By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’d be hard to blame Jermain Taylor for pondering five-year revisionism.
After all, it’s been less than half a decade since the Arkansas stud was atop the 160-pound heap – having emerged from a 22-month stretch with the pelts of Bernard Hopkins (twice), Cory Spinks and Kassim Ouma, and having survived a competitive draw with defensive conundrum Winky Wright.
Back in spring 2007, he was in early prep for a September showdown with tough guy Kelly Pavlik, who’d shown mettle in a blood-and-guts duel with Edison Miranda but lacked the dynamism to handle the varied package presented by a thoroughbred with Olympic-level amateur chops.
In fact, assuming the Pavlik fight indeed went as planned, some in Taylor’s camp already had eyes fixed on the horizon, where potentially bank-busting showdowns with names like Calzaghe, Kessler, Jones and Trinidad – then pairing off in soon-to-come bouts – still awaited.
To them, Pavlik was a made-to-order vehicle for Taylor to enhance his rep.
“(Jermain is) aware of the talk and I think he's frustrated by it, and I think this is a fight where he can do something about it,” said Mark Vaz, a long-time friend and former manager, who rejoined the fighter during a Spartan-like Pocono Mountains camp.
“He's fought a bunch of guys recently where it’s been hard to look good, and I think even he'd admit that maybe he didn't do as much with those chances as he could have or should have. But he's been looking forward to this one for a while now.”
Armed with the acumen of Emanuel Steward and having worked with a sparring corps that included ex-welterweight champ Kermit Cintron, Team Taylor headed to Atlantic City carrying full confidence that a perception-vaulting win was imminent.
“(Pavlik) is the kind of guy Jermain really likes to fight," Vaz said. “He'll come to Jermain and force the action, rather than running and sliding all over the ring. That'll play right into Jermain's hands. I think this is a matchup where he can come off looking very impressive.
“From there, the sky's still the limit.”
Funny this is… had Steve Smoger been quick on the trigger, Vaz would have been dead on.
And if he’d gone ahead and dispatched the hearty Pavlik in six minutes flat, it’s interesting to consider how many of the planned destinations the Little Rock native would have ultimately reached.
Instead, the challenger weathered a second-round storm that included a crunching knockdown and subsequent stumble, then rallied to force a legit stoppage five rounds later that simultaneously snatched Taylor’s undefeated record, his middleweight belts and, most importantly, his aura.
Pavlik won a rematch five months later on the scorecards, jump-starting a precipitous Taylor tailspin that yielded two more violent KOs and a voluntary pull-out from a Showtime 168-pound tournament that he’d confidently entered as a favorite.
Amid the prolonged downturn, even long-time promoter Lou DiBella recused himself from his fighter’s side, saying after losses to Carl Froch (TKO 12) and Arthur Abraham (KO 12) that he’d seen enough.
“It is my belief that the continuation of Jermain's career as an active fighter places him at unnecessary risk,” he said. “While he is undoubtedly capable of prevailing in future bouts, I cannot, in conscience, remain involved given my assessment of such risk.”
But after two years in limbo, none was content on the shelf.
Taylor ended a 26-month hiatus by beating Baltimore trialhorse Jessie Nicklow in December and is set for another step toward a title-level return on April 20 – when he’ll face unbeaten Minnesotan Caleb Truax in a Showtime headliner in Biloxi, Miss.
Of course, Truax’s most-recent win came via split nod over Andy Kolle – he of a 97-second loss to Paul Williams – and his resume is elsewhere augmented by decisions over Jeffrey Osborne Jr. (8-15-2), a split draw and majority defeat of Phil Williams (11-5-1) and a wide nod over 39-year-old ex-Hopkins challenger Antwun Echols, who’d won exactly once after a 0-7-3 stretch that included four KO losses.
So with him as an obstacle it’s no wonder that Taylor, now back with former amateur trainer Pat Burns, is supremely confident that he’ll start another run at middleweight supremacy… or at least financial wherewithal.
“My body feels great,” he said. “I know what it takes and what I have to do to become champion again, but first I need to take this kid's zero. I was praying the other day and God told me to go in there and kick this kid's butt, and that's exactly what I plan on doing. It is time to either put up or shut up.”
If endorsement from the Almighty weren’t enough, he’s got himself a promoter, too.
The very same one, in fact, who was previously sure Taylor’s career was dead in the water.
But in spite of his predictably scripted pre-fight blather, the more likely assumption is that DiBella’s returning as much to protect Taylor as return him to dangerous combat.
“A few years back, Jermain Taylor was one of boxing's biggest superstars and most talented athletes,” DiBella said. “He had skill and heart as well as being a premium cable star and PPV attraction. Caleb Truax represents an appropriate next step in giving Jermain the best opportunity to pace himself and get back to where he once was.”
Now 33 and more than 11 years out from his 2001 pro debut, Taylor was nonetheless slotted fourth among non-champions at middleweight in the IBO’s computerized rankings for March. He was ninth on the WBC’s list and was ranked sixth by the WBO.
The division’s five recognized champions, ranked in order by the aforementioned computer – Felix Sturm (WBA), Daniel Geale (IBF), Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (WBC), Dmitry Pirog (WBO) and Gennady Golovkin (IBO) – are a combined 148-3-3 with 94 KOs.
It’s a daunting quintet with impressive statistical credentials, especially when compared to a prospective challenger without a quality victory over a division full-timer since Hopkins II in 2005.
Still, the numbers do little to blunt the hyperbole.
“Jermain is already in tremendous shape,” Burns said, “as good if not better than when I had him fighting Hopkins. There is no sense in looking down the road until we take care of the challenge that is standing right in front of us. That being said, the things Jermain has been doing in this camp are absolutely unbelievable and I know he is going to impress a lot of people.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBA super flyweight title – Yokohama, Japan
Tomonobu Shimizu (champion) vs. Tepparith Singwancha (interim champion)
Shimizu (19-3-1, 9 KO): First title defense; Stopped in two title tries at 112
Singwancha (19-2, 12 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2008 (16-0, 10 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Streaking Thai goes on road to capture legitimate belt.” Singwancha by decision
WBC super featherweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Takahiro Ao (champion) vs. Terdsak Kokietgym (No. 1 contender)
Ao (22-2-1, 10 KO): Third title defense; Held WBC title at 126 (2009, zero defenses)
Kokietgym (46-3-1, 31 KO): Second title fight; Unbeaten since 2008 (17-0-1, 12 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Southpaw incumbent defends trinket on home turf.” Ao by decision
WBC bantamweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Shinsuke Yamanaka (champion) vs. Vic Darchinyan (No. 5 contender)
Yamanaka (15-0-2, 11 KO): First title defense; Nine straight wins by stoppage
Darchinyan (37-4-1, 27 KO): Twenty-first title fight; Held titles at 112, 115 and 118
Fitzbitz says: “Old man has fought better grade, but ripe for taking at bantam.” Yamanaka in 9
IBF junior bantamweight title – Mexico
Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. (champion) vs. Juan Alberto Rosas (No. 1 contender)
Sanchez (13-1-1, 7 KO): First title defense; Four fights since last win by stoppage
Rosas (36-6, 27 KO): Third title fight; Held IBF title (2010, zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Challenger has longer history against elites, should win here.” Rosas by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 2-0
Overall picks record: 293-99 (74.7 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.