Antonio Tarver

He is the former undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion of the world and now part of one of the biggest movie franchises ever. Professional boxer Antonio Tarver comes to the big screen for his first movie starring alongside Sylvester Stallone as his opponent Mason “The Line” Dixon in Rocky Balboa that comes out December 20th. Antonio reflects a lot on the movie, but also the critics of his boxing career.

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Chris Yandek: How are things with you?

Antonio Tarver: “Everything is great. I am so excited. Like I said before, it’s like I am on a magic carpet ride all the way through Los Angeles and Hollywood. It’s unbelievable. I am just really excited about the film and just to have the opportunity to work alongside the great Sylvester Stallone, superstar, is unbelievable.”

CY: This is your first motion picture and you are in a starring role. How did you end up landing the role to be Sylvester Stallone’s next opponent Mason “The Line” Dixon in Rocky Balboa?

AT: “This is Sly’s outfit man and he has the final word and say in all of that. For him to come to me and say that he wrote the script with me in mind, I mean that was unbelievable. I didn’t have to audition. It was my job to lose or giveaway. I told him where do I sign up? No way was I going to let an opportunity like this pass by. I think when you look at it, I met Sylvester Stallone back in 1995 right before I went to the Olympics which he was a big fan then. He has followed boxing forever and a day. He is sort of like a historian right now. For him to choose me to do this role is a dream come true. I have always had ambition to be an actor.

I did a couple of plays, I did The Exonerated with Sandy Duncan about two years ago. To land a part like this has to be a blessing. I never would’ve dreamed in a thousand years that I would be doing this great franchise movie Rocky Balboa and being the co star with Sylvester Stallone. It is definitely a dream come true, an American dream and the American story. I can’t believe it.”

CY: Did he tell you why it took him 16 years to do another one since Rocky V or why do you think it took him so long?

AT: “I think he wanted to find that real storyline. It’s timing. I think that the stars really have to line up for a guy like Sylvester Stallone to really put his heart and soul into a movie, sort of like he did in the first one. The impact that he was looking for and the result that came about is unparalleled. I think when you look at the final chapter, the final installment, I think he had to go back to that moment to really create something of that nature. I think that’s what you’ll realize and discover when you watch this film, the plot, the storyline, the characters. A lot of people are saying that this is one of the best Rocky movies. I am just thrilled enough to be a part of it and looking forward to the premiere which is Wednesday and the opening and the whole world to see on December 20th.”

CY: In the boxing scenes how real were the punches you were throwing and how real were the punches you were taking from Sylvester Stallone?

AT: “They were very because a lot of times you try to roll with it and slip with it. This guy is throwing and he is throwing hard. I tell everyone that Sylvester only has one speed that’s all out. It might start out slow, but it’s going to go full throttle. A lot of times we got into the fight scenes and the action was so heated. I am like ok, we are supposed to cut now. It was such good action that he just let it roll. I hit him a lot of times. I hurt my knuckle actually on his head landing some shots. It’s just part of the work. Not that we intentionally tried to hurt each other, but we wanted to bring realism as if you were watching a major pay per view event. That’s what we wanted to capture. I think we did that.”

CY: Was this harder than a real boxing fight because there were a handful of takes and you had to fake some of the punches you were throwing?

AT: “I would say a real fight is much harder because the threat you are opposed with. I think the fight scene, the script, memorizing my lines, bring this character Mason Dixon to life, the thing that I think they both have in common is preparation when you look at the training camps you have to go through to be your best and you look at the training preparation I had to go through to nail this character and bring this character to life so people can relate to this character. It was still a lot of preparation, a lot of hard work, a lot of retakes, a lot of studying. I am just glad that he chose me and that I was able to give the best effort that I could.”

CY: Did you think or did you feel it was like a real fight at least or did you think he could still go even though he is 60 years old? You are a little younger than him obviously.

AT: “Yeah. That is what we wanted. You have to understand who Sylvester Stallone is. This guy is a bulldog. It is just the way he is. I think that if he had another life to do it all over again, I think he would have the passion to become a real boxing champion. He just lives it, he breathes it, and he is a historian, he knows history of the game, he’s been involved with guys like Joe Frazier in the past back when Joe Frazier was in his prime. The guy is just a bonafide boxing aficionado. That is just the way he is. I learned a lot because I didn’t know all the things that he knew. With me, this being my job and how I feed my family, you would think that I would be the historian. This guy told me stories about people he has come across in his life that I could only just dream about. That in itself was a thrill and a learning experience.”

CY: Was there one moment or one story or one thing on set that you remember him most by during this film when it was filmed?

AT: “Yeah. I will never forget, he was trying to get his punches in, but I don’t take punches well. Just instinctively, everytime we were standing right there face to face and he was trying to throw a big right hook and he was supposed to catch me flesh on my jaw, but I never trusted him being able to pull his punches because I know he has this innate energy and that aggressiveness. I was supposed to stand still and everytime he swung I would naturally just roll to the point where he would never be able to touch my face. He said, ‘Stand still. I am trying to hit you.’ It was just one of those things. It was a great moment because you know naturally it’s not for me to take punches. I don’t have that in me. My job has always been to hit and not get hit. It was kind of a funny moment.”

CY: What did you think of Sylvester Stallone’s physique and did you think he was still believable as a boxer?

AT: “Incredible. You gotta remember that this guy is 60 years old. I only would hope that I look that good when I am 60. We had the same trainer when I trained for the part in the movie. We had Gunnar Peterson and I know what Gunnar Peterson puts people through because he put me through it. For Sly to workout every day is incredible. For him to be there on time and committed to it is another thing. The guy looks great. He is strong. His energy level, you would never think he was 60 years old never.”

CY: I know you are a professional boxer playing a boxer in this movie, but do you think this movie could open other doors for you in the movie world or would you like to do more acting if given the opportunity?

AT: “Of course. You would hope and think that if I can scratch the surface of guys like Mr. T, Carl Weathers, Hulk Hogan, and how this movie has catapulted their career to basically super stardom. If I can just scratch the surface I would be happy with that. I feel that I did my job. Hopefully the people will relate and accept the role of Mason Dixon and hopefully people will see that I have something in me, a gift, some innate talent that they can bring out and continue to have an avenue to go into once my boxing career is over.”

CY: It said on your web www.antonio-tarver.com that you’d like to fight Mike Tyson, Vitali Klitschko, and James Toney before retiring in a few years. Why do you want to fight these three men?

AT: “Well, back then that is what I wanted because I am gonna make my move to the heavyweight division and I felt Tyson would be a great measuring stick at that time to decide if this is really where I want to belong amongst the big boys. Klitschko was the pinnacle because he was the guy everybody was saying was the heavyweight champion of the world. When you have big dreams like that you don’t want to elevate anyone, but now I have a different vision. I think my vision now is to just get back in tip top shape. The model that I am training now is that this is my last time ever having to get in shape because I am going to stay in shape. I think that’s when I look back at my career something that I haven’t done. We always fighting, and it’s three or four months before we fight again. I take a month off and at 38 it really takes a toll on you. I have some unfinished business in boxing and I am coming back to boxing with a different found dedication and commitment.

It’s the true Rocky story when you look at my life and career right now having my back against the wall. People are discrediting me for all of my accomplishments and saying that I was just a fluke fly by night fighter and I disagree. I am gonna prove to these people everything that I said I was. Right now it’s not about the money, not about the fame. It’s about proving to myself how great I can be.”

CY: You are the former undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion of the world. You had a series with Roy Jones Jr. that nobody will ever forget. You were the first to knock him out in the first fifty opponents he ever had. Why do you think you were discredited?

AT: “Because they gave Roy Jones Jr. every excuse in the book for why he was tested the way he was in the first fight. Then I knocked him out and beat him in the trilogy. My whole thing is that I have always had to fight guys that have that star quality. That was pretty much living legends when you look at Hopkins, Roy Jones, those type of guys. They never saw me coming. I started boxing at the old age of 28 when I was pro. I started at 10 years old. They forget about those great amateur years I had in which I became one of the best U.S. amateurs in boxing history outside of capturing the gold in Atlanta.

They never saw me being the great dominant light heavyweight that I became. When the critics say things and then they are proven wrong of course they are going to have a bitter taste in their mouth because they never saw it coming. I still have work to do. I think I also tell myself that to motivate me to keep that edge because I am always out to prove to people I am one of the best. When it is all said and done I think I will be considered one of the best light heavyweights of all time if not the best. I have a lot of work to do to be the best and the number one light heavyweight of all time.”

CY: What do you think of Mixed Martial Arts and do you think it’s taking fans away from the boxing world? Some people say boxing has lost its appeal and the UFC is the new thing. What do you think about all of it?

AT: “I disagree with it wholeheartedly. I think boxing is the gladiator sport that it’s always been. We have an unbelievable history when you go back in the day. I think boxing will forever be around. Mixed Martial Arts is in an arena in itself. Those guys are very tough. They are very good at what they do. It’s just a different game. We have rules and it’s regulated. I think Mixed Martial Arts aren’t. They just get in there and it’s just free for all. I personally would be scared to hit someone bare knuckle, the damage and devastation.

You could truly kill somebody with a blow when you are talking about a professional boxer because that’s the type of impact and force that we are taught. I know from old street fighting days that everybody I would touch with my bare hand I would cut them. I cut three or four inch deep gashes. It would be unfair to really land a combination while he was just standing there. It wouldn’t work, but I wouldn’t let a guy grab me either. I am not good at wrestling.”

CY: Finally, what was it like for you to see Stallone direct and star in the movie at the same time.

AT: “I was in awe. I didn’t let him know that, but I was in awe. It’s just like I said, in a million years I never thought about acting or playing a role of this magnitude alongside the great superstar Sylvester Stallone, but I like said that’s why we live life. You never know what can happen tomorrow. That’s why I continue to stay prayed up and motivated and determined to walk this line. I am just looking forward to tomorrow because you never know what’s around the corner.”

Rocky Balboa is in movie theaters everywhere on December 20th. You can find all the information about the movie at www.rocky.com

You can check out Antonio Tarver’s official website at www.antonio-tarver.com