

"I'm the best light heavyweight in the world, bar none," Tarver said. "I didn't want to scare him, but I knew I had to perform tonight."

It was the first time Tarver has come through in such a high stakes situation.

As an Olympian in 1996, he went to Atlanta as the star of the team. But in the semifinals, Vasilii Jirov of Kazakstan beat him.

So as less heralded teammates Fernando Vargas, David Reid and Floyd Mayweather became champions, as well as Jirov (the IBF cruiserweight champion), Tarver started over.

Frustrated at his relatively slow climb despite 16 straight wins to start his career, Tarver continuously called out Jones to no avail. When he got his chance to earn a title shot, he lost, his second big "semifinal loss."

"Unfortunately one punch changed the outcome," Tarver said. "I was leading by two rounds on all the scorecards going into the ninth. In complete control.

"What else can I say? I'm only human."

With reasoning only found in boxing, Tarver thinks the loss to Harding showed his mettle and "proved I'm championship material."

Certainly, Saturday's fight did that much more effectively.

Now if he can just convince Jones.

"Hopefully," Tarver said, "I'm on his wish list."

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