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Tarver downplays losing weight after 'Rocky Balboa'

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver didn't think he would ever fight at 175 pounds again after dominating Roy Jones in their October 2005 rubber match.

Tarver, having twice defeated Jones and having avenged his loss to Glen Johnson, was eyeing the heavyweight division.

At a time when he was flirting with a match against Mike Tyson, Tarver also was cast in the role of fictional heavyweight champ Mason "The Line" Dixon in the film "Rocky Balboa," the sixth installment of Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" series that opens in December.

Making 175 pounds again couldn't have been further from Tarver's mind.

Playing the role of heavyweight champion required Tarver to bulk up even more than he typically would between fights, and he relished the idea of staying big and facing heavyweights for even bigger purses than he was earning.

In December, on the movie's Las Vegas set, Tarver stopped to chat with a reporter who was making a cameo in the scene. When asked if he planned to fight at light heavyweight again, Tarver broke into a broad, toothy grin, patted his stomach and said he was done at light heavyweight. When asked how much he weighed, Tarver was specific: "I'm 218 pounds today."

Tarver (24-3, 18 KOs) filmed the movie through January, and when no heavyweight fights of significance materialized, he had no real choice other than to return to light heavyweight for the biggest fight available.

That meant a showdown with former undisputed middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins (46-4-1, 32 KOs).

It also meant that Tarver would have to shed almost 45 pounds in order to make weight for their "Fight to the Finish" on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at Boardwalk Hall.

While Tarver is taking weight off, Hopkins has had to pack weight on as he rises two divisions for what he says will be the last fight of his career.

Tarver has downplayed the weight issue, despite being asked about it incessantly, especially in light of Jose Luis Castillo's failure to make weight last week for his third fight with Diego Corrales and the shocking cancellation of the bout.

"Part of our job," Tarver said about making weight. "I mean, we've got to lose weight. We all lose weight. That's not a problem. Only people like Roy Jones make excuses."

Jones was light heavyweight champion when he moved up and beat John Ruiz to win a heavyweight title. Then he came back down to light heavyweight to fight Tarver. Although Jones won their first fight on a close decision, he said his poor performance was because of the strain of losing so much weight.

Antonio Tarver Tarver (right) took two of three bouts vs. Roy Jones Jr.

Tarver said rather than people worrying about him losing weight, they should think instead about how Hopkins will react to being punched by a much bigger man.

"He's not used to carrying that weight around," Tarver said. "When I go to the body, dig to the body, stay in close, let my hands go and he's going to have to move around and carry that weigh, I don't know what Bernard is going to do. What does he have to defend himself against me?

"That's what the puzzle is. That's the question. What will he do when he gets smashed with my right hook, with my body shots and my combination punches? What is he going to do when he hasn't felt anything like that before? That remains to be seen. What we will find out early on."

Tarver, who now denies he was ever 218 pounds, said he would be on weight for the fight with Hopkins thanks to the help of strength and conditioning coach Dudley Pierce, who worked with Tarver through his entire training camp in Vero Beach, Fla.

"I don't have a problem with it," Tarver said of the weight. "I'm lean, mean, I'm ready to go. I've got no excuses, no problems. I don't have a problem. I'm ready."

Tarver does admit that cutting weight is difficult, but he said he gave himself ample time to come down safely.

"It has been hard work, but I've never been afraid of it," Tarver said. "I look at it as a challenge. I train three times a day. I'm in great shape, unbelievable condition. The thing about this, that people fail to realize, is that I've been training since the middle of October. Do you think I was sitting around eating donuts out there with Sylvester Stallone? I was working out with one of the most revered trainers on the West Coast, Gunner Peterson, and we worked hard. We worked hard to put on the muscles. We lifted weights, we did exercises, we worked. And so, that's the key that people are going to fail to realize. I've been training since the middle of October for this fight."

While Tarver has been busy losing weight, Hopkins spent his training camp bulking up from 160 pounds with the help of renowned fitness guru Mackie Shilstone.

Shilstone, who has worked with thousands of athletes, is known in boxing for helping light heavyweight champions Michael Spinks and Roy Jones resculpt their bodies when they moved up and pulled upsets to win heavyweight titles.

Shilstone hopes to be just as successful with Hopkins, who instead of splitting his training camp between Miami and Philadelphia, moved it to be with Shilstone in New Orleans.

Hopkins, never out of shape and rarely more than a few pounds heavier than the 160 pounds he fought at for so long, said hiring Shilstone shows how serious he is about the fight.

"I knew I had to add the pieces to my puzzle to be successful for this fight," Hopkins said. "I knew I could have stayed in Philly and ate my way to 175 pounds, but I wanted to do it right and, fortunately, I can afford to go out and get the best, the very best to make this happen. Mackie Shilstone has an undefeated record with fighters and is really the best with getting a fighter ready at a new weight. He's the best, and he's not cheap, either."

Said Shilstone, who had never met Hopkins until they opened camp: "He is the most disciplined, structured, well-thought and purposeful athlete that I have come across, and I don't have to tell you that. I have nothing to gain from it. It's based upon my experience of working with him."

Hopkins said the process of putting weight on was not too difficult.

"If I was eating a drumstick when I was a middleweight, I'm eating two drumsticks now," Hopkins said. "If I was eating eight ounces or 10 ounces of rice, I'm eating 15 ounces of rice now or 12 ounces of rice.

"I have always been in control of my eating habits. So I'm not on a diet. I'm taking vitamins like crazy. I've always done that. I'm taking a little more than I did before."

While it will be a struggle for Tarver to be at 175 pounds, Hopkins figures to come in well under the maximum weight.

"I don't think it's necessary [to weigh 175]," Hopkins said. "I don't have to be because if I'm not comfortable with that, then why would I put myself through that and subject myself to being out of my world?"

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.