Antonio Tarver's lingering regret is that he didn't debut as a heavyweight in reality after portraying one in a movie.
Tarver made a June 2006 defense of his 175-pound title against Bernard Hopkins after having acting opposite Sylvester Stallone as protagonist Mason “The Line” Dixon earlier that year in the film Rocky Balboa, which was released that December.
“I busted my ass for two months to lose 53 pounds down from 233. I knew it would kill me,” says Tarver, who weighed in at 174 to fight Hopkins. “I starved myself, worked every muscle of my body. Anybody watching that night knows I was a dead man walking.”
Tarver, a 3-to-1 favorite, was dropped in the fifth round by Hopkins and lost 118-109 on all three judges’ scorecards.
“After that movie, I should have considered staying a heavyweight,” Tarver says. “Or I should have had a tuneup fight first."
Antonio Tarver (31-6, 22 KOs) is 3-0 with two knockouts as a heavyweight entering his August 14 clash with former 200-pound champion Steve Cunningham (28-7, 13 KOs) in Newark, New Jersey, which airs on Spike TV (9 p.m. ET).
The 46-year-old southpaw is breaking from his role as ringside analyst for Spike TV to face Cunningham, ending an eight-month ring absence.
“I respect Steve Cunningham wholeheartedly, but he’s never seen my combinations, timing, accuracy and power,” says Tarver, a 1996 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist. “I'm healthy and in great shape to work on my power and strength. I'm still feeding my body. I couldn’t do that at [175 pounds]."
Tarver made his heavyweight debut in October 2010, winning a 10-round unanimous decision over Nagy Aguilera.
In his subsequent bouts in the division, Tarver scored three knockdowns in a four-round stoppage of Mike Sheppard in November 2013, and knocked out Johnathon Banks in the seventh round in December.
Tarver also fought twice at 200 pounds during that stretch, including a ninth-round stoppage in July 2011 of Danny Green, who previously had knocked out Roy Jones Jr. in the first round.
“I went to Australia to stop Danny Green and got his ass outta there,” says Tarver, who won two of three highly anticipated fights with Jones at 175 pounds in 2003-05. “I feel the same way about Steve Cunningham.”
Tarver weighed in at a career-high 225¾ pounds for his last fight against Banks. He anticipates coming in below that to face Cunningham.
“I didn’t know I could fill out to be a solid heavyweight. I’m a better fighter today than I’ve ever been," the 6-foot-2 Tarver says. “I’m weighing out after practice at 217 and I’m probably going to fight at around 220. I’ll show the world what the game’s been missing. I’ll be electric.”
For complete coverage of Tarver vs Cunningham, visit our fight page.