Wednesday October 6th, 2010

There are 101 reasons not to like the heavyweight division right now. It's boring. It lacks depth. All the good fighters are in the Eastern Hemisphere.

The downward spiral boxing's glamour weight class has taken over the last few years has led to an even more irritating fact: Anyone thinks he can be in it.

Tomasz Adamek does. The former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion climbed the heavyweight ladder last year and has used wins over Andrew Golata, Jason Estrada, Chris Arreola and Michael Grant to vault into the No. 1 spot in the WBO's rankings.

Bernard Hopkins does, too. Before Hopkins signed on to fight light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal last month, he practically offered to relocate to England for a fight with David Haye.

And what about Haye? The British big mouth was making a nice living at cruiserweight before realizing that it wouldn't be too hard to hit Nikolay Valuev's Volkswagen-size head. Now, Haye is the WBA champion with (we hope) a multimillion-dollar payday coming whenever he decides to get in the ring with Wladimir Klitschko.

Antonio Tarver is the latest little big man to decide to take the plunge. Tarver's résumé is impressive. In his heyday he was the cream of the light heavyweight crop, with wins over Roy Jones, Montell Griffin and Glen Johnson. Fighters challenged him at their own risk. His defense gobbled up most attacks and his counterpunching -- particularly that lethal left hand -- befuddled even the most skilled opponents. He could talk a good game, too. A few have been able to hang with him in the ring, but on a dais, Tarver was unmatched.

Two months shy of his 42nd birthday, Tarver says he is ready for a new challenge in a new weight class. Sure, Tarver, who will face Nagy Aguilera in a heavyweight bout on Oct. 15 on Showtime, says all the right things. I was starving myself to make light heavyweight. Heavyweights can't break my defense. America needs an American heavyweight to root for.

Right.

Everyone knows Tarver's motives. Money. It doesn't take a crystal ball to predict this future. Tarver will outpoint Aguilera and brag to the world that he is the next heavyweight champion. He will use the bounce from that fight to set up another easy win (Monte Barrett is available), after which he will declare himself fit for a title shot.

And he'll get one, too. That's life as a 21st-century heavyweight. One-time champion Shannon Briggs was sent to the back of the class after Sultan Ibragimov dismantled him in his first title defense in 2007. Two years and three first-round knockouts later, poof, Briggs is getting another title shot, against Vitali Klitschko.

Tarver is hustling right down that path. Think Haye won't jump at the opportunity to thump an aging, undersized American name? Or that Wladimir Klitschko, who is practically placing a classified ad in the European papers looking for an opponent, won't give Tarver a shot?

Tarver knows this. It's why he is stepping up the rhetoric now to build momentum toward one of those future fights.

"My time is now," Tarver said on a conference call. "I look at the heavyweight division and there really isn't a recognizable American that we can truly look at and say, 'That's our guy.' The Europeans have taken over the division. You just look at the name -- if it's Tarver-Klitschko or Tarver-Haye, that's a big name, that's big business. That's what we want to bring to the boxing game before I retire. That's big business and it's what people want to see."

Tarver is, of course, delusional. He was a punching bag for Chad Dawson in his last two fights and has one knockout since 2005. He can beat the Aguileras of the world, but Haye would tear him up and Klitschko might maim him.

The sad part is that Tarver doesn't need this. He's not a hard-luck story. In fact, Tarver has carved out a nice career as a commentator for Showtime. He's insightful, well-spoken and, unlike many ex-fighters-turned-commentators, actually adds something to the broadcast. But Showtime can't cut the kind of seven-figure check Tarver is looking for in a heavyweight title fight.

Tarver's cash grab will help his bottom line but will do little to help the sagging sport. Boxing doesn't need Tarver-Haye. It doesn't need Tarver-Klitschko. It needs quality heavyweight matchups fans can get behind. That means Haye-Klitschko. Or Valuev-Vitali Klitschko. Those are the fights that move the needle, not some spoon-fed garbage that has been given Showtime's stamp of approval.

So good luck, Antonio. We'll see you this time next year, when a real heavyweight puts you on your back and you tell us all what we already know: You shouldn't have been in that ring in the first place.

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