Tarver-Dawson the one fight fans have been waiting for

LAS VEGAS -- After a long and winding road, light heavyweight titleholder Antonio Tarver and Chad Dawson will finally face each other.

They have veered toward each other and away, trash talking all the way, but the much-anticipated bout at the Palms Casino on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/PT) is the culmination of a rocky 16-month road to finally get them into the ring together.

Opening the telecast, Showtime will carry same-day taped coverage of the fight between heavyweight titleholder Samuel Peter (30-1, 23 KOs) and unretiring former titleholder Vitali Klitschko (35-2, 34 KOs) from Berlin. But the live bout between Tarver and Dawson is one fight fans have been asking for.

After such a long buildup, it's no wonder.

Showtime showed rock-solid support for Tarver (27-4, 19 KOs) and Dawson (26-0, 17 KOs), steadfastly standing behind them by giving them fight after fight against other opponents -- sometimes suffering scathing criticism in the process -- in the hope their showdown would come to fruition.

Gary Shaw, who promotes Dawson and has worked closely with Tarver, also has spent endless hours trying to put this one together, and he is quite pleased that it has finally arrived.

"It's very satisfying to bring something to fruition that you've worked hard on that people said would never happen," Shaw said. "There was some give and take, but in the end it all worked out.

"[Tarver adviser] Al Haymon was helpful and, obviously, [Showtime boxing chief] Ken Hershman did everything to keep it on track. It's no secret Showtime was heavily invested in this fight with what they did with Tarver and Dawson."

Indeed, Showtime has been eyeing this fight for ages. Dawson grew up on its prospect-oriented series "ShoBox" before winning a world title on the network in early 2007. Not long after that, Tarver was looking to come back from his lopsided loss to Bernard Hopkins and found a home on Showtime when HBO was no longer interested.

Over the next year-plus, Dawson and Tarver were featured three times on Showtime, twice on the same card, stoking interest in a fight that often looked like it would never happen.

In June 2007, they shared a card on which Tarver struggled to a decision win against journeyman Elvir Muriqi and Dawson made his first title defense by knocking out Jesus Ruiz in six rounds.

After that show, Dawson wanted to fight Tarver next. Showtime would have liked the same thing. But the Tarver camp put it off.

"I wanted it a couple of fights ago, but he didn't," said Dawson, looking relaxed as he went for a walk through the Palms on Thursday afternoon with manager Mike Criscio. "But now it's the right time and place. God works in mysterious ways and it's here now. That is what is important."

Dawson and Tarver each won fights in late 2007 on separate bills, once again igniting interest in their fight, but again Tarver delayed it.

In April, although Showtime was growing weary of them fighting everyone but each other, Tarver and Dawson were again featured together. Tarver easily outpointed England's Clinton Woods to grab a title and Dawson defended his version of the title with a very difficult and close decision against former champ Glen Johnson, who is 1-1 against Tarver.

Perhaps because Dawson looked vulnerable against Johnson, or because Tarver had simply tried Showtime's patience, he finally agreed to the fight. But it was finalized only after Dawson agreed to relinquish his alphabet title instead of facing mandatory challenger Adrian Diaconu in a bout Showtime had no intention of buying.

Shaw was fine with that.

"This fight is what boxing is about. If you're going to give fighters certain fights, it should lead to certain fights," Shaw said. "This is the culmination of a long road. I sure made more money on other fights, but there aren't a lot of fights I have gotten more satisfaction in putting together."

Hershman was also happy to finally put the fight together after many months of hard work and lots of criticism for the interim fights.

"There's been a groundswell of anticipation for this fight for more than a year," Hershman said. "Two of the pound-for-pound best going toe-to-toe. This is what 'Showtime Championship Boxing' is all about. Showtime has had the opportunity to present Chad Dawson on his rise from unknown prospect to world champion. Now he'll face a legendary and highly confident fighter in Antonio Tarver. It's a compelling fight on many levels."

Dawson says he doesn't regret his decision to give up his belt because he had wanted Tarver so badly for so long.

"This was not about titles," Dawson, 26, said. "There are so many titles out there you don't know who the champion is. But he says he's the best and I say I'm the best, so let's fight. I wasn't going to go to Romania to fight Diaconu instead of fighting Tarver. That wasn't happening. This is the fight I wanted. I didn't want to give up my title, but that's what it took to make this happen.

"For awhile, it looked like it wouldn't happen, but I think he just ran out of time and ran out of excuses."

Tarver, 39, is still as brash as he was after two wins in three fights with Roy Jones Jr. He said he never ducked Dawson. He just wanted Dawson to earn the fight with him.

"Everything takes time," Tarver said. "Chad was a young guy coming up. He won the title and what was he supposed to do after he beat Adamek? Jump and fight me? Come on, man, there's a lot of more fights he could have fought. But instead they pad his record and gave him two soft touches [but] he went and fought Glen Johnson and now it's time. I wasn't never ducking Dawson. It is what it is. His time has come."

Shaw backed up Tarver's claim, but Dawson doesn't buy it.

"Tarver kept saying that Dawson's résumé was not worthwhile to fight him and until he put something on his résumé, he wouldn't fight him," Shaw said. "But Glen Johnson was something on his résumé. After that Tarver said, 'Now, I will fight him.' That's why the Glen Johnson fight was made. He was pivotal, without knowing it, to making this fight."

Said Dawson: "Tarver said he hasn't been ducking me. That's flat-out BS. He's afraid of the beating I'm going to give him. He's been afraid all along. I'm going to shut his big mouth up."

Their hostility toward each other has been evident since the April doubleheader when, after the tough fight with Johnson, Tarver referred to Dawson as a "wounded duck" and called him "easy pickings."

They've fired verbal bombs at each other since and have gone at each other on a teleconference with reporters and at this week's news conference.

"I've been a fixture in this sport for 11 years," Tarver said. "I've been here before. Dawson hasn't done anything. He'll have a game plan, but all that crap is going to be thrown out the window once he gets hit in the mouth."

And this, also from Tarver: "Everyone knows Dawson doesn't have much of a chin. He's going to regret agreeing to this fight once he gets hit in the face a few times. He won't know about the power until he feels it. You can watch all the film in the world, but until you meet me in the ring, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into."

Dawson hasn't backed down. He looked right at Tarver while blasting him at the news conference.

"This fight has gotten personal," Dawson said. "I don't like that dude. I won't like him after the fight and I won't like him two years from now. He irritates everyone. All people keep telling me is to shut his mouth up. That's what I intend to do."

And after Tarver took off his shirt for the pose down, Dawson offered, "Who told him to take his shirt off for the face off? Look at my body and look at his. He's not cut like me. All I saw was old-man flab.

"Getting rid of Tarver is not just my mission, it's a public service."

Maybe so, but the real public service is that the fight, despite so many bumps along the way, finally was made.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.