About Us  |   Contact

PBC on Spike report: Tarver vs. Cunningham

By Jeremy Wall

Antonio "Magic Man" Tarver (31-6-1, 22 KOs) fought Steve "USS" Cunningham (28-7-1, 13 KOs) to a split draw after twelve rounds in the main event of Spike's PBC show on Friday, August 14th in front of 5,843 at the Prudential Center in Newark. It was Tarver's first televised fight in years, although he has remained somewhat active on small shows. The show was promoted by Lou DiBella and aired on Spike from 9pm ET to just after 11pm ET.

The real story, though, was Krzysztof Glowacki (25-0, 16 KOs) defeating Marco Huck (38-3-1, 2 KOs) to win the WBO Cruiserweight title by eleventh round knockout in a fight of the year candidate. If Huck had defeated Glowacki, Huck would have broken the record for most consecutive Cruiserweight title defenses at fourteen. It was a great fight that elevated Glowacki from a nobody to a minor star.

The main event between Tarver and Cunningham was clearly put together as a showcase fight for the 46-year-old Tarver, with Tarver doing promos before the fight talking about how it is his destiny to win a heavyweight title. As unlikely as that is, Tarver fought as well against Cunningham as one could expect from a 46-year-old who averages about one fight a year. Tarver will also become a grandfather for the first time next month.

Tarver looked fleshy weighing in at 217 pounds for the bout, with a noticeable spare tire. He was actually down in weight compared to the heaviest he had ever been, which was against Johnathan Banks last December where Tarver came in at 225 pounds and knocked Banks out in the seventh round. Tarver's flabbiness didn't seem to create an issue with cardio, however, as Tarver is a plodding fighter who throws punches at a measured pace, allowing him to go the full twelve rounds without gassing.

The last time Tarver was seen on American television was when he went to a split draw defending the IBO Cruiserweight title against Lateef Kayode on June 2nd, 2012 in Carson. The fight aired on Showtime. Tarver ended up testing positive for Drostalolone in his pre-fight urinalysis and the fight was subsequently ruled a no-contest. Tarver's career looked finished after the bout, fighting only twice more moving up to heavyweight, once in 2013 where he stopped Mike Sheppard in the fourth round and then the win over Banks in 2014.

Fortunately for Tarver, Al Haymon and PBC came along with their bloated fight schedule and they need fighters with a bit of star power. Tarver had been working as a colour commentator for PBC on Spike.

“Antonio is a true champion behind the microphone and inside the ring,” said Jon Slusser, senior VP of Spike Sports, in a press release announcing the fight back in July. “It’s only fitting that Spike televise this great event between Tarver and Cunningham. We’re looking forward to an exciting night of boxing.”

“This is a big fight for me. PBC was designed for the new, young stars but I’m thankful they’ll let an old guy like me steal the spotlight on Friday night," said Tarver at a pre-fight presser in New York.

For Friday’s broadcast Tarver was replaced on commentary by Shawn Porter. Porter's father Kenny was also interviewed by host Dana Jacobson. Shawn did a good job, not great, but he's got a future in broadcasting if he wants one. Porter is a super babyface, however. He doesn't have a ton of charisma, but what charisma he does have comes off as similar to Christy Mathewson or Ricky Steamboat, to pull out a couple of obtuse references. He has somewhat the opposite charisma of Floyd Mayweather Jr in many ways and would have been my choice for Floyd's opponent on September 12th.

Anyway, back to Tarver. Tarver is really most famous for two things and not much else. First, he was the guy who finally defeated Roy Jones Jr when Jones was in his prime. They had three fights. First was a November 8th, 2003 bout that Jones won by majority decision. They did a rematch on May 15th, 2004, where Tarver stopped Jones in the second round, which was the beginning of the end of Jones as a top fighter, although like Tarver, Jones continues to fight weak opponent on smaller shows to this day, including a bout on Sunday. They had a third match on October 1st, 2005, which Tarver handily won by unanimous decision. Jones was actually in the audience at the Prudential Center for Friday night's fight, as he was scouting Marco Huck, who he wanted to fight for Huck’s cruiserweight title.

Tarver went on to lose his Light-Heavyweight title to Bernard Hopkins by unanimous decision in 2006. Tarver later suffered back to back losses to Chad Dawson in 2008 and 2009.

The second thing that made Tarver famous was playing Mason "The Line" Dixon in Rocky Balboa, which was Sylvester Stallone's major comeback movie of sorts a few years ago. It was the sixth Rocky film and probably the best since the first one about thirty years earlier. That film role probably introduced Tarver to a wider audience than would have known him from the Roy Jones fights, and probably extended his career by giving him a boost in name value to the point where in 2015 at 46 years old he could headline a PBC show on Spike.

Cunningham, 39, came into the fight off a unanimous decision loss to Vyacheslav Glazkov in March and had only won four of his last nine fights dating back to 2011. He was a former IBF Cruiserweight champion and had fought many of the top cruiserweights, including a twelfth round TKO win over Huck on December 29th, 2007, but also losses to Yoan Pablo Hernandez (twice), Tomasz Adamek, and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. Cunningham spent the best years of his career fighting in Europe where the Cruiserweight titles are most popular.

“I fought in Europe so much, fighting this close to home is a little scary," said Cunningham, who comes from Philadelphia, in a pre-fight presser. "There are a lot of eyes on you. But that’s what we do. We handle pressure and do what we do. If a fighter doesn’t have nerves they’re either lying or don’t have it in them.”

He moved up heavyweight in 2012 with mixed results, including another loss to Adamek and a seventh round knockout loss to Tyson Fury.

Cunningham was a good opponent for Tarver if PBC’s goal was to showcase that Tarver's still got it at 46. Cunningham is well past his prime and much smaller than Tarver, coming in at 204 pounds. He has a much longer reach and is slightly taller, but Tarver at 46 is probably at least as good as Cunningham at 39.

It was a dull fight, but it had to follow the Huck-Glowacki bout that might be a fight of the year candidate. Tarver's offense was slow and he kept the fight at a measured pace until the fourth round when he caught Cunningham with a right cross. Cunningham's legs were rubbery, but he didn't go down. Cunningham's eyes ended up swollen by the end of the bout. It was a close fight, though, that easily could have been judged either way fairly, with neither guy looking particularly like a winner.

The scorecards were 115-113 Cunningham, 115-114 Tarver and 114-114. Spike's unofficial scorer Steve Farhood had Tarver winning by two points. A draw was fair. Tarver landed 141 of 450 punches for 31-percent and Cunningham landed 154 of 678 punches for 23-percent. The punch stats look more in favour of Tarver than what the fight looks like when you actually watch it round by round.

Tarver and Cunningham each earned $250,000 for the fight, respectively.

The goal was to give Tarver a showcase fight on cable and despite the draw PBC probably achieved that goal. Tarver could have looked much worse at 46 years old against a somewhat younger and lighter opponent. He didn't look great and I don't think anyone is excited for another Tarver bout, but he looked as good as he reasonably could for his age.

Tarver wasn't pleased with the decision though.

“He didn’t hurt me and couldn’t get to my body. I did what I had to do but didn’t get the win. We got a draw and I’m not satisfied with it at all," Tarver said after the fight.

Cunningham felt better about the draw. “I have nothing to be ashamed of and I’ll get together with my team and family and talk about what we do next," he said.

Tarver is talking about fighting Wladimir Klitschko for Klitschko’s belts, which is unlikely since Tarver is a PBC guy and Klitschko is HBO.

"I want to face Wilder and Klitschko. I ain’t got nothing else to prove man," Tarver said in a conference call in July. "I’m going to prove it August 14. They know who I am. I’ve got five championships to my name. I don’t have to prove nothing. They know who I am and they know when I’m ready to fight, I’m going to tough out for anybody."

Boxing purists will hate the idea, but the next fight to make is Deontay Wilder vs Tarver. PBC isn't for boxing purists anyway, as they are trying to capture a new audience using mostly showcase fights to build star power in select boxers.

The reason the Wilder fight ought to be the next fight for Tarver is that they can do the fight on NBC and Tarver's name will bring a bit of added viewership from the type of people who don't regularly watch boxing, but watch the Rocky movies. Wilder would easily defeat Tarver. The whole thing with Wilder is that he is clearly the PBC fighter most likely to breakthrough and become a major star with an audience that will only watch boxing when major stars are involved. That audience is the difference between a somewhat profitable boxing match and a tremendously profitable boxing match. The whole deal with Wilder right now is to build him, fight by fight, into the kind of fighter who attracts that crossover mainstream audience.

A solid win over Tarver would be one more fight that helps getting Wilder to PBC's goal of creating a mainstream star to follow Floyd Mayweather once Mayweather retires. It's not that beating a middle-aged Tarver would turn Wilder from a popular fighter with boxing fans to a mainstream star. But it is one more brick in the wall towards building Wilder into a legit star.

In the co-main, Krzysztof Glowacki (25-0, 16 KOs) knocked out Marco Huck (38-3-1, 26 KOs) in a thrilling eleventh round upset to capture the WBO Cruiserweight title. It was both one of the biggest upsets and one of the best fights of the year. Huck (pronounced "Hook", so that his nickname is "Captain Hook") was considered the best cruiserweight boxer in the world and was looking to break the record for most consecutive successful cruiserweight title defenses at fourteen. Huck is now stalled at thirteen defenses, tying him with Johnny Nelson of England.

Glowacki took quite a bit of punishment throughout the early rounds of the fight, but dished the punishment back. There were a lot of headshots delivered by both fighters. In the sixth round, Huck dropped Glowacki with a left hook to the head. Glowacki tried desperately to stay on his feet, but his legs gave out and he was knocked down. The fight slowed a bit after that knockdown with Glowacki nervous to engage in obvious fear of being knocked down again.

Glowacki came back in the eleventh round, though, hitting Huck with a left-right combo to the head that dropped the champion. Huck struggled back to his feet, but was clearly dazed and Glowacki went in for the kill, pummeling Huck against the ropes until referee David Fields stepped in and called the fight at 2:39 of the eleventh.

Huck landed 127 of 395 punches for 32-percent. Glowacki landed 147 of 436 punches for 34-percent. Glowacki landed 42 of 169 jabs for 25-percent compared to Huck's lowly 10 of 130 jabs for 8-percent. Huck connected with slightly more power punches with 117 of 265 for 44-percent compared to Glowacki's 105 of 267 for 39-percent. Glowacki's jabbing and his tremendous chin were what largely made the difference in this fight.

Huck was leading on all three scorecards at the time of the stoppage, with two cards 96-93 for Huck and the third 95-94.

Huck split with long-time trainer Ulli Wegner before the bout and was training with Don House for the first time. Huck's last loss was coincidentally against Cunningham, by twelfth round TKO on December 29th, 2007. After the fight both Huck and Glowacki were taken to Rutgers University Hospital for observation.

“The US market is now open to me, and fans around the world are going to have to respect the cruiserweight division now," said Glowacki after the fight.

"I mean Glowacki-Huck has to be fight of the year," Lou DiBella told The Ring after the fight. "Glowacki is the Undertaker. He came back from the dead. How he got up from the sixth round I have no idea.”

Glowacki earned $60,000 for the fight. Huck earned $350,000 and was the highest paid fighter on the card.

During the broadcast Jimmy Smith pointed out that both Glowacki and Huck are power fighters with a fan friendly style similar to Sergey Kovalev or Gennady Golovkin. I think that's about right. Glowacki and Huck definitely displayed that fan friendly power punching style against one another.

"“When I was knocked down in the sixth round I didn’t know where I was and it took me a whole round to regain myself," said Glowacki after the fight. ”I still cannot hear well. I was listening to my corner though and when I heard that there was only one minute left in the eleventh round I knew I had to come on strong."

The Prudential Center was filled with Polish fans, though. Many fans had flown in from Poland as the card was loaded with Polish fighters. Besides Glowacki, on the undercard there was also major heavyweight prospect Artur Szpilka (20-1, 15 KOs, 26 years old), undefeated featherweight Kamil Laszczyk (21-0, 8 KOs, 24 years old), and undefeated middleweight Maciej Sulecki (21-0, 6 KOs, 26 years old).

All four Polish fighters won their bouts. Of the four bouts featuring Poles, only the Glowacki fight aired on Spike. Despite that, the extra hot Polish crowd gave Glowacki's win a "fight of the year" atmosphere that it otherwise wouldn't have had without all the Polish fans in attendance, with loud chants of "Glowacki" throughout the fight.

Prior to facing Huck in New Jersey, Glowacki had fought all twenty-four bouts of his pro career in his native Poland. Although coming into the fight with a great record, he was largely an unknown to the point where The Ring didn't have him listed in their top ten cruiserweights.

Huck was also making his US debut after fighting all of his previous 41 professional fights in Germany. He was born Serbia, but lives in Germany.

“When I eventually go back up to heavyweight I want to fight the top guys right away. Maybe I’ll go fight Deontay Wilder, that is definitely an interesting option," Huck said at a pre-fight presser.

It was somewhat of a big deal that PBC signed Huck earlier this year to bring him over to the US, since most of the best cruiserweight fights take place in Europe. Huck is German and Germany is one of the boxing hotbeds in Europe.

PBC has signed a number of European stars, both from the UK and from continental Europe, which makes me think that the company may have long-term plans for hosting fights in Europe. I don't think running shows in Europe is a good idea for a company that makes its money from American television due to the time zone differences, but PBC is tremendously ambitious, so nothing would surprise me.

There are a few possible fights for Glowacki. First would be a rematch with Huck, because of how exciting the first bout was and because Huck might still be favoured to win again and is a major star that PBC could headline wtih in Germany if PBC ever decided to cross the Atlantic. PBC is paying Huck well and the best way to utilize him would be in a rematch, and considering how exciting the first fight was, pretty much everyone who saw it would want to see a rematch. If booked, a rematch ought to take place on network television instead of cable, so that as many eyeballs are watching it as possible.

Second would be a bout with Roy Jones Jr, who was ringside watching the fight in order to scout Huck, who Jones has been trying to get a fight with. Huck had talked about fighting Jones in America before he was defeating by Glowacki. I think PBC needs to utilize more older stars to try and put over their younger fighters with star potential. Jones would fit that mold. The problem is that Jones is a colour commentator for HBO and although it doesn't seem like he has an exclusive to fight only with HBO since Jones fights regularly on small shows around the world, HBO probably wouldn't like him fighting for the competition.

Third would be a bout with Beibut Shumenov or BJ Flores. Shumenov beat Flores for PBC on NBC Sportsnet a few weeks back. Shumenov didn't look that good, though, and his win over Flores was a close, yet dull fight. This would be the weakest of the three major options for Glowacki's next bout, but is still possible because both Shumenov and Glowacki are cruiserweight PBC fighters who garnered major wins on cable.