By Dan Rafael
Former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, who announced his intention to move up to heavyweight in June, is following though on his plan.
Tarver told ESPN.com on Monday that he will make his heavyweight debut Oct. 15 against Nagy Aguilera in a scheduled 10-rounder either in Memphis or Southern California.
“I won’t be the biggest heavyweight. I won’t be the strongest guy, but I think I’ll be the quickest and most elusive and the best counter puncher the heavyweight division has seen in a long time,” Tarver said. “I want to see if I can hit these big boys and put a dent in them. It remains to be seen, but if I can put a dent in these big boys, I’ll be the next heavyweight champion.
“I think I have so much more to give to the game. People are dying for a guy in the heavyweight division who has a face and a name and has some credibility. That’s what I bring to the table. You look at the American landscape and we don’t have anything out there. So I will give it a try until they beat me. I look at it like I am undefeated at heavyweight. And I am not fighting a dead man. Aguilera is a credible guy and I will see where I stand right off the bat.”
The bout is slated to headline a special edition of Showtime’s “ShoBox: The New Generation” series. Tarver (27-6, 19 KOs) has been working as a ringside commentator on the series.
“Maybe I’ll fight and commentate at the same time and pick up two checks,” Tarver joked.
Tarver, who will turn 42 in November, will be fighting for the first time in 17 months and is coming off back-to-back clear decision losses to Chad Dawson in light heavyweight title bouts.
Tarver, who is 6-foot-2, has fought his entire career in the 175-pound light heavyweight division. Even as a star amateur, who received a 1996 Olympic bronze medal, Tarver fought as a light heavyweight, where the weight limit was 178 pounds.
“I think I stayed too long in that division,” said Tarver, who is best known for defeating Roy Jones Jr. in two of their three fights, including a shocking second-round knockout in their 2004 rematch. “I outgrew that division a long time ago. I was 28 coming out of the amateurs. I fought at 178 and, as a pro, I had to lose three more pounds. It was tough. I did it for a long time and I don’t have any regrets. But my last performances show I wasn’t as strong as I was in the past, and Dawson was 14 years younger than me. That had a lot to do with it. I wasn’t able to be as strong as I should have been in a fight.”
Tarver got a fictional taste of the heavyweight division when he played the role of heavyweight champion Mason “The Line” Dixon in the movie “Rocky Balboa” opposite Sylvester Stallone’s iconic Rocky character.
To make the transition as an athlete instead of as an actor, Tarver said he is working with strength coach Jameel Thompson to build his thin frame. He said he is 211 pounds now, but plans to build himself up to fight in the 215 to 217 pound range.
“I feel good right now. My goal is to be very strong and solid at the weight,” said Tarver, whose promotional company AT Entertainment will promote the bout. “I’ll look better with the weight on me. I won’t look frail and drawn and skinny.”
Aguilera (16-4, 11 KOs), 24, a native of the Dominican Republic based in New York, appears to be a reasonable test for Tarver in his first fight at heavyweight. On Aug. 6, Aguilera lost a competitive 12-round decision to Maurice Harris for a regional title, although two fights before that, former heavyweight titlist Samuel Peter knocked him out in the second round of a world title eliminator.
However, Aguilera, who is 6-3 and 230 pounds, also owns a win against former heavyweight titleholder Oleg Maskaev, whom he knocked out in the first round in December 2009.
“Aguilera is a bona fide heavyweight and did real well going the distance against Maurice Harris,” Tarver said. “We’ll see if we can best that and step up to the plate with the big boys. This is a great opportunity for him to fight a name guy after just losing a competitive fight. I’m not picking no dead man to fight. Aguilera can hit, so I’m testing myself. I’ll have to get used to the big guys punching me — if they can land one. I am looking to fight those big guys and prove I am worthy of the heavyweight championship.”
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com; follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.
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