By Cliff Rold
Five years after suffering a brain bleed in a loss to Arthur Abraham, 36-year old former Undisputed Middleweight Champion and 2000 US Olympic Bronze Medalist Jermain Taylor (33-4-1, 20 KO) of Little Rock, Arkansas, took advantage of the opportunity ahead of him, scoring multiple knockdowns of a hobbled 40-year old Sam Soliman (44-12, 18 KO) of Melbourne, Australia, to win the IBF Middleweight belt on Wednesday night at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Taylor, cleared to fight again after extensive testing, pulled away in the second half of the bout after a competitive first half. Taylor is now 5-0 since resuming his career in 2011.
Taylor weighed in at 159 ¾ and Soliman at the division limit of 160. The referee was Bill Clancy.
The first four rounds were a study in awkwardness with both men struggling to get any consistent offense going and ample grappling. A Soliman uppercut seemed to stun Taylor late in round four but he didn’t see the shot and Taylor was little worse for the wear.
Taylor managed solid right hands in the second half of the fifth but it was Soliman finishing the bulk of the exchanges and dictating the pace. A shot late in the round again looked like it stunned Taylor but Soliman was again out of position to follow up.
In the sixth, it was Taylor doing the stunning with a big shot troubling Soliman. Soliman composed himself but it was Taylor stepping on the gas in his best round to then. It would get better for Taylor in the seventh, a short shot inside catching Soliman during an exchange and forcing the official knockdown as Soliman’s glove touched the floor. Soliman rose and took another big shot, surging forward into an exchange to mute the follow up. At the bell, Taylor closed with a combination to take the edge in momentum.
Unsteady on his legs, Soliman appeared to be favoring his left leg with his balance out of whack in the eighth. The same was true as the ninth began, Taylor landing right hands and Soliman flailing to stay up and get his balance back. Failing to do in an exchange, Soliman was dropped with a flush right hand, bouncing right back up and nodding to go on. Showing heart, Soliman swung with what he had but his lack of balance led to the doctor being summoned to take a look. The doctor allowed the fight to continue.
After a tenth round again made odd by Soliman’s balance and leg issues, Soliman landed a winging shot at the bell that looked like it might have dropped Taylor, though it was more likely a slip. Another official knockdown was scored for Taylor in the eleventh and fight seemed in the bag with one to go. Soliman found no miracle and the winner was obvious.
Taylor was awarded scores of 116-111, 115-109, and 116-109. Interviewed in the ring after the fight, Taylor gave credit to Soliman for finishing on an injured leg. “He’s a warrior. He did the same thing I would have did.” Looking to the future, Taylor called no one out but referred to his advisor. “Whoever Al Haymon put in there,” was enough for now.
With the victory, Taylor wins a major title for the first time since losing the lineal World Middleweight Championship to Kelly Pavlik in 2007. The current historical Middleweight Champion in that line is Miguel Cotto. Taylor will face a mandatory challenge at some point from Hasan N’Dam N’Jikam but could also face Al Haymon stablemates Daniel Jacobs or Peter Quillin given the alignment of boxing’s current scene.
30-year old Puerto Rican Jr. Lightweight Carlos Velasquez (18-1, 12 KO), 131 ½, of Miami, Florida, scored a knockdown in round one, could have been credited with a body shot knockdown (ruled a low blow) in round two, against 39-year old Jean Javier Sotelo (19-13-2, 10 KO), 131 ½, of Bogota, Colombia. Sotelo could not go on after the low blow, resulting in a stoppage at 1:38 of round two. The referee was Fred Steinwinder III.
24-year old Egyptian Light Heavyweight Ahmed Elbiali (7-0, 7 KO), 174 ½, of Miami, Florida, used right hands to the head and later to the body to score two knockdowns and ultimately the knockout to hand 20-year old Dakota Dawson (3-1, 2 KO), 171 ½, of Little Rock, Arkansas, at 1:10 of the first round. The referee was Fred Steinwinder III.
The televised opener highlighted a former Olympian looking to get his career on track.
31-year old 2004 US Olympic Middleweight Bronze Medalist Andre Dirrell (23-1, 16 KO), 169, of Flint, Michigan, made it 2-0 in his 2014 return to activity with a fourth round stoppage of Nick Brinson (16-3-2, 6 KO), 168 ¾, of Albany, New York, in Super Middleweight action.
Dirrell, an able switch hitter, fought largely from the southpaw position in the fight. Dominating with speed and skill, he lowered the boom in round four with a rattling left hand. Brinson was in big trouble as Dirrell poured it on and referee Keith Hughes stepped in for the stoppage at 2:12 of the fourth.
Interviewed in the ring after the fight, Dirrell was already looking ahead. “I’m looking for the big fights still. I know it’s coming. I’m gonna’ just keep working.” Speaking to the inactivity that has plagued his career, fighting only three times from 2010-13, Dirrell stated he’s like to fight again by December. Dirrell is currently rated ninth by the WBO at Super Middleweight.
Dirrell’s brother Anthony Dirrell is the current WBC titlist in the division.
In his third fight of the year, cruiserweight contender and former US Olympian BJ Flores (31-1-1, 20 KO), 203 ¾, of Chandler Arizona, scored a third round stoppage of Kevin Engel (20-11, 16 KO) of St. Louis, Missouri. Flores entered the bout rated ninth at Cruiserweight by the WBC.
The card was broadcast on ESPN2, promoted by DiBella Entertainment and Warriors Boxing, in association with Soliman Stanley Promotions.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]