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Monday, October 14, 2013
Antonio Tarver back from suspension

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

Former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, who has not fought since June 2012 because of a positive steroid test and subsequent one-year suspension, is making a comeback as a heavyweight.

Tarver will face journeyman Mike Sheppard in a scheduled 10-round bout on Nov. 26 (Fox Sports 1) in the main event of a "Golden Boy Live" card at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., Golden Boy Promotions announced on Monday.

"I'm looking forward to getting back into the ring and showing the world that the 'Magic Man' is better than ever and ready for the big fights," said Tarver, who turns 45 on Nov. 21. "This is the perfect opportunity to make a statement at home and I can't wait."

Tarver, who is from Tampa, fought to a 12-round draw in a cruiserweight bout against Lateef Kayode in Carson, Calif., in June 2012. However, Tarver tested positive for the anabolic steroid drostanolone after the fight. The California State Athletic Commission suspended Tarver for one year and the result of the bout was changed to a no decision. Tarver was also given a nominal fine, $2,500 of a $1.1 million purse.

Tarver appealed the commission's ruling in an effort to have the suspension reduced from a year to six months, but the year suspension was upheld on a 4-1 vote at the hearing. The suspension left Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs) ineligible to box anywhere in the United States, although he could have sought a license overseas.

Tarver has denied knowingly using steroids, telling ESPN.com after the suspension was upheld, "I can't explain why it was in my system because I don't know why it was in my system. But I know I've never taken any steroids. That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

Besides the suspension and the long layoff, the positive test cost Tarver his job as an analyst on Showtime, which fired him in the wake of the dirty test. A 1996 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist, Tarver had been due later that summer to serve as the NBC studio analyst for the 2012 Olympic boxing tournament, but the network dropped him from the role after the failed test and the job went to pro cruiserweight B.J. Flores.

Tarver is not taking on a top-level opponent in his return. Sheppard (21-15-1, 9 KOs), 38, of Palestine, W. Va., is a club fighter who has lost three of his last four fights, including to former titleholder Ruslan Chagaev, who knocked him out in the first round in March.

"Beating someone like Antonio Tarver would be career-altering for me," Sheppard said. "I know what he's accomplished in the sport, but I'm hungry for this and you're going to see the best Mike Sheppard yet."

Tarver, a southpaw, has had one previous heavyweight fight, a 10-round decision win against Nagy Aguilera in 2010.

Tarver's biggest victory came in a light heavyweight championship rematch with Roy Jones Jr. in 2004. In their initial fight in 2003, Jones survived a tough battle to win a majority decision. But in the rematch, Tarver shocked the world when he knocked out the once untouchable Jones in the second round. Tarver also outpointed Jones in their 2005 rubber match but then was upset in a lopsided decision loss to Bernard Hopkins in his next fight in 2006.

Tarver is 2-2 with the no contest in his last four fights with both defeats coming to Chad Dawson in light heavyweight world title bouts.

In the Nov. 26 co-feature, Miami-based Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz (19-0, 16 KOs), a 34-year-old southpaw with close to 350 amateur wins, will face an opponent to be announced in his first bout since signing with Golden Boy.

"I have not fought here in Florida in almost two years," Ortiz said. "It's going to be a big night in Florida and I will be looking for a knockout."