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Tarver talks while Dawson impresses

TAMPA, Fla. -- Antonio Tarver once again did what he does best – talk smack – but it was the target of his derisive squeals who emerged as the real winner Saturday from this night of light heavyweight action.

Tarver’s victory, claiming the IBF title from an ineffective Clinton Woods via unanimous decision in the main event at the St. Pete Times Forum, was dour and depressing. But it did not prevent him and his entourage of performing seals from launching cackling jibes at unbeaten WBC champion Chad Dawson less than an hour later.

With Dawson having earlier survived a wildly entertaining 12-rounder to score a unanimous decision against remarkably tenacious veteran Glen Johnson, a fight between he and Tarver is now inevitable enough for a face-off photo opportunity to be arranged immediately by promoter Gary Shaw.

Dawson sat stony faced behind his interview table in the bowels of the Forum as Tarver’s hoots and insults poured forth, but he should have been grinning on the inside.

Despite Tarver’s insistence that “Dawson is a lesser man than he was yesterday”, it is the 25-year-old Dawson who potentially has the division at his feet.

For a start, he quelled concerns over his chin by surviving a brutal right-hand in the 10th round that seemed certain to fell him and showed boxing smarts and sound defense to ensure most of Johnson’s big shots struck either glove or arm.

But most of all, Dawson will likely be handed the chance to compete for two belts against Tarver, an aging fighter whose foot speed can no longer match the pace of his verbal sparring.

Indeed, it was Tarver and the disappointing Woods who came away looking like yesterday’s men. Yet while Woods could see the signs of his advancing years arrowing in and hinted at retirement, his 39-year-old conqueror failed to get much of a grasp on reality.

“I busted Woods up pretty bad and he is hurt,” said Tarver. “I pressed him, I backed him up, I put it on him. I could have gone for days.”

Tarver did not look full of energy during the fight. Far from it. And instead of backing Woods up, it was he who spent much of his time in reverse, conserving his energy for quick bursts towards the end of rounds.

Few who witnessed both fights would have much confidence that Tarver could remain out of the reach of the lightning-quick Dawson in the same way that the lumbering Woods allowed him to do.

Dawson showed courage and stamina against Johnson, who begged for a rematch afterwards but is unlikely to get one.

“I have taken care of business,” Dawson said after his bout. “Now it is time to move on and take care of other things.”

Later, he hinted without much enthusiasm that another contest between the pair could take place after he clashes with Tarver.

However, Johnson is 39 so it will need to happen quickly if it happens at all. If Dawson does successfully unify his belt with Tarver's, he will have bigger fish to fry.

Johnson clearly deserves another big fight as reward for a courageous performance in which he never took a backwards step.

After all three judges scored the fight 116-112 for Dawson, Johnson vented his fury. “At my age I can’t believe people can find it in their heart to rip me off like that,” he said.

Yahoo! Sports scored 115-113 for Dawson. A television poll that showed 80 percent of viewers had been most impressed with Johnson of the four pugilists on display and in many ways he was, for the manner in which he moved forwards and looked for action.

But Dawson edged the close rounds and his strikes were generally more effective than those of the Road Warrior.

Dawson wore dark glasses to hide some swelling but soon they may be needed to block out the glare of the spotlight. For him the future is bright, with a chance to secure a big payday – and to shut Tarver’s mouth – on the horizon.