Clinton Woods defends his IBF light-heavyweight title against Antonio Tarver in Florida tomorrow tonight knowing that victory could secure him a money-spinning fight against Joe Calzaghe later this year. Calzaghe will make his US debut against Bernard Hopkins a week later. I know which fight I’ll be setting my alarm clock for.
Woods-Tarver has all the ingredients to be a classic. It will see Woods attempt to impose his high workrate and rugged pressure fighting to unsettle Tarver whose southpaw style and dangerous left hand could bring the curtain down on Woods’ title-reign at any moment.
It’s easy to see why many are tipping Woods to deliver a career best performance and return to Britain with his IBF title still strapped around his waist. Tarver looks to be on the slide and has been struggling to reproduce his best form ever since Bernard Hopkins humiliated him over 12 rounds two years ago.
Tarver blames his defeat to Hopkins on him becoming distracted by making a cameo performance in a Rocky movie. However, the man who famously inflicted the first legitimate defeat on Roy Jones’ record by sparking Jones in two rounds, struggled badly on his ring return last year against the limited Elvir Muriqi, only getting by on a majority decision. At 39, Tarver’s questionable stamina and desire will surely be put to the test by Woods who will set a tremendous workrate from the off.
In contrast, Woods’ long career may finally be catching up with him. Although four years younger than Tarver, punishing battles against common opponents Glen Johnson (who Woods drew, lost to and eventually beat) and a peak Roy Jones (who forced Woods to retire in six rounds), Julio Gonzalez (twice), Ole Klemetsen and Crawford Ashley could suddenly take their toll. Woods has also been hampered by a longstanding elbow injury, which kept him out of the ring for a year prior to him coming through a war with Julio Gonzalez last September.
Fighting in Tarver’s home-town, Woods will be under pressure to dominate the fight or risk losing a debatable decision. This makes him more likely to walk onto a big shot from which could suddenly turn the fight on its head. While as tough as they come, the face-first Yorkshireman is hardly elusive and his defence was repeatedly breached by Gonzalez last time out. Against a more powerful operator like Tarver, that could spell disaster.
Woods vs Tarver reminds me of when Paul Ingle travelled to the US to defend his IBF featherweight title against Junior Jones eight years ago. Fellow gritty Yorkshireman Ingle, like Woods, was a come forward pressure fighter who was prepared to take a shot to land more of his own. In Junior Jones, Ingle faced a faded “name” opponent who was living on the back of two big wins gained over Marco Antonio Barrera (as Tarver is with Roy Jones, to an extent).
Despite dominating the majority of the fight, Ingle walked onto a huge shot from Jones in the tenth round and did well to beat the count and even better to stop Jones in the very next round. A similar scenario could unfold itself tomorrow night but unlike Ingle, I’m not convinced Woods will be able to weather the crisis.