- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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When Antonio Tarver faced Bernard Hopkins last June, it was obvious from the outset that it wouldn't be his night. Hopkins bullied a lethargic Tarver all over the ring, knocked him down in the fifth round and took the light heavyweight championship on a virtual shutout decision.
Now, as Tarver (24-4, 18 KOs) prepares for his return to the ring a year later to face Elvir Muriqi (34-3, 21 KOs) on June 9 in Hartford, Conn., he says he believes he was drugged before the fight with Hopkins.
Although Tarver didn't accuse anyone specifically of drugging him, he made the accusation Thursday during a teleconference with reporters to discuss his fight with Muriqi (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/PT).
"It is a great possibility," Tarver said, when asked about the possibility of being drugged before the fight in Atlantic City, N.J. "The stakes were high. When you look at that fight, which I have not seen in its entirety, everybody that knows me knew that something was terribly wrong from when I walked from the dressing room to the ring. Something was wrong all day. It is a possibility, but I cannot say that my preparation was any different than it has been.
"I have always been committed, dedicated and a hard worker. So when you look at those assets, then you have to say something else happened for me to fight so flat, so lifeless, so emotionless, so unspirited in one of the biggest fights of my career. Something definitely happened and something was terribly wrong."
Tarver said he has no proof that he was drugged, nor did anything out of the ordinary come from his post-fight urinalysis.
"I wish I would have had a blood test right after the fight," Tarver said. "Normally, they do drug-test you after the fight. I do not know if there is any possibility of going back and getting that urinalysis and examining it to see what happened. Mentally, I was beat out of the game -- could not get focused, could not get up for the fight -- and that is just not like me."
Tarver said he felt fine at the press conference the week of the bout and also at the weigh-in. The night of the fight, however, he said he didn't feel like himself.
"Fortunately, I did not receive any serious injuries that night, but I was a dead man walking," he said. "I do not know what happened and there are a lot of things that have come up lately that I am questioning. I just know at the press conference, the electricity was there. At the weigh-in, the electricity was there. The night of the fight, I was a dead man walking, just a shell of myself. I do not know what happened before the fight.
"Something happened. I do not want to point the finger. I believe that there was a possibility that they got to me, or someone got to me with ordering room service, a drink of water or whatever. But I was not myself. As big as that fight was, I could not get into it mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or nothing. I was zapped for whatever reason. I cannot blame it on my trainer because we trained properly. We were ready. But when I went to bed and woke up that day, I was a zombie and I do not know what happened. My sister thought that maybe I could have been poisoned. Maybe somebody tampered with some food. My reflexes were not there, my counter punching ability was not there. Something went terribly wrong."
Tarver, who months before the fight weighed in the neighborhood of 220 pounds as he bulked up for his role as the heavyweight champion opposite Sylvester Stallone in the film "Rocky Balboa," had to get down to 175 to fight Hopkins.
That substantial weight loss is what many have attributed to Tarver's poor performance.
Tarver is not the first fighter to allege that he was drugged or poisoned before a fight. After Lamon Brewster knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in the fifth round of a 2004 heavyweight title bout in Las Vegas, a big upset in which Klitschko faded badly after a big start, Klitschko's team made accusations that he had been poisoned.
The allegation was never proven.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
As Antonio Tarver prepares for his return to the ring to face Elvir Muriqi, he says he believes he was drugged before his 2006 fight with Bernard Hopkins.