A boxing rarity will happen September 29 when Antonio Tarver, Jr. makes his professional debut on the same card his father, Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver (30-6, 21 KOs), is headlining in a 10-round heavyweight bout against veteran Johnathon Banks (29-2-1, 19 KOs).
“This is a blessing,” the 26-year-old Tarver, Jr. said about making his pro debut on a card headlined by his 45-year-old father. “I’ve always wanted to fight. This just happens to be on the same fight card as my father. My father came from nothing and he’s always persevered. Everything has worked out wonderfully.
“I grew up in Daytona Beach, playing basketball and football, but I’ve known fighters who were on the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team with my father – Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Nate Jones and others – since I was a little kid. I was always with my father at his fights and in the gym, but he never let me fight. Boxing is in my blood, though, and I finally started boxing after I hurt my ankle playing basketball. I was 19 and weighed around 200 pounds. I was in Tampa with my father and went to the West Tampa Boxing Gym, the old Legends, to get some help because my father said I had to lose weight before I could fight. It took me six months because of my ankle to get down to 180. I didn’t have my first amateur fight until I was 20. I finished with an 11-1 record as an amateur and now I’m just trying to catch up. I’m getting my feet as fast as my hands; nobody is tougher than me. I’m going to fight as a junior middleweight but this fight will be at 160.”
Father and son are quite different, in and out of the ring, outside of them both being southpaws. “I’m much more aggressive and he’s more defensive,” Tarver Jr. explained. “The first thing he taught me was defense. I have the best of both worlds, working side-by-side with him in the gym every day. My father taught me defense but I’ve learned how to mix it up. I keep my hands up but let ’em go, too. My father and I are different people and fighters. I don’t have a shaved head like him, either.”
Tarver did everything he could to keep his son out of boxing. “I can’t tell you how surprised I am he took it upon himself to choose boxing and really concentrate on it. He always came to the gym with me but I never thought I would see my son fight professionally, never mind make his pro debut on my card. He’d come to camp and soak it all in but I always tried to deter him from boxing.
“I think he’s a diamond in the rough, a sleeper prospect who will blossom. People should truly take notice because he’s going to be a special fighter. Antonio is a quick learner and dedicated. I’ve tried to be an example for him and now he’s pushing me in training camp. We are different. I’m a defensive fighter, something that’s a lost art. He’s aggressive, something I’m not, a real fan-friendly fighter. I’m going to help create and develop him into a fighting machine. An all-around, complete fighter with speed, power and defense. He only had a few amateur fights but he’s going to be the next big thing in boxing. It would be unfair for people to compare him to his father because of our different journeys we’ve taken in boxing.”
Both are training at Brazilian Rocky Fight Club in Miami with head trainer Orlando Cuellar, who trained Glen Johnson for his two fights (1-1) with Tarver. Cuellar sees similarities and differences as well working daily with the Tarvers.
“This is the first time I’ve trained a father and his son,” Cuellar commented, “but I don’t look at it that way. They are two fighters with separate needs. It does blow my mind when I think about it outside the gym. The father is more of an outside fighter who isn’t going inside just to get some respect. His technique is deeper. Antonio is a boxer/puncher, while his son is a boxer learning to work the three distances. In that process, in time or in so many fights, he will develop his own identity picking up the technique of the three distances. He has taken from a 5-time world champion but has also added to it.
“There are three places to fight in the ring: outside, middle and inside. I enjoy working with a pressure fighter like Junior because I want my guys to drop and stop opponents. They apply pressure to breakdown opponents, starting on the outside, working to the middle, and then getting inside. Junior is a very promising prospect who likes to mix it up and let his punches fly. His father, of course, has a lot more experience. He’s a tactical fighter who plays mind games inside the ring with his opponent. He’s a very intelligent fighter.”
Tarver-Banks is the main event on a Golden Boy Promotions show, airing live on Fox Sports 1 from State Farm Arena in Hildalgo, Texas. Tarver, Jr. will face Zachary Briones (1-1, 1 KO), of Austin (TX), in a four-round, off-television bout.