Boxing
Old hands Tarver, Klitschko stay relevant at heavyweight
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Ocala, FL (Sports Network) - In the absence of a compelling young gun, it's not the worst thing to have a few old ones.

The heavyweight division was home to a pair of late 30s/early 40s vintage shooters on consecutive nights last week - when former 175-pound champion Antonio Tarver and reigning WBC big-man title claimant Vitali Klitschko were in action on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Now just a month shy of 42, the loquacious Tarver made his first ring appearance since May 2009 a good one with a unanimous 10-round nod over Nagy Aguilera atop a Showtime card in Miami, Okla.

Reviews were generally positive for the ex-IBF/IBO/WBA/WBC light heavy kingpin, who emphatically ditched his old division by tipping the scales at a hefty 221 pounds - a full 46 more than he'd weighed in an unsuccessful challenge of Chad Dawson 17 months ago.


Antonio Tarver won a unanimous 10-round nod over Nagy Aguilera atop a Showtime card in Miami, Okla.
He swept the scorecards against Aguilera with matching counts of 98-92.

"I didn't get hit with much," Tarver said. "I'm always cautious with my punches. We're not that brave that we're going to stand in there and take unnecessary punishment. We have to muscle up a little bit. I'm only 221. We want to lose a little bit of weight, put on a little bit more muscle and test our power next time around."

As for Klitschko a day later and 4,815 miles to the east, power was of no concern.

The 6-foot-7 slugger beat Shannon Briggs like a 260-plus pound drum for 12 straight rounds at the O2 World Arena in Altona, Germany, breezing to a unanimous win in his fifth title defense.

The Brooklyn-born Briggs, who'd boasted before the fight that he'd send Klitschko, 39, into retirement, was instead hospitalized to undergo surgery for a torn tendon in his left arm and was the subject of initial post-fight reports that he'd suffered broken bones around both eyes.

The champion won two scorecards by 120-107 margins and a third by 120-105.

"I am very surprised by how much he took," Klitschko said. "He's got a huge heart. I could not believe he was still standing after taking so many punches."

The win was Klitschko's 41st in 43 fights, and just the third time he'd heard the final bell - with Briggs joining Timo Hoffmann (2000) and Kevin Johnson (2009) as the only foes to last 12 rounds.

Nonetheless, Tarver, never a wallflower in 13 years as a pro, stood by his plan while calling out - sort of - the belted trio of Klitschko, his younger brother Wladimir (IBF/IBO/WBO) and David Haye (WBA).

"We have a two-year window of opportunity," he said. "We think by the end of 2011 we should be in position for the world title. They know I have a big name out there.

"We're not going to be naive and think that we're ready for the Klitschkos and David Haye right now, but give me two more training camps and they better look out. We're going to get the muscle that we want and the strength that we want, and we'll go toe-to-toe with anybody boxing."

WEEKEND WARRIORS

It'd be a top contender regardless of opposition, but, in a remarkably slow stretch for big fights, the Sunday show at Kokugikan in Tokyo is a hands-down winner.

Among the bouts scheduled are a 12-rounder for the WBC super bantamweight title between incumbent champion Toshiaki Nishioka and streaking UK favorite Rendall Munroe.

Nishioka, who won the belt in 2008, has registered stoppage wins in each of four defenses, most recently a fifth-round TKO of Balweg Bangoyan on April 30. Munroe, on the other hand, is unbeaten in 11 fights since 2006 and comes in ranked No. 1 by the WBC.

"I think there is a very big size difference between us," Munroe said in a BBC interview. "When I first saw him, I said to my trainer, 'No disrespect to the guy but I think I'm going to eat him.'"

Elsewhere on the card, recent WBA champions Roman Gonzalez (minimumweight) and Jorge Linares (super featherweight) continue chasing titles in new weight classes. Gonzalez has a 12-rounder at 108 pounds against Francisco Rosas, while Linares will meet 51-fight veteran Jesus Chavez at 135.

And lastly, in yet another 10-rounder, unbeaten Japanese knockout artist Yoshihiro Kamegai - who's won 14 of 16 bouts inside the distance - faces capable Nicaraguan gatekeeper Jose Alfaro, who went double-digit rounds with both Antonio DeMarco and Erik Morales in the last 12 months.

TV TOPICS (Some fights may not be televised) FRIDAY Azteca America - Tijuana, Mexico Fernando Garcia (12-3-1) vs. Byron Gonzalez (3-0-2)

TeleFutura - San Diego, Calif. Mercito Gesta (19-0-1) vs. Ivan Valle (28-9-3) Michael Franco (16-0) vs. Adolfo Landeros (20-15-1)

Telemundo - Miami, Fla. Jesus Pabon (15-1) vs. Antonio Pitalua (50-4) Sullivan Barrera (5-0) vs. Francisco Alvarez (12-1)

THURSDAY Fox SportsNet - Los Angeles, Calif. Gary Russell Jr. (12-0) vs. Guadalupe De Leon (8-11)

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.