The professional debut of Antonio Tarver, Jr. this past Monday in Texas resulted in an impressive fourth-round technical knockout over Zachary Briones.
His father, 5-time world light heavyweight champion Antonio “Magic Man” Tarver (30-6, 21 KOs), was supposed to headline a Golden Boy-promote card on Fox Sports 1 against veteran Johnathon Banks (29-2-1, 19 KOs), however, a fracture of his hand forced Tarver to withdraw from the fight but he did work his son’s corner.
“I’m so proud of Antonio,” his beaming father commented after the fight. “He busted up his opponent and worked the ring. He’s a good, humble kid; no smoke and mirrors. I’m elated, really proud of him to see how hard he worked to start his professional career. He has transformed before my eyes. I was able to see and recognize his potential. He really let his hands go. Remember, Antonio only had a few amateur fights and five weeks of training camp.
“Boxing is our lifestyle and he’s motivated me. My little injury has been a little setback. I wasn’t fighting but I was in the corner supporting my son and it was a real thrill for me. He has the opportunity to be as big as anybody in boxing. I never knew he had it (talent). I pushed him away from boxing but he made the decision to fight. My dream of becoming world heavyweight champion hasn’t changed and I plan to be back fighting before the end of this year, hopefully, with my son fighting on the undercard.”
Tarver Jr. grew up playing basketball and football, not boxing, in Daytona Beach. He was always at his father’s side in the gym and at fights and those experiences have proved to be invaluable.
“It was a beautiful experience,” Antonio Jr said about his pro debut. “I was a little nervous but kept my poise. I walked out with my father when he fought Roy Jones Jr. before 43,000 people, so I was prepared for the crowd. I just prayed and embraced it all. Orlando (the Tarver’s head trainer Orlando Cuellar) kept saying to embrace everything and just do what I worked on in the gym. He got my mind right to perform. My opponent rushed me at first but I kept my composure and started working angles. I hit him with a lot of shots and only really got caught once. I felt I could have done better and gave myself a B grade. It was wonderful and I was super excited.
“I’m so happy my father was in my corner. I know I’m a marked man because of my last name. Anybody would like to beat a Tarver, the older or younger, so I’ve been branded. I was aware of that going into the fight. I got my feet wet and I’ll get much better.”
Cuellar agrees that Antonio Jr’s last name places a target on his 26-year-old fighter’s back. “With his last name,” Cuellar noted, “Antonio Jr. is a marked man and he understands, but he’s going through a process to be his own man. We clicked right away. The kid has done everything I’ve told him. He’s very cooperative and willing, dedicated and a hard worker. He sparred more than 55 rounds with 10 different sparring partners I brought in. Each one was much more experienced than Antonio and he improved each session. He’s grounded but I didn’t expect that he’d be so collected in his first pro fight. It was almost like he’d done it before. Being at his father’s fights for so long helped him be prepared for his pro debut. He also got his father’s input in the corner.
“His opponent was 1-1 but he was resilient and aggressive. Junior did in the fight what he had done in the gym. He made adjustments and let his hands go, throwing punches in bunches. At one point I told him to go toe-to-toe to get used to it. He did and pivoted right out when I told him. By making adjustment in his first pro fight, he showed me he listens. Junior finished strong like he started and I expect him to improve every fight.”
Father and son will be traveling this weekend from Tampa to Miami to start training Monday at Brazilian Rocky Fight Club.
“It’s all up to him (Antonio Jr.),” the 1996 U.S. Olympian Tarver added. “I will be at his side and Orlando is a great trainer, the X factor for both of us. He’s raw but so talented. The more people who see him fight are going to fall in love with him….even if he didn’t have his last name. He’s going to be a star. Right now, he’s as exciting to watch as fighters with 10-15 fights. He needs to learn how to generate power and fight from a distance, but that will come in time with experience.
“I see a lot of me in him, of course. He’s my son, who grew up watching me, but he chose to be a fighter. He will try to emulate me but, it’s not about me, it’s all about him. He understands his position and that he has to deal with being a fighter named Tarver.”