By: Nick Bellafato
With a serious amateur pedigree to include winning a Bronze Medal in the 1996 Olympic Games, former three-time light heavyweight world champion Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver (29-6, 20 KO’s) of Tampa, Florida will be putting his recently acquired IBO cruiserweight title belt on the line when he steps into the ring this weekend at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. His opponent in the main attraction of a quadruple fight card, which is to be aired on Showtime Championship Boxing this Saturday night, will be none other than the young, undefeated, Nigerian-born Lateef “Power” Kayode (18-0, 14 KO’s), who, fighting out of Freddy Roach’ Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, California, has gained a bit of notoriety.
In essence, Kayode will be stepping up to a place he has never been before having fought mainly fringe fighters up this point in his career, so that this match up, which pits youth versus experience, will in fact determine where each fighter is at. On the one hand you have Antonio Tarver, the 43 year world champion who’s trying to maintain his status while he entertains thoughts of a successful foray into the heavyweight ranks, while in the other corner we have the challenger Lateef Kayode, a holder of minor titles himself, who, under the guidance of Roach is looking to make a name for himself at the expense of his veteran adversary.
Strategically what this fight boils down to is that Tarver will be looking to use his vast experience as the more highly skilled of the two fighter’s, in an effort to out maneuver and overcome the younger, less experienced Nigerian power puncher whom many believe is somewhat overrated, as well as less than dimensional according to his past ring exploits. And the way Antonio puts it, he’ll be looking to take the challenger to school as he works his way towards a knockout victory.
“I’m coming in here to rely on my skills, my experience, and my conditioning to win this fight. I’ll take Kayode places he’s never been. And that’s in deep waters. He’s never been in there with a fighter like me and I’m going to show him what it’s all about. I’m a sharpshooter. I punch organs: liver, kidney, heart. I don’t just punch mass, I punch organs and I punch that chin. I’m going to put some shots on this guy combination style, something he doesn’t know anything about. I’m going to stay in close and I’m going to work. I’m going to work for the knockout.”
Even though in the boxing game for quite some time making his pro debut back in 1997 to face the likes of Roy Jones Jr., Bernard Hopkins, Glen Johnson, and Chad Dawson along the way, Tarver with only 35 professional fights has taken little punishment during his career. However, at 43 years of age Antonio isn’t getting any younger, and I’m not so sure how far his legs can carry him should the heavy handed Kayode decide to press matters. And applying effective pressure is something the less experienced yet hard punching African is likely to do. For not only does Kayode seemingly have more to prove, but he is not likely to win a boxing match with the champion considering his limitations in that department.
But according to Tarver, the challenger may not have to box or travel very far at all to find him. “There isn’t going to be no running. He doesn’t have to worry about that. I’m not trying to run anywhere unless I’m running in preparation for a fight. I have confidence in my ability and I’m going to trust my defense. We’re going to use our angles and we’re going to out-smart him and then when it’s comes down to it, if I have to hurt this guy, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Words aside, there’s no doubt Tarver can still pull the trigger, at least as it pertains to his last fight with Danny Green nearly a year ago where he would stop the former champion in 9 rounds, beating the Aussie to the punch while dropping him during the proceedings to acquire his present IBO title. The question in this instance would then be, has Tarver lost anything since that fight? Again, having taken little punishment over the years while never being stopped, Tarver’ hand speed, reflexes, and timing seem for the most part to be intact. With that said, he then represents the most formidable challenge, as well as the biggest named opponent for the unbeaten challenger.
Only time will tell if anything has diminished since, but along with his skill set and previously mentioned attributes, the defending champion still looks sharp, appearing to have enough pop on his punches to either discourage, or stop Kayode, to potentially do significant damage with that left hand which has worked wonders in the past. But make no mistake, Antonio is quite cognizant of the fact that there resides power in the fists of Kayode, and that if given the opportunity, Lateef has a punchers chance to perhaps change the course of the bout.
“I haven’t taken Lateef Kayode lightly by any stretch of the imagination. That’s what they need to understand. I take this guy as a serious threat. I know in this fight one punch can change the entire fight and one punch can end a fight, and what I’ve done in training camp is to eliminate any chance of him getting lucky and the only way I can do that is to make sure I’m in the very best shape mentally and physically.”
Between moonlighting as a professional prizefighter while filling in as an analyst on Showtime Boxing’ broadcast team on a regular basis, Tarver is quite familiar with Kayode, having been ringside for all five of his appearances on ShoBox to witness first hand the exploits of his upcoming opponent. To this end the “Magic Man” would attempt to offer constructive criticism as it relates to Lateef’ apparent lack of experience, to which the Nigerian prizefighter had taken exception. In fact, such criticisms would be the main catalyst in making this fight happen to begin with.
Tarver has plain and simple gotten under the skin of his opponent, drawing the wrath of the challenger who is looking to make Antonio regret his comments once these two enter the ring this weekend. A riled up Lateef Kayode put it this way, “he said bad [things] about me, that I don’t have experience. But he called me to be a sparring partner for Danny Green. So why do you call me to be a sparring partner when you say I don’t have experience? I want to fight you to show the world who is the best between me and you. This fight is going to be a knockout. If it goes the distance, they might try to rob me, so I am going to put Tarver to sleep before the 12th round. That way I am the judge and the jury.”
In reference to the challenger taking it personal, Tarver would respond in this way, “what I was telling him were the things that I saw that he could have improved on. I’m not thinking of him being able to hit somebody hard or whatever. I’m looking at the intangibles that you need to be a world-class fighter and he could not understand that. He showed his inexperience and his youth by getting all emotional and out of whack approaching me and confronting me. Right there that tells me that his emotions got the best of him and now he’s bit off more than he can chew. So now instead of trying to tell him what I thought he should do to improve, now I’ve got to show him.”
And although a formidably built fighter who has held various forms of the cruiserweight title to include the WBO, NABO, NABF etc., it will be up to Freddy Roach to make sure that Kayode fights accordingly and doesn’t lose his composure or give in to emotions that would affect him in the negative, especially since Tarver seems intent on involving his counterpart in psychological warfare. Otherwise the wily veteran will perhaps be able to take advantage of an assuredly emotional yet quite motivated challenger by punching with the Nigerian fighter to catch him on the way in with sharp, well timed right hooks and left hands.
Tarver is a skilled veteran who knows how to slide his head out of the way and allow opponents to fall in, especially overly aggressive opponents, in effect using their momentum against them to add power to his own shots. And should he connect in a vital area which he says he’s looking to do, the knockout which he referred to may in fact come. And as to other aspects of the bout, there is no doubt in my mind that Tarver will endeavor to be accurate and economic, using only as much energy as is needed, to start off by letting loose of a controlling type jab while he looks to extend “Power” Kayode into the latter rounds where Antonio expects things will open up.
And open up they may. After scoring 14 straight knockouts against nondescript fighters, Kayode has went the distance in his last three bouts, only recently graduating from six and eight round fights up to the ten round limit which could factor in if Tarver takes him to the deep waters he had described. And although Lateef would garner unanimous decisions in his three most recent bouts, in stepping up the competition, he hasn’t looked as impressive, while at the same time prevalent flaws have surfaced. After just getting by Nicholas Iannuzzi in what was said to be a disappointing outing, he would face two southpaws in Matt Godfrey and Felix Cora Jr.
In those bouts Kayode’ power wasn’t as effective, while he was shown to be less than a proven defensive fighter at times, receiving almost as solid punches as he was able to dish out. Not big on head movement, the Nigerian has perhaps become overly reliant on putting opponents away with a thudding right hand, much to the exclusion of working off his jab or throwing in combination, something he will have to do order to be effective against the veteran Tarver. An emotional Lateef Kayode must also avoid loading up with his shots, or that will make the defending champion’ job easy, as Antonio will no doubt see the blows coming to either avoid them, or beat the challenger to the punch as the seemingly quicker fisted fighter.
What’s more is that when coming up empty, Kayode falls in with his punches, leaving a lot of target area for his opponent to pick him apart. This is something the African pugilist cannot affort to do. He neither can afford to throw one punch at a time as in the past, or the champion will put on a counter punching clinic. And in consideration of the fact that I don’t see Tarver waiting around to get hit where he will angle away from the straight forward advancing Kayode, the best chance for the Nigerian to inflict damage would be to get to Tarver’ body early to slow the older fighter down, or in fact punch when Tarver steps to him. The latter proposition is risky though in that Tarver has faster hands and better timing. And if Kayode carries a low left guard, which he does at times, this will play right into the hands of the “Magic Man” who will be thrilled at the prospect of controlling his opponent with a jab.
And although I don’t favor Kayode in this fight, he is not suffering from a lack of confidence. “I’ve had a great camp at The Wild Card. I have a great team. We started early, so I’ve been working for a long time. It will be three months by fight time. I’m in the best condition ever. My body can take anything he throws at me. If he wants to trade, I will trade. And if he wants to box, I will box. I can go 12 rounds without a problem, but there is no way he will be able to withstand the kind of punishment I will give him unless he plans on running away all night. Either way I am knocking this man out.”
In the end I have to agree with Antonio Tarver in that Kayode has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew. The champion has just not declined to the point where an inexperienced fighter of lesser skill can overcome him. It’s not enough to just have power as is Lateef’ nickname, you have to have the knowledge and experience to get in position to land that power, especially as it relates to contending with a fighter Antonio Tarver’ level.
Additionally, Lateef in stepping up the competition hasn’t proved he knows how to finish fighters once he get’s them in trouble, whereas the champion who has his own cornermen of note, to include in tandem longtime trainer Jimmy Williams, as well as former world champion Buddy McGirt, is well versed in that respect, and may in fact do the deed this Saturday night. Tarver by KO or decision. ,
“Four Warned,” a rare four-fight Showtime Championship Boxing telecast will in addition to the main event between Tarver and Kayode, feature former undisputed junior middleweight kingpin Winky Wright (51-5-1, 25 KO’s) returning to the ring to meet undefeated Peter Quillin (26-0, 20 KO’s) in a middleweight bout, with Austin Trout (24-0, 14 KO’s) risking his perfect record and WBA junior middleweight title belt against Delvin Rodriguez (26-5-3, 14 KO’s).
Also making an appearance will be the IBF number one rated bantamweight contender Vusi Malinga (20-3, 12 KO’s) who is set to face off with the IBF’ number five rated bantamweight Leo Santa Cruz (19-0-1, 11 KO’s) for the vacant, who would have thought, IBF bantamweight title. All four bouts are set to air live at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast. “Four Warned” is presented by A.T. Entertainment, Golden Boy Promotions, and Gary Shaw Productions, with Trout vs. Rodriguez being presented in association with Greg Cohen Promotions and Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing. Malinga vs. Santa Cruz will be presented in association with Branco Sports Productions, while the main event is to be sponsored by Corona and AT&T.
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