Tarver Triumphs, Dawson Dazzles

TARVER RETURNS TO WIN THRILLER AGAINST MURIQI

What a difference a year can make.

364 days ago, light heavyweight Antonio Tarver and then-junior welterweight Miguel Cotto went head to head with one another on competing pay-per-view events. With Bernard Hopkins in the opposite corner, all eyes fell on Tarver that night, forcing Cotto to take a backseat to the bigger man. Although Tarver had the more appealing opponent, it was Cotto who put on the better show with a clear cut yet excitingly victory over game challenger Paulie Malignaggi. A year later, the roles were reversed.

Taking on unheralded Elvir Muriqi, Tarver had a lot of talking to do in order to build interest in his return bout, but, despite his best efforts, which included controversial claims of being drugged against Hopkins and dubious promises to clean out the light heavyweight division, he was no match for the hype surrounding the appropriately titled “X-Plosive” bout between Cotto and Zab Judah. While the slugfest he engaged in against Muriqi may not have succeeded in overshadowing the wild affair between Cotto and Judah, it put up a hell of a fight that would have stolen the show on any other night.

His first time in the ring in over a year, Tarver attempted to approach the bout from a tactical standpoint early on, allowing Muriqi to take the first round on activity alone. Attacks from the “Kosovo Kid” soon forced an alternate game plan from Tarver that delivered the action demanded by the raucous Connecticut crowd, which was strongly against the “Magic Man,” being comprised of “Bad” Chad Dawson fans. Tarver opened up with some big shots in round 2 that tested Muriqi’s chin, but Muriqi responded by beckoning Tarver on for more before continuing his assault again in round 3. From there, Tarver had seen enough and brought the fight his fans had been waiting years to see. In a hotly contested round 4, Tarver edged Muriqi, landing sharp straight left hands on his spirited foe.

Suddenly, gone was the Tarver who plodded around the ring to win rather uninspired decision victories over Glen Johnson and Roy Jones Jr. in 2005 and dropped the embarrassing decision to Hopkins in 2006. This version of Tarver more closely resembled the one who fought out of desperation to knock out Eric Harding in 2002 and dominated Montell Griffin in 2003. Several times throughout the night, Muriqi looked ready to go, including in the 5th round after a clash of heads opened a cut over Muriqi’s right eye and the ensuing assault from Tarver, but the “Magic Man” failed to put together those extra two or three punches that may have ended the fight.

Tarver, perhaps realizing the potential for the bout to go to the scorecards if his opponent’s condition worsened, made sure to take over, uncharacteristically pushing the action. The contest was exciting for the remainder of the fight, but Tarver got the best of Muriqi in each and every round beyond the halfway point, especially the 8th in which Tarver, after nearly bombing Muriqi out with some big shots, switched to a conventional stance and repeatedly nailed his foe with stiff left jabs. Of course, there was always the chance that Tarver would gas out as he has done many times in the past, but that did not occur this night as Tarver pressed the action even in the final minute of the fight, trying to stop Muriqi. He didn’t score the knockout, but Tarver appeared to have won a competitive yet wide decision on this viewer’s scorecard.

After getting knocked from pillar to post in the 12th and final round, a delusional Muriqi, mistaking survival for success, raised his hands in the waning seconds of the fight in an effort to stake a ridiculous claim to victory, and the judges almost agreed with him. Almost. By cards of 116-112, 115-113, and 114-114, Tarver won a majority decision that was anything but indicative of the fight that had occurred moments before. As Tarver stated following the announcement, the judge that scored the bout even (surprisingly veteran judge Steve Weisfeld) should have his license revoked immediately. While Muriqi jumped out to an early lead on this viewer’s card and made a good showing of himself in his first bout past 8 rounds, he was never a threat to win the fight and shouldn’t have come that close to stealing a majority draw or close victory.

Mason Dixon, Tarver’s fictional boxing role, needed Rocky Balboa to bring out the best in him. Maybe Tarver needed a sturdy challenge from a guy like Elvir Muriqi, who would push him without backing down to bring out his killer instinct once again. What better way for Tarver to prove he is back to his old self than to test himself against the young lion and WBC Light Heavyweight Champion, Dawson, in his next outing? Dawson seems to want it, and Tarver has vowed to clean up the division. Time will tell if his efforts against Muriqi were the act of a desperate former champion looking to survive game competition or a rededicated light heavyweight threat looking to reclaim his throne. On this night, he looked the latter.

DAWSON RUINS RUIZ IN 6 ROUNDS

In the first defense of his WBC Light Heavyweight Championship, “Bad” Chad Dawson, fighting in front of a supportive hometown Connecticut crowd that included several members of his family, scored an impressive six round stoppage against challenger Jesus Ruiz.

Ruiz, who had countless disadvantages working against him, including facing his first southpaw opponent in Dawson and having fought a little over a minute in the last three years, was never in the fight. Dawson boxed beautifully and consistently beat Ruiz to the punch with his exceptional speed, landing sharp jabs and swift straight left hands on his overmatched opponent. Dawson punished his foe with some digging shots to the ribs in the fourth round that left Ruiz contorting his body in response to a pain he couldn’t ignore.

Dawson jumped on Ruiz with a two-fisted attack against the ropes in round 6, snapping the challenger’s head every which way but off with right hooks, straight left hands, and at least one vicious uppercut before Referee John Callas halted the onslaught and called an end to the contest, much to the approval of the fans. At the time of the stoppage, Dawson had won every round on the judges’ scorecards, two of which had him winning a 10-8 round along the way.

With the win, the undefeated Dawson continues to exhibit exceptional ability suggestive of one of the more complete fighters in the sport today. His dream bout against Antonio Tarver would be most revealing of the potential of this young talent and go a long way in determining the best light heavyweight in the division.

Tags: