Antonio Tarver: The former light heavyweight titleholder was a winner because he was lucky to emerge with a split-decision draw against Lateef Kayode on Saturday in Carson, Calif. Tarver, 43, deserves some credit for rallying after a painfully slow start to make the fight competitive. And, as he said afterward, his inactivity – four fights in four years – probably played a role in his performance. Still, the fighter we saw in the ring looked nothing like the legitimate cruiserweight contender he claimed to be beforehand. He looked slow and sluggish even in the later rounds, perhaps a sign of advancing years. He landed some nice straight lefts, which obviously caught the judges’ attention, but they were few and far between. Tarver (29-6-1, 20 knockouts) said afterward that he expects to look better going forward now that he has shed some rust. We’ll believe it when we see it.
Lateef Kayode: The imposing Nigerian had hoped for a break-out performance against Tarver. Instead, he was mediocre at best. I think he was the busier fighter overall – for which I believe he should’ve won the decision – but on the official scorecards he was dominated in rounds 6-12 by a lethargic 43-year-old who hadn’t been in the ring for almost a year. Kayode (18-0-1, 14 KOs) showed some energy, taking the fight to Tarver much of the night. However, nothing else stood out. He showed us little in the way of boxing and his aggression – when it was evident – was only marginally effective. And, finally, he didn’t seem to punch with much power; the few eye-catching shots he landed didn’t seem to faze Tarver. Bottom line: Kayode is only a pretty good fighter. He’s going to have to accomplish a lot more than he did Saturday to change that perception.
Kayode: A frustrated Kayode said after the fight that Tarver, a TV analyst, “won [even though it was a draw] because he works for Showtime. Let’s go to HBO or my country and see how it turns out.” Well, Kayode apparently will have his chance to explore other options. Showtime boss Stephen Espinoza told ESPN that Kayode won’t fight again on the network after making that comment. And, unfortunately for him, HBO isn’t keen on broadcasting cruiserweight fights. As reader Diego Blanco aptly put it, “I guess Lateef Kayode is pretty well f—-d now.” In Kayode’s defense, and as his handlers pointed out, boxers sometimes make regrettable comments out of emotion immediately after a tough fight. He undoubtedly would like to have that one back.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Leo Santa Cruz: The little Los Angeles fighter won his first major title and most likely the hearts of many fans on the Tarver-Kayode undercard. Santa Cruz, a punching machine, overwhelmed a game Vusi Malinga (20-4-1, 12 KOs) with a never-ending barrage of hard shots to claim the vacant IBF bantamweight belt. Dozens of painful-to-watch body shots alone might’ve been enough to earn him the title. Santa Cruz connected on 410 of 1,350 punches, according to CompuBox. He threw 853 power shots, landing 327. That’s what you call earning a world championship. Anyone who watched him on Saturday will want to watch him again. Of course, we don’t know what will happen when Santa Cruz (20-0-1, 11 KOs) takes the next step up in competition but we can safely assume he’ll give the fans their money’s worth – and then some.
Austin Trout: The boxing purists probably appreciated Trout’s performance against capable Delvin Rodriguez (26-6-3, 14 KOs) on the Tarver-Kayode undercard. The slick WBA junior middleweight titleholder gave an impressive seminar on how to outbox your opponent in a tactical fight, for which he deserves some credit. The problem was that such performances generally are boring. This fight certainly was. Once again it’s easy to sit behind a laptop and say that fighters like Trout (25-0, 14 KOs) should take more risks, which is a good way to shorten a career. However, the reality is that unless you’re an absolute boxing wizard – like a Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Pernell Whitaker – you must take chances to stir the masses. We got a glimpse of that in the final seconds of the fight, when Trout stood toe to toe with Rodriguez in a thrilling exchange. Too bad the entire fight wasn’t like that.
Peter Quillin: Quillin’s performance against Winky Wright on the Tarver-Kayode card would rate about a 5 on a scale of 1-10. The Brooklynite did more than enough to win a one-sided decision, putting his still-capable opponent down once and hurting him a few more times after that. However, we were left wanting more. Quillin (27-0, 20 KOs) looked great in spurts, his quick, explosive punches doing damage when he threw them. There were too many lulls, though, which sucked much of the energy out of a decent fight that could’ve been better. Wright (51-6-1, 25 KOs) gave a respectable performance. The once-great tactician has enough left at 40 years old to give most opponents some trouble but he also was vulnerable. Quillin took a solid step in his young career but probably could’ve made a bigger statement had he pressed the action a bit more.
Sakio Bika: Bika, the longtime super middleweight contender, doesn’t get much respect in part because he has been thoroughly outclassed each time he faced top-tier opponents (Joe Calzaghe, Lucian Bute and Andre Ward). He’s pretty tough to beat otherwise, though. The Cameroon-born resident of Los Angeles handled a solid opponent in Dyah Davis (21-3-1, 9 KOs) fairly easily before scoring a spectacular knockout in the 10th and final round on the Tarver-Kayode undercard. Of course, one impressive victory doesn’t mean Bika (30-5-2, 21 KOs) will ever beat the likes of Ward or Carl Froch. He probably wouldn’t. It does seem to reinforce the notion that he is a good fighter who can be fun to watch.
Shane Mosley’s retirement: Retirements are often temporary, particularly when a boxer has a name as big as Mosley (46-8-1, 39 KOs). If he really has fought for the last time, he will be missed. I want to forget the negative – the fact he took steroids before he fought Oscar De La Hoya the second time and his disappointing I’m-just-here-for-the-payday performances against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, for example. I want to remember the terror he was as a lightweight, at which he was 32-0 (with 30 knockouts). I want to remember his remarkable talent and undeniable fighting spirit when he was at his best. The man was a warrior. And I want to remember the fact he treated people with respect. Mosley, mild mannered outside the ring, was always one of the sport’s nice guys. Enjoy your retirement Shane. You’ve earned it.
Kayode, at the post-fight news conference: “I think I said something wrong (about Showtime).” Ya think?
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]