by David P. Greisman
Get dropped. Survive. Win.
Miguel Cotto did it against Ricardo Torres. Juan Manuel Marquez did it against Michael Katsidis.
And Jermain Taylor did it against Caleb Truax.
This is what great fighters must do. This is what Taylor had never been able to do before. He’d been knocked out by Kelly Pavlik. He’d been knocked down, then stopped by Carl Froch. And he’d been knocked unconscious by Arthur Abraham.
He’d never survived, never mind winning.
That is what great fighters must do, what Taylor had never done before the Truax fight. That is what gave Taylor reason to celebrate after he beat Truax on Saturday — coming off the canvas with two and a half minutes to go in the ninth round and holding on to win, both literally and figuratively.
“I’ve been knocked out four times, man. I’m not going no more,” Taylor said afterward. You’ll forgive him for getting the number of knockouts wrong. He was more focused on what he was getting right. “All the training I’m doing is paying off,” he said.
“I got back up and did my thing,” he said. “We worked on that all day. That’s all I’ve been thinking about was how I’m going to act when I get knocked down, if I get knocked down.”
You’ll forgive the rest of us for not getting as excited as Taylor, who seemed almost happy to have gotten knocked down, if only so he could show that he could get up.
There’s a dark cloud in his silver lining.
There was no shame in being knocked out by Pavlik, Froch and Abraham, three very good fighters with very good power. What was worrisome was that those three knockouts came in the span of five fights over the course of two years. The last loss, against Abraham, had ended frighteningly, sending Taylor to the hospital with a slight brain bleed, sending him on a sabbatical from the sport and potentially toward retirement.
He’d taken the time off, and it had seemed the right choice, not just so he could heal, but so he could think.
There was no shame in being knocked out by three very good fighters with very good power. But were he to return, he’d be putting himself in danger of being knocked out whenever he faced a higher level of opposition. That risk might not be worth it. Neither, though, would be him coming back solely to face a lower level of competition. Taylor had once been the middleweight champion. He’d headlined HBO and Showtime. Rock bands that do worldwide tours in grand arenas don’t return to coffee shop performances.
Taylor did return in December. He would be at no greater risk now than before the brain bleed, according to the medical experts who examined him. He wouldn’t test that yet against the toughest foes, though, appearing instead against outmatched opponents. He defeated Jessie Nicklow by technical knockout in December, then returned this past weekend to face Caleb Truax.
Both bouts were on smaller stages, a pair of broadcasts of “ShoBox: The New Generation.” It seemed an awkward fit, taking a former champion who was attempting a comeback and placing him on a series designed for young prospects trying to fight their way up.
Fight his way back up — that’s what Taylor had never been able to do against Pavlik, Froch and Taylor. That’s what he’d be forced to do against Truax.
He was at no greater risk now than he was before the brain bleed. He was at no lesser risk, either. He was still defensively deficient, able to be hit and therefore able to be hurt.
Nicklow had been too small, too slow. Truax had seemed too tentative, throwing fewer than 33 punches per round, according to CompuBox, and landing less than 10 on average. Taylor stuck to a reserved game plan for most of the first eight rounds, not taking chances, not leaving himself vulnerable.
He was defeating Truax but not beating him up, punching but not punishing him. Then he opened up with stronger offense toward the end of the eighth.
Then he found himself on the floor in the beginning of the ninth.
Truax had landed the occasional right hand before, but none like this one, placed perfectly over Taylor’s lazily returning jab, which came back low and left his chin exposed. The shot hit Taylor’s chin. Taylor hit the ground.
Truax raised his gloves above his head, celebratory, cognizant of what this had meant in the past. Taylor picked himself up before the count of six, aware of what this meant for his future.
“I was all right. I was a little dazed,” Taylor said afterward. “This is what I’ve worked for. I know that feeling. I’ve been there before. But now I’m in shape, so I can get back up.”
He tied up Truax, who landed 17 power punches in that ninth round, about double his highest number for any other round. Taylor’s legs were shaky at first, steadier later. He made it through the tough moments, made it out of the round and made it to the finish line. The scorecards read in his favor, a clear victory, 98-91, 97-92 and 97-94.
Taylor was jubilant in his post-fight interview. A great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
“I don’t care if I get knocked down. I’ve been knocked out a lot of times, so who gives a damn,” he said. “I don’t care. That’s what’s dangerous about me. I don’t care about it. They got to get me out of there. If they don’t, I’m beating them.”
You’ll forgive the rest of us for not getting as excited as Taylor.
Great fighters who get dropped must find ways to survive and win. But Taylor doing this against Truax was not at all the same as Cotto against Torres, or Marquez against Katsidis.
Truax was not a very good fighter with very good power.
Nor was this the same as Wladimir Klitschko against Samuel Peter, Andre Ward after Darnell Boone, or Lucian Bute after Librado Andrade.
Ward and Bute got past frightening moments against opponents who never should have been able to test their chins. They adjusted, altered their approaches, worked to ensure they wouldn’t leave themselves so vulnerable again.
Klitschko, like Taylor, faced the specter of past knockouts, stoppage losses against Ross Puritty, Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. Just three fights after losing to Brewster, Klitschko was knocked down three times by Samuel Peter. He got up three times, though, got through the onslaught and got the decision win.
Klitschko survived a heavyweight with heavy hands. Taylor survived a second-tier boxer with second-tier abilities.
Taylor sees his rising from the canvas as proof that he’s improved. His being put to the canvas in the first place proves that his fatal flaw is still there.
He’s not just a fighter who gets knocked out by very good fighters with very good power, but he also gets hit and hurt by lesser shots from lesser foes. No one has knocked down Andre Ward since the Boone fight more than six years ago, not any of the prospects, contenders or world titleholders he has faced. No one has gotten to Klitschko since to test his chin, his heart or his survival skills the way Peter did.
Better opponents should be able to do to Taylor what Truax did. Better opponents should also be able to do to Taylor what Truax didn’t — hit him harder, hurt him more, finish him off.
“The story of the fight is one punch, and it wasn’t landed by Taylor,” Showtime commentator Steve Farhood said on-air afterward. “His people are going to have to fully reevaluate everything now and maybe take a step back before they take a step forward.”
A quote attributed to the great football coach Vince Lombardi says: “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.”
It has to be both for Jermain Taylor. There’s a dark cloud in his silver lining, a dark cloud that someday will return to rain on his parade.
The 10 Count
1. Jermain Taylor was on ShoBox last week. Kelly Pavlik’s going to be on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” in June. And Bernard Hopkins is still in the main event on HBO this week.
It’s like 2003 all over again.
2. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is professionally inspiring yet personally maddening. That’s why it was revealing to hear Mayweather speak in earnest, though not in-depth, about his upbringing while talking with acclaimed professor Michael Eric Dyson on this past weekend’s “Floyd Mayweather: Speaking Out” special.
And that’s why it was exasperating to hear Mayweather make points that Dyson left unchallenged, or to hear him answer some of Dyson’s questions without actually answering the questions.
Mayweather did beat the odds, as he said during the program. He overcame a father who had been put behind bars on drug charges and a mother who was addicted to drugs herself. He instead picked to follow his prizefighting pedigree and has profited immensely, due in tremendous part to that choice and to his maxims of hard work and dedication.
He’s not at all the kind of fighter who needs to be forced into training camp and treated like he’s unwillingly in boot camp. He’s naturally talented, but he’s also disciplined.
Dyson wasn’t there to go all Larry Merchant on Mayweather. He was there to make Mayweather feel comfortable, to be an esteemed non-boxing personality asking boxing and non-boxing questions. This was a marketing maneuver, not a documentary venture.
Yet some of Dyson’s questions weren’t just softballs — they were softballs put up on a tee.
Nevertheless, “Speaking Out” succeeded in this: It got Mayweather to sound at times like he was having a conversation, not solely spouting out rehearsed lines.
3. My quick thoughts on Mayweather’s comments on his coming jail time. But first, Mayweather’s words:
“I’m pretty sure Martin Luther King’s been in jail. I’m pretty sure Malcolm X has been in jail. And there’s many more that’s been in jail. You take the good with the good, like I said, and the bad with the bad. It’s just an obstacle that’s been put in your way. I’ll get through anything.
“Am I guilty? Absolutely not. I took a plea. Sometimes they put us in a no-win situation to where you don’t have no choice but to take a plea. I didn’t want to drag my family through the mud. I didn’t want to take my children to court. I never raised my hands to my children. I got four beautiful children. I love them dearly.”
I don’t doubt that Mayweather didn’t want to put his family, particularly his children, though the court process — but the key element of that is the court process could’ve seen his son Koraun testify to seeing Mayweather “on his mother … hitting and kicking her,” as Mayweather’s arrest report described the then 10-year-old boy as telling police.
Mayweather avoided that, particularly a trial that could’ve seen Mayweather’s attorneys cross examining his kids, by pleading guilty to a domestic violence charge, and pleading no contest to two counts of harassment.
4. My quick thoughts on Mayweather’s big boast about who would accompany him to the ring for a potential fight with Manny Pacquiao. But first, Mayweather’s words:
“People wanna know how much power Floyd Mayweather got, I can guarantee you this … if I was to fight Manny Pacquiao, I’d have Barack Obama walk me to the ring holding my belt. Can I make it happen? Absolutely.”
Would the Secret Service ever allow the president of the United States of America to walk a narrow path through thousands of people who’d been drinking for hours and who came to the arena to cheer violence? Absolutely not.
5. There was one crucial line of logic I failed to follow in last week’s deconstruction of the first episode of “Mayweather-Cotto 24/7,” in which I noted that there was little about the show that appeals to the most hardcore of fight fans:
Boxing fans eat up boxing broadcasts. And Mayweather’s and Cotto’s fans will love the show no matter what, as it presents their favorite fighters.
You need only look at the various boxing message boards — boxing fans never, and I mean never, get tired of reading or chatting about the fighters they follow.
6. Abner Mares is a very good fighter.
Anselmo Moreno is a very good fighter.
I want to see them fight again.
I want to see them fight each other.
I’m sure we’ll get Mares and Moreno back on Showtime again in the very near future. I’m not as sure we’ll get Mares against Moreno, though.
Mares and Moreno took out outmatched opposition Saturday, Mares winning a wide decision over an Eric Morel who just couldn’t compete with his opponent, and Moreno dispatching a David De La Mora who never was going to be able to compete.
Mares, who weighed in at 120, won a vacant junior featherweight belt and has left the bantamweight division behind. Moreno has held a title at 118 for nearly four years but looks like he could easily rise up a division.
Here’s one problem. A promoter rarely pairs its top fighters against each other unless forced to.
Here’s another problem: Promoters rarely pair their top fighters against another promoter’s top fighters unless there’s no other option available.
Never mind Golden Boy’s frosty relationship with Top Rank.
Top Rank has guys such as Nonito Donaire, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Jorge Arce, Fernando Montiel and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.
Golden Boy promotes both Mares and Moreno. It seems likely that Showtime wants Mares vs. Moreno and is putting them together on cards because of that.
But when you know a certain fight is the preferred option — and might just be the only top-notch option available — that demand drives up the price.
Abner Mares is a very good fighter. Anselmo Moreno is a very good fighter. I want to see them fight again. I want to see them fight each other.
I just hope money doesn’t get in the way of a good match.
7. CompuBox corrected its statistics for Moreno’s win over David De La Mora, and they’re staggering:
De La Mora landed just 21 of 145 power punches over the eight rounds the fight lasted, just 14 percent, less than three landed power shots per round, or less than one a minute.
He landed just 47 punches total of 255 thrown, a connect rate of 18 percent, meaning that for every five punches he threw, only one (less, really) landed. He landed about six punches per round, or about two per minute.
Moreno, meanwhile, went 162 of 358 in total, or 45 percent, with a phenomenal power shot connect rate of 59 percent, or 114 of 192.
8. I can’t join in with those who seemed happy that there was no Texas-sized controversy with the judging at this weekend’s Showtime fight card.
None of the three judges for Moreno-De La Mora were from Texas, as Adam Abramowitz of Saturday Night Boxing noted.
And the two Texas judges for Mares-Morel weren’t going to favor the Puerto Rican challenger over the Mexican house fighter.
9. What will drone on longer this weekend — the rematch between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson, or Hopkins himself at the post-fight press conference?
Guys, save a seat for me at the Liquid Bar. I could be a while…
10. Reliable sources tell me Jermain Taylor will now walk out to his fights to the tune of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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