Preview: Premier Boxing Champions on Spike ‘Tarver vs. Cunningham’

By: Tristen Critchfield
Aug 11, 2015
Antonio Tarver is still going strong. | Photo: PBC

Antonio Tarver (31-6, 22 KOs) vs. Steve Cunningham (28-7, 13 KOs)

Antonio Tarver steps away from his analyst’s role with Premier Boxing Champions to return to the ring against Steve Cunningham on Friday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. The card airs on Spike TV at 9 p.m. ET.

Tarver, who has been inactive for the past eight months, continues a foray into the heavyweight division that began with a decision win over Nagy Aguilera in 2010. “The Magic Man” is 3-0 as a heavyweight thus far, and he hopes that a victory here could propel him to a high-profile showdown with the likes of Wladimir Klitschko or Deontay Wilder. Cunningham, a former cruiserweight titlist, has compiled a 4-3 mark in the heavyweight division.

The Matchup: Tarver catapulted to stardom back in 2004, when he knocked out Roy Jones Jr. in the second round to capture the WBC and WBA light heavyweight titles. While that setback marked the beginning of a noticeable decline for Jones, Tarver often struggled against marquee opposition thereafter, posting a 1-5 record in bouts against the likes of Glen Johnson, Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson. Tarver has fought once a year since 2009, but the 46-year-old could be looking at a George Foreman-like late career resurgence if he is able to string a few more wins together in a new division.

(+ Enlarge) | Photo: Premier Boxing Champions

Cunningham is resilient.
As evidenced by his record, Cunningham has experienced mixed results as an undersized heavyweight, as he can be overwhelmed by bigger and stronger foes. A perfect example of that was a 2013 loss to Tyson Fury, where Cunningham demonstrated good timing landing right hands early but was ultimately worn down by the 6-foot-9, 254-pound Brit. The 39-year-old Cunningham lacks a truly signature victory on his resume, as he has fallen short in fights against Fury, Tomasz Adamek and Yoan Pablo Hernandez.

Tarver’s age might not be as big an issue as it appears to be. Due to a late start in the sport and a lack of activity in recent years, the Floridian doesn’t have the usual wear and tear of a boxer in his position. With that said, he has lost a step since his heyday, but being an intelligent fighter who is difficult to hit cleanly will work in his favor as his career progresses. Tarver is also durable; he has never been stopped in 37 professional bouts.

Tarver has never been known as an action fighter, but he landed in greater volume in his earlier years. He is more likely to pick his spots carefully now, and while he always possessed decent power, it still isn’t clear how much that has remained with age and a move up in weight. However, he remains capable of putting together flashy combinations that, while not damaging, will register with the judges.

Cunningham will have a seven-inch reach advantage, and he won’t be facing the size discrepancy he faced in previous heavyweight contests. He is a solid technical boxer but could struggle against Tarver’s southpaw style, and he lacks the knockout power to give his foe pause.

The Pick: Cunningham will need to bring the fight to Tarver, who could lose rounds on inactivity due to a selective approach. Still, Tarver probably has enough left in the tank to prevail here, but there could be some less-than-enthralling moments if Cunningham doesn’t force the action. Tarver wins via decision.