Tarver defeated former two-weight world champion Reggie Johnson in 2002 via split decision to win the NABF & USBA light-heavyweight titles. This secured a guaranteed title shot at Roy Jones. He then scored a fifth round stoppage over Harding in a rematch that was on the undercard of the rematch between Shane Mosely and Vernon Forrest. Tarver was behind on the scorecards until the 4th round, he then sent Harding to the canvas with an onslaught of powewrful blows. Harding was knocked to the floor twice in the 5th round, leading to the stoppage.
(Speaking of ROCKY...check out who came to one of Tarver's fights!! Burt Young!! (Paulie!)
Tarver quickly rised in the circuit and became a mainstream celebrity after his rematch win over Jones. He began making appearances on late-night shows, appearing on the covers of Ring and KO Magazine, television cameras were finding him in crowds as a spectator at various boxing matches, and he then co-hosting ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" for a telecast...things were really looking up.