CARSON, Calif. -- Antonio Tarver loves good food, golf and his job as a commentator on Showtime's boxing telecasts. His comfortable home life in Tampa gives him innumerable reasons to forget about fighting and just revel in the onset of middle age.
Yet here's the 43-year-old former light heavyweight champion still sweating it out in a gym south of Los Angeles. He's preparing to fight cruiserweight Lateef Kayode, an undefeated title contender and ferocious puncher who's 14 years younger than him, with his eye on a heavyweight title shot in the near future.
Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs) knows he could walk away from boxing, and he has plenty of places to go. He won't do it, not while there's still a chance of championship glory and big-money fights.
"I want to do something great," Tarver said. "I think I've done a lot of great things in boxing, but I want to do something that no one can deny how good a fighter I was. I think there's a lot of question marks out there. They still can't see me, and I think defeating one of the Klitschko brothers, my place would be undeniable in boxing history."
Tarver's bout with Kayode (18-0, 14 KOs) tops a stacked card at Carson's Home Depot Center on Saturday night featuring two ostensible gatekeepers planning to slam that door on two unbeaten youngsters.
Tarver is joined by Winky Wright, his fellow over-40 former champion and Tampa-area fighter, who's returning from a three-year layoff against unbeaten middleweight Peter Quillin. Austin Trout, the WBA's 154-pound champion, also defends his belt against Delvin Rodriguez, while Leo Santa Cruz fights South Africa's Vusi Maligna for the vacant IBF bantamweight belt.
Tarver fought just once in 2010 and 2011, scaling back his career after consecutive losses to Chad Dawson. After winning an Olympic medal, 29 pro fights and several belts, Tarver realized he needed a new goal to overcome the lure of retirement: He wants a heavyweight title shot against a Klitschko brother, and he realizes a strong performance against Kayode is vital.
"They're running out of opponents," Tarver said. "They don't have any credible opponents left, man. ... I want a Klitschko before they want to see me lose a step or two, because right now, I'm still dangerous, and it don't seem like they want no danger."
Tarver has resisted the lure of retirement so far, but he has tasted life after boxing. He acknowledges gaining significant amounts of weight between fights, partly due to his hectic travel schedule for television, but said he recently made a pact with himself "to never get out of shape again in my life."
"I'm not a monk," Tarver said. "I'm a human being, and I like the finer things in life. I like to enjoy my life. Why do all this if you can't enjoy it? I'm not going to try to say that I'm some angel, but I don't do anything crazy. I like to eat. I'm a food connoisseur. A lot of times, you've got to treat yourself. I'm not going to sit here and say I've never had a candy bar. My whole thing is when I'm in that ring, I know I'm 100 percent ready."
Tarver hasn't fought in 11 months -- but compared to Wright (51-5-1, 25 KOs), Tarver is a model of consistency and perseverance.
The former middleweight king has fought just once since losing to Bernard Hopkins way back in July 2007. Wright's only fight in his late 30s was a one-sided decision loss to Paul Williams in April 2009, with the defense-oriented boxer claiming he couldn't get any bouts with enough importance or remuneration to coax him back into the ring.
Wright planned to return last year, but pulled out of a bout with Matthew Macklin with a hand injury shortly after acknowledging he was finding it tough to get back into fighting shape. He finally accepted a bout with Quillin (26-0, 20 KOs), a Brooklyn-based prospect who has stopped his last five opponents.
"I thought if I wanted to get back in the ring, I had to do it, and do it now," said Wright, who built his career on his willingness to fight anyone in any location. "I just turned 40, so if I'm going to do this, I have to do it. I'm not coming back just to fight and get a win. I want to fight the best. I want to be champion. If I can't be champion, there's no reason to do this."
Tarver added spice to his own bout from his position on Showtime, criticizing Kayode while commenting on his recent fights. The comments angered the younger fighter, who has repeatedly confronted Tarver about it in flashes of the impulsiveness that worried Kayode's trainer, Freddie Roach.
Tarver laughs it off and focuses on his own career -- specifically that lucrative shot he covets against a Klitschko. Tarver, who fought at heavyweight in 2010, believes he could be on the verge of a career-defining achievement after getting past Kayode.
"I don't want to break George Foreman's record," Tarver said, recalling the 45-year-old Foreman's heavyweight title victory over Michael Moorer in 1994. "I know I have only a small window of opportunity to realize my goal of becoming heavyweight champion. I want that fight to happen sooner than later, and I know I can get it done because of my talent, my skills and my ability."