Tarver built an impressive amateur career, including winning a bronze medal while representing the United States at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, eventually losing to Vassiliy Jirov, who he'd previously defeated in a match at the 1995 World Amateur Boxing Championships. He also captured the gold medal at the 1995 World Amateur Boxing Championships in Berlin, just two months after having triumphed by also winning gold at the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata. Tarver became the first - and to this day, only - fighter to have won the Pan Am Games, National Championships & World Championships all in the same year.
In 2006, Tarver starred as Mason "The Line" Dixon, the heavyweight champion in the film Rocky Balboa.
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