Judge to Decide Champ's Financial Reorganization

By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

Antonio Tarver made quick work of Roy Jones Jr. on Saturday night, but a tougher battle is expected to await Tarver in bankruptcy court.

Eight days before his second-round knockout of Jones, the 35-year-old Tarver filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Tampa, Fla., listing 19 creditors owed about $895,000.

Although Tarver took home a payday of $2.2 million Saturday, it doesn't necessarily mean that the money will be used to pay off his four main creditors -- the Internal Revenue Service (owed $367,000), Star Boxing ($228,087), John Morgan ($150,000) and Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino ($60,000).

In order to file for bankruptcy before the fight, Tarver had to demonstrate that he did not have the financial wherewithal to collectively pay off all of his creditors. How Tarver's money is reorganized and distributed under the filing will be up to a judge, who could take into account Tarver's current winnings. Tarver's first day in court is scheduled for June 10.

Tarver filed for bankruptcy in part because the promotion company that has him under contract, Star Boxing, had exerted pressure on him to immediately pay his debts, according to his attorney, Bill Yanger.

"Star Boxing and [its promoter] Joe DeGuardia placed my future and the future of my family in jeopardy," Tarver told ESPN.com, in a statement released by Yanger. "My first priority has always been to protect my family. DeGuardia left me with no choice. The rest is up to the lawyers and the judge."

According to a recent arbitration victory by Star Boxing over Tarver, the fighter owed DeGuardia's company $228,087 as a result of breaching the contract with the company in allowing another promoter, DiBella Entertainment, to promote his fight against Montel Griffin in April 2003. The arbitration ruling that upheld the contract with Star Boxing currently is being appealed by Tarver in the New York Court of Appeals.

Not only were officials with Star Boxing putting pressure on Tarver for the owed money, they also sought to have their stake of Tarver's payday from Saturday's Jones-Tarver II directly withdrawn from his paycheck. The fight was promoted by Don King after he won the rights to a fight in an open bidding war, but since Tarver is under contract with Star Boxing, Star was still due $530,000 for the fight, according to DeGuardia. King himself is owed $36,000 from Tarver, according to the bankruptcy court filing.

Lawyers for Don King Productions did not return calls seeking comment.

Before the fight, the company had filed legal action in New York hoping to get the $228,087 immediately paid and also filed papers in Nevada, hoping to get its cut of his Saturday night prize directly deposited into their coffers, Yanger said. The bankruptcy filing served to automatically stop any payments owed until it was resolved by the bankruptcy court.

"It's disheartening," said DeGuardia, who signed Tarver in 2001 after he was released by King. "When nobody wanted him, we stepped up to the plate. We gave him money when he needed money and had faith in his career."

DeGuardia said he now believes Tarver is using the leverage provided to him under the bankruptcy court proceedings to try to cut a deal and get out of his contract, which runs through next June, with the company.

"This is the problem with boxing," DeGuardia said. "It's why the federal government has to step in and do something. Sometimes the boxers are hurt, but many times the promoters are wronged. You invest in 15 to 20 guys in the hopes of eventually landing an Antonio Tarver and now we're stuck in the court. It's going to have a trickle-down effect. Why would I invest in a boxer's future if by the time he gets to the top they'll try to get out of their deal?"

Yanger says that throughout the contract Star Boxing set up "no meaningful fights" for Tarver and that the validity of Tarver's contract will be for the Court of Appeals to decide.

DeGuardia says despite all of the legal trouble, he wants to continue his relationship with Tarver.

"He should honor his contract and get back to business," DeGuardia said, "especially now considering that he's in a position where things are going well. There's so much money waiting for him."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com.