Sports » Sports Feature

Forum Fisticuffs

Tarver outpoints Johnson for light-heavy title, setting up a likely rubber match.



Andre Ward was full of surprises: In the ring the middleweight hopeful and former Olympic gold medalist had stopped opponent Ben Aragon cold with what looked like a hard jab, one so stout that the referee stopped the fight with Aragon still standing and looking puzzled as to his whereabouts. Said Ward on a later visit to press row: “I hit him with a lot of those just to keep him from head-butting me.” What is it they say about the best defense being a good offense?
But the real jolt came in a throwaway line from Ward about his preparation for the fight. “I was doing low-carb and high-protein,” the boxer confided. An astonishing fact (since carb-loaders are the rule in high-intensity endurance sports like boxing), but surely an encouraging one for all us ordinary mortals who keep climbing on and off the Atkins wagon.
That was one post-fight moment from Saturday night’s fight card at Fed-ExForum. Another came after the evening’s penultimate event, a warm-up featuring name middleweights Verno Phillips and Ike Quartey, the latter a Ghanan and veteran of some famously hard and close fights with premier fighters Fernando Vargas and Oscar de la Hoya.
Phillips staggered Quartey in rounds one and two, and he had the onetime media star on the canvas in round nine and on the ropes in round 10. Quartey totally dominated the middle rounds, though, and since he was able to hold on and finish strong, the judges’ various arithmetics had Quartey the winner by an aggregate of a point.
That was too much for Arthur Pelullo, the American’s promoter, who crossed over into press row to complain that a second ninth-round knockdown of Quartey — ruled a slip by the referee — should have made the fight a draw.
Soon Lou DiBella, Quartey’s promoter, materialized to contest that interpetation. “He didn’t do enough in the middle rounds, Artie.”
“He knocked him down twice, Louie,” repeated Pelullo.
This dispute went back and forth, in a close approximation of the fight itself, and finally DiBella said, “Okay, so it was close. That’s good for us. It makes it easier to get Vargas and de la Hoya!”
Prizefighting (stress on both syllables) is, after all, about paydays, and Saturday night’s main event, for the undisputed light-heavyweight championship, should result in at least one more well-deserved run to the bank by both winner Antonio Tarver and loser Glen Johnson.
Both were journeymen fighters, cast in the mold of ’30s heavyweight champ James “Cinderalla Man” Braddock, who labored in obscurity before putting together the streak of impressive if unexpected wins that made him a titleholder and an inspiration to working stiffs of his time (as well as to movie-makers in ours).
Both now 36, the fighters had similar so-so resumés before each happened to fight — and knock out — the celebrated Roy Jones, often called “the best fighter pound-for-pound in the world.” (Johnson’s victory here last year was the event that inaugurated the FedExForum.) Dressed in a tux, an appreciative Jones was safely at ringside to help call Saturday night’s televised and heavily billed “megafight” for HBO.
The two superb light-heavies had tangled in Los Angeles last December, with Johnson taking what was then Tarver’s title in a split decision. Saturday night’s fight, a 12-round slugfest, was equally close, with the rangy Tarver outpointing the shorter Johnson, who landed fewer, but harder, shots.
“We need to do this again,” said a happy Joe DeGuardia, Tarver’s promoter. That was promptly seconded by Johnson’s main man, Dan Goosen, and by the two fighters themselves.
At a pre-fight press conference last week, the loquacious Tarver had done most of the talking, with Johnson commenting, “I don’t do talking. I do boxing.”
Actually, they both do both, and a third “conversation,” to settle the argument for good, is very much in order. Hopefully right here in River City.

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