Tarver fights to draw; Wright loses

Antonio Tarver rallied in the late rounds to earn a draw with unbeaten cruiserweight Lateef Kayode on Saturday night, and Winky Wright lost a unanimous decision to unbeaten middleweight Peter ”Kid Chocolate” Quillin.

Austin Trout also defended his WBA super welterweight title at the Home Depot Center complex south of Los Angeles with an uneventful unanimous decision over Delvin Rodriguez. Local bantamweight Leo Santa Cruz won the vacant IBF title with a one-sided decision over South Africa’s Vusi Malinga.

The 43-year-old Tarver (29-6-1) got off to a slow start against the powerful Kayode (18-0-1), but rallied in the second half of the bout. Tarver and Kayode each won 115-113 on one judge’s scorecard, and the third was 114-114.

The 40-year-old Wright was soundly outpointed in his first fight in nearly three years.

Tarver likely didn’t move much closer to his goal of landing a heavyweight title fight against a Klitschko brother, but the veteran champion avoided his first defeat since May 2009 with a solid second-half rally. Kayode dominated the early rounds, keeping Tarver constantly in a defensive retreat, but Tarver broke through in the sixth round and finished strong.

”I beat this guy in every aspect,” said Tarver, who works as an analyst for Showtime. ”I dictated every round. I hit him with clean shots all night long. He was sloppy, just like I said he was. He was just slapping and never landing. I swept him after the sixth round. From the sixth to the 12th, it was a shutout. I was slow to start. That’s all he had on me.”

Kayode showboated and goaded Tarver to throw more punches throughout the bout. Although Kayode landed just 8 percent of his punches compared to 20 percent for Tarver, the Nigerian slugger who trains in Hollywood under Freddie Roach reacted with outrage at the decision.

”Everybody knows I won this fight,” Kayode said. ”I am a strong man. I came to fight. Power is my name, and I did my job. I am better than him. He won because he works for Showtime. Let’s go to HBO.”

Wright (51-6-1), the former middleweight champion fighting in the co-main event behind his good friend and fellow Tampa-area fighter Tarver, showed rust during his first fight in 38 months. He also demonstrated a willingness to engage Quillin (27-0, 20 KOs) in one of the defense-oriented Wright’s most entertaining fights in years.

Quillin’s speed and power caused enormous problems for Wright, knocking him down in the fifth round and leading to a prolonged battering in the eighth. Wright engaged with Quillin for all 10 rounds, a change from the defense-first style he has used for most of his career.

”He definitely won the fight, no doubt at all,” Wright said. ”My timing was off. He fought a good fight, and he came prepared. I think I need to be at 154 if I fight again. He was quicker than I thought, and he was stronger than I thought.”

Wright had fought just once since losing to Bernard Hopkins in July 2007, losing a one-sided decision to Paul Williams in April 2009. Wright claimed he couldn’t find any fights that intrigued him, even with his 40th birthday looming last November.

Quillin was highly watchable in the biggest victory of his career, consistently breaking through Wright’s defense with combinations and big shots. The fight was a step up in competition for Quillin, whose style could attract bigger fights with bigger names.

”I’m very proud. This was hard work for me,” said Quillin, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., the hometown of Floyd Mayweather Jr. ”I threw a lot of punches and made him fight me. He was very smart and crafty. I had to watch for the shots.”

Tarver hadn’t fought since stopping Australia’s Danny Green last July in yet another upset victory for the Magic Man. But with just three fights in the previous 43 months, Tarver realizes he’s running out of time to land the big-money bouts he wants: He’s determined to fight one of the Klitschko brothers for a final career-defining achievement.

Tarver got Kayode’s attention months before the fight with critical comments about Kayode’s fighting style. Kayode got mad again in the third round when Tarver hit him as the referee separated them out of a clinch, dismissively waving away Tarver’s apologetic offer to touch gloves.

Kayode landed the majority of decent punches in the first five rounds, but Tarver came back with several big shots in the sixth and a left hand in the eighth that buckled Kayode’s knees.

Trout (25-0, 14 KOs) acknowledged he wasn’t impressive while beating Rodriguez in a decision that drew scattered boos. Although Trout was never hurt, his low punch output and Rodriguez’s ever-changing style led to an awkward fight.

Santa Cruz (20-0-1), who fights out of nearby Rosemead, threw an astonishing 1,350 punches in a near-shutout decision victory, losing only one round on one judge’s scorecard and earning the 118-pound title.

Earlier, African-Australian super middleweight Sakio Bika returned to prominence with a dominating performance, stopping Dyah Davis in the 10th round.

Fans near ringside included 50 Cent, Lakers forward Metta World Peace, former major league slugger and Tampa native Gary Sheffield, WBC 154-pound champion Canelo Alvarez, WBC 122-pound champ Abner Mares, Sugar Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, Laila Ali, Marshall Faulk, Lindsey Vonn and Strikeforce MMA star Ronda Rousey.