Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008 | 2 a.m.
As the man who embodies the future of boxing’s light heavyweight division, Chad Dawson vowed to demonstrate, once and for all, that Antonio Tarver’s best days are in the past.
IF YOU GO
Who: Antonio Tarver vs. Chad Dawson
What: IBF light heavyweight world championship fight
When: Saturday, Oct. 11; doors open 3 p.m., first undercard bout 4:15 p.m.
Where: The Pearl at the Palms
Tickets: $153, $303, $503, $753; ticketmaster.com or the Pearl box office, noon-7 p.m. daily
Asked point-blank this week if he thinks Tarver is washed up, Dawson did not hesitate.
“Yes, he is,” Dawson said before a workout at Johnny Tocco’s Ringside Gym in downtown Las Vegas. “I am the best, hands down.”
Dawson and Tarver clash next Saturday at the Palms in a bout that shapes up as a sensational world title fight for supremacy at 175 pounds. Showtime (Cox cable channel 240) will televise the scheduled 12-rounder.
Tarver, the 39-year-old former unified world champion, puts his IBF title on the line against Dawson, 26, who relinquished his WBC belt to set up the showdown.
“This is the biggest fight of my career by far,” Dawson said. “Antonio Tarver’s got the name, and I know he considers himself the best light heavyweight in the world.
“I’m going to prove he’s not. Somebody needs to tell him the truth. The people around him are lying to him, telling him he’s the best. His whole camp is lying to him, man.”
Dawson’s calm and cool demeanor at the gym stood in stark contrast to the fireworks on a contentious conference call featuring both fighters and promoter Gary Shaw earlier in the week.
Tarver’s brash personality dominated the call as he set a down-and-dirty tone for the promotion with statements such as: “This is everything I worked for. You think I’m going to give it to Chad Dawson? Come on, homeboy, he can’t carry my jockstrap, man. He ain’t worthy.”
And: “I got a lot of Chad Dawsons on my resume. He don’t have one Antonio Tarver.”
And: “I’m going to show you how an old man teach a young boy new tricks.”
If Tarver was trying to rattle his less experienced opponent with the barrage of words, there was no evidence he was successful.
Soft-spoken and sounding almost eerily confident, Dawson acknowledged Tarver’s outburst even as he dismissed its intended effects.
“He’s been doing a lot of trash talking, but I’m not going to fall for it,” Dawson (26-0, 17 knockouts) said at Tocco’s. “It’s up to him to back all that up. I don’t have to back anything up. I’m gonna keep quiet, but I know what’s going to happen.
“After I knock him out, that’s when I’ll worry about doing my taunting and all my celebrating.”
Dawson traced the origins of the animosity between the men to June 2007, when they fought on the same card in Hartford, Conn., and talk of a potential Dawson-Tarver match began to surface.
They shared a show again in April in Tampa, Fla., with Tarver regaining the IBF belt with a unanimous decision against Clinton Woods and Dawson retaining his WBC title by outpointing Glen Johnson.
“I learned a lot from fighting Glen Johnson,” Dawson said. “I gained a lot of valuable experience. I showed I had a chin. I showed everybody I could take a punch and that I could go 12 rounds with a top light heavyweight.”
Tarver (27-4, 19 KOs) has won three in a row since losing in an upset to Bernard Hopkins in 2006, but Dawson was less than impressed with the quality of Tarver’s recent opposition.
“What do you see in his last few fights?” Dawson said. “He wasn’t showing anything. I mean, he had handpicked opponents.”
Dawson even took a shot at Tarver’s acting chops, offering a thumbs down for Tarver’s performance as Mason “the Line” Dixon in the 2006 film “Rocky Balboa.”
“He was in one movie and he thinks he’s an actor,” Dawson said. “He did one movie. He’s not Antonio Tarver the actor. He needs to come back to reality.”
Although he was born in South Carolina, Dawson grew up in a rough section of New Haven, Conn., where he played football and basketball before settling on boxing.
“When a lot of people think of Connecticut, they think of country clubs or farms, or a lot of rich people living up there,” Dawson said. “But you also have some areas like the one I came up in, a real tough area. But I also feel the way I came up made me the way I am today, so I can’t knock it.
“I tried the other sports, but the road always led back to boxing. I knew that was going to be my way out. So it was always boxing for me.”
Now, as Dawson sees it, he’s ready to claim his rightful spot at the head of his class, for good.
“I’m the one who’s going to tell Antonio Tarver the truth,” Dawson said. “He needs to hear it: Look, man, you’re done.”