by Johnny Walker
Antonio Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs) looked to have it all figured out. The former light heavyweight champion had done what so many boxers struggle to do: find a suitable career outside of the ring as age inevitably brought his time inside the squared circle to an end.
Tarver, 43, received almost universal rave reviews for his work as a boxing analyst on the Showtime network, and had been set to add to his resume by performing the same task for NBC at this summer’s Olympic games.
Then came a cruiserweight fight with Lateef Kayode in June that ended in a draw (later changed to a no contest), followed by a positive post-fight drug test for the anabolic steroid drostanolone, and Tarver’s world began to fall apart very quickly.
The fighter/analyst was quickly yanked from a scheduled appearance on Showtime (without being mentioned even once by his on-air cohorts), and the Olympic offer was withdrawn and awarded to cruiserweight B.J. Flores instead. The California State Athletic Commission also fined Tarver and suspended him from fighting for a year.
On Monday, Tarver lost his appeal when the CSAC voted 4-1 to uphold his one-year ban from the ring. Tarver, who still proclaims his innocence, had hoped to get the ban reduced to six months.
Now, Tarver is stymied both inside and outside of the ring, unable to participate in the sport he loves as either a fighter (at least not in the United States) or as an analyst.
“I’ve been through a lot and this has been a very tough time,” Tarver told ESPN.com following the CSAC’s decision.
“This is the lowest point of my boxing career. But I have never used steroids and I am holding onto that and holding onto my innocence.”
Tarver’s options at this point are limited: he could apply for a boxing license in another country, a la David Haye and Dereck Chisora, and hope for the best.
As for his television career, the picture remains cloudy.
“Now everything is all up in the air. It’s what (Showtime) decides to do. They haven’t told me anything. The network is bigger than me. I can’t control the network. But I’ve never been told I’ve been fired,” Tarver explains.
“Showtime supports me and they want to see me get through this, but I don’t know if that means I will ever be back on the air.
“They have to make a decision based on the interest of the network. But I miss it, I really do. I miss boxing period. I’m ready to get back but maybe it’s [time for] retirement.”