Tarver returns at heavyweight

Former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, out of the ring for 16 months because of a drug suspension, is making his comeback at heavyweight.

Tarver, who turned 45 last week, will take on designated opponent Mike Sheppard, a 38-year-old West Virginia club fighter who has lost three of his last four fights, in a 10-rounder on Tuesday night (Fox Sports 1/Fox Deportes, 9 ET) at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

"For this fight I was anxious to get back,” said Tarver, who is from Tampa. “I really missed boxing.”

After Tarver’s last fight, a cruiserweight draw with Lateef Kayode in June 2012 in Carson, Calif., he tested positive for the anabolic steroid drostanolone. The California State Athletic Commission suspended Tarver for a year, fined him (although it was a pittance, just $2,500 of a $1.1 million purse) and changed the result of the bout to a no contest.

Tarver maintained all along that he never knowingly took a banned substance, although the failed test cost him his job as a Showtime analyst as well as a gig that had yet to start as a studio analyst on NBC for the 2012 Olympic boxing tournament.

In Tarver’s only other fight at heavyweight, he won a 10-round decision against Nagy Aguilera in 2010. Tarver said he is at heavyweight again because he dreams of one day winning the title, as unlikely as that is.

“I wanted to go to heavyweight because if I was going to make my return, it had to be for something bigger than me. I had to set a goal and I want to become heavyweight champion,” Tarver said. “It gives me something to come back for, something to reach for, gives me a mountain I can climb. That’s when I'm at my best -- when I feel my back is against the wall and I am the only one that thinks I can do it. I have to have the mindset and spirit to get it done.”

Sheppard (21-15-1, 9 KOs) figures to be a soft touch for Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs), although he admitted that he is not ready to take on a top heavyweight yet. Tarver also knows a loss at this stage of his career probably means it’s over.

“I'm not ready today for the top 10, but I want to get right back to work,” Tarver said. “If I lose again, there’s a good chance I will hang it up. I don't want that loss to come and, hopefully, be heavyweight champ.

"After [Tuesday’s] fight, I am going to recuperate in preparation for my next fight. I don’t know who that is going to be, but I'm going to be ready. It won’t be long before I can call out the best heavyweights in the world and be a serious threat. I am prepared for whatever Mike Sheppard is going to bring. This is a chance of a lifetime for him. He knows if he can beat me, he can make a name for himself. I have to make sure I protect my name and my reputation. I can’t wait. This is my reintroduction to the boxing world.”