Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Stick around the game of boxing for a while and nothing is good enough anymore.

Undefeated champions become nothing more than “untested and unproven” promotional creations. Everyone is calling the largest selling pay-per-view match in boxing history a “stink fight” that didn’t live up to its hype. There are too many titles, too many divisions and everyone from the alphabet sanctioning bodies to the networks to the promoters are “greedy, incompetent or corrupt.”

And don’t forget the often-uttered barb; “Boxing is dead”.

For undefeated middleweight champion Jermain “Bad Intentions” Taylor, who is forced to fight opponents in the ring and the muckrakers outside of it, even winning isn’t good enough anymore.

Boxing writers, fans and those who lurk in the Internet chat rooms and criticize from behind far away keyboards say that Jermain Taylor winning close decisions just isn’t going to cut it. They say Jermain Taylor has to look spectacular and that he’s been involved in too many close decisions for their liking. They say he’s being paid too much - to fight opponents who are too little. Playing on his nickname, they’ve taken to calling him “Bad Impressions” Taylor and “Bad Decisions” Taylor.

He’s now two years into a middleweight title reign that shows two disputed decision wins over certain hall of fame inductee Bernard Hopkins. Then there was the draw against the always perplexing southpaw with a defense just as puzzling named Winky Wright. After that came another decision win against the smallish, lefty Kassim Ouma who most thought Taylor should have been able to easily knock out.

And this past Saturday night, on the heels of all those distance fights, came another mathematical escape and near loss against the nimble-footed and feather-fisted Cory Spinks who is another confusing stylist that also fights from the left-handed stance.

The bandwagon jumpers say that since Jermain Taylor abandoned his original trainer Pat Burns and hunkered down in the basement of the Kronk gym with Emanuel Steward that his development has “stagnated” and that he’s actually “regressed” as a fighter.

Even the usually affable Steward’s frustration began to bleed through on Saturday night as he pleaded in the corner with his young charge to implement the instructions that he seemed unwilling to hear.

At only 28 years old Taylor is generally regarded as the true middleweight champion of the world. He has the security of an HBO contract and the numbers on his bank statements tell him that he’s a millionaire several times over. He has a beautiful young family and an undefeated record of 27-0-1 (17) KO’s. On top of all that he has the type of engaging personality, clear eyes and bright smile that make him a natural in front of the television cameras.

But none of that is enough to keep the jackals that nip at his reputation away from the door. They bark that they want more from Jermain Taylor and they want him to fight with the temper of a tiger - and not with the anger of a mouse.

Jermain Taylor’s main problem is that somewhere along the way he lost his swagger in the ring.

Coming up through the professional ranks as the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games bronze medal winner he burned through the usual assortment of club fighters and fringe contenders. He was 23-0 (17) KO’s when he took the title in an upset from Bernard Hopkins in July 2005 and after he beat Hopkins in the rematch there looked to be no stopping the young fistic phenom from Little Rock, Arkansas.

But since winning the title he has failed to impress, and Saturday’s tepid affair against Cory Spinks have boxing pundits questioning whether Taylor will ever bloom and flower into his full potential.

Many feel Taylor should have used his size and strength advantages to bowl Spinks over and make a statement on his way to an emphatic victory. But again, fans were left disappointed with Taylor’s effort and many questioned whether he even deserved the split-decision win over Spinks.

"I felt like I did what I had to do to win,” said a wary Taylor after the decision of the judges was announced. “It was like a chess match but I felt like I was doing all the chasing.”

The fight took place at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee, which is fitting because many feel that Taylor mailed in his effort. Memphis is only 135 miles from Little Rock and there were several thousand fans that made the trip from Arkansas to support Taylor but that didn’t stop them from booing his performance.

When asked if he heard the unhappy customers Taylor said, “Yeah, I heard that. But it’s hard to hit him with more than two or three punches because he gets so low.” This was Taylor’s way of blaming his poor performance on Spinks’ style and that it was actually Cory who was responsible for the boring contest. Then Taylor added, “I’m used to a fight and to a person coming in there and trying to kill me.”

Taylor’s trainer, Emanuel Steward, also blamed the non-fight on Spinks who was fighting for the first time as a middleweight and appeared speedy and comfortable in the higher weight division. “Who's going to look good with Cory Spinks?” Steward asked. “All you want to do is get the win and move on. Cory Spinks was jabbing and before the punch got out, he was running backwards already!” said a disgusted Steward.

Granted, Spinks is a difficult fighter to look good against. He didn’t stand still long enough to throw more than a couple punches at a time and in many of the rounds he landed no more than a handful of shots. It was Taylor that came forward all night and tried to make a fight of it.

However, the criticism that is being heaped upon Taylor is for his almost non-effort and for his lack of urgency in a fight that was close on the scorecards. Many point to the fact that Spinks was knocked out by Zab Judah as a 147-pound welterweight and they expected more from Taylor who promised before the fight that he was going to bring the goods.

“It's important to me to look good and win,” said Taylor. “The last couple of fights, I haven't looked as good as I was supposed to look. I tried to knock people out, and I looked sloppy. I know I'm a better fighter than that. I want to use my jab more and stop looking for the knockout. I'm anxious to show everything I learned in training camp.”

Whatever the case with training camp and what his thoughts were going into the fight – none of it came to fruition. Taylor was thrown off from the beginning by Spinks’ awkward and slippery style and he just never found his offensive groove. It wasn’t until the sixth round that he pulled even with Spinks on my scorecard. In the end, I had it 115-113 for Taylor but he had to win the last round in my book to avoid a draw. Taylor did enough to retain his title but the fight was much closer than it ultimately should have been.

Where this leaves Taylor is anybody’s guess. There are rumors that he has a very difficult time fitting his body into its 160-pound suit and that he has to sacrifice to make weight. That could be one reason why he has come up flat in his recent fights. A bout against Joe Calzaghe, the super middleweight champion from Wales, has been talked about in the press, but the two promotional sides seem far apart on monetary issues and whether the fight should take place in the United Kingdom or the United States.

The fight that would make all the criticism go away, and a fight in which Taylor and his promoter Lou DiBella could keep the lion’s share of the money, is against undefeated #1 contender Kelly “Ghost” Pavlik from Youngstown, Ohio.

Pavlik is looming large on the horizon and he engaged in a scintillating shoot-out against top contender Edison Miranda on the Taylor versus Spinks undercard. More importantly, Pavlik won by way of an electrifying knockout in the seventh round and in his second straight appearance on HBO he proved that he is an exciting fighter that can talk the talk and walk the walk.

Pavlik carries thudding power in both fists and he possesses a sparkling record of 31-0 (28) KO’s. He just turned 25 years old and if Jermain Taylor wants someone to stand and fight with him then Kelly Pavlik has proven he is that man.

Taylor was apprehensive to say that he definitely wanted a fight with Kelly Pavlik next. He did say he would fight “anybody” but he didn’t mention Pavlik directly. HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant pressed the Pavlik issue with Taylor and eventually cornered him into confessing that “I’ll fight Pavlik, but let’s get the money right,” said Taylor.

Then, sensing that he sounded as though he may be avoiding the Pavlik challenge, Taylor became more assertive and threw down the gauntlet. “Yeah, I'll fight him,” he said. “It doesn't make a difference…we can fight next month.”

One thing is now certain: Jermain Taylor is a champion under fire. The naysayers keep furrowing their collective brows and they keep pointing their long fingers of doubt in his direction. And he wants nothing more than for them to all go away.

If he accepts the fight against Kelly Pavlik, he’ll have his one chance to silence the doubters.

And then Jermain Taylor just might be able to make everything that seems so wrong with his sputtering career, right.

May 2007

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