Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Jermain Taylor Still Searching For Respect

Boxing fans are a hard to please bunch. Former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor can certainly attest to that. Michael Nelson takes a look at the 168 pound contender's ongoing struggle for respect.

Photo © Marty Rosengarten /

On the night of May 19th, 2007, Jermain Taylor's body of work was mostly buried in sand. The boxing gods were restless and passerbys were tossing stones at his head.

He had just been handed a lackluster and disputed decision over Cory Spinks. It was his third fight after a pair of disputed victories over Bernard Hopkins and his second after a disputed draw with Winky Wright. He was the most disputed undisputed champion in recent memory. Adding insult to injury, The Ring dropped him from their pound-for-pound ratings, which was rarely done to a fighter who had continued to 'win'.

Even more grating was the trend that jumped out at anyone who took a cursory look over his overall resume. Already with an astounding lack of natural middleweights and anyone who can punch, Jermain pushed boxing fans to their limit by fighting a trio of boxers - Winky Wright, Kassim Ouma, and Cory Spinks - who were notorious for their lack of knockout power.

But after Kelly Pavlik stopped Edison Miranda - Taylor's designated boogie man by boxing scribes and bloggers - on the same card of Taylor's disappointing performance against Spinks, Jermain finally stepped up to the plate and agreed to a fight a man as big as him with a decisive edge in power. The two fighters would square off on September 29, 2007.

Taylor gave a gutsy effort on his way to being brutally stopped in the 7th round. He didn't show much improvement from previous fights, though, constantly finding himself on the ropes or in the corner because he lacked the footwork to spin or side-step an aggressive opponent.

After the loss, many, including me, thought he would bypass the rematch clause and resume his tour of Down Comforter fisted opposition for at least another year or two.

What happened next was pretty impressive.

Not only did he take the rematch, but he dropped well-respected trainer Emmanuel Steward to replace him with Ozell Nelson, the man who developed Taylor into a world-class fighter during Taylor's amateur days. Then, in the rematch, he showed the type of improvement rarely seen from a pugilist who had been fighting since the age of 13. His footwork and defense were leaps and bounds better than what he showed in the first fight, as he managed to stay off the ropes and avoid getting hit by most of the powerful blows Pavlik threw at him. Mainly because he couldn't avoid Kelly's rangy jab, he lost a close decision, but gained back much of the respect that had been adrift for years.

In his comeback fight last November, he nearly whitewashed Jeff Lacy. To be sure, Lacy is clearly on the downside of his career. But at least Jeff still has a few rocks in his gloves, which is more than can be said about the vast majority of Taylor's opponents pre-Pavlik.

With his upcoming fight against Carl Froch, who is 24-0 with 19 knockouts, the image of Taylor targeting fighters that don't present a legitimate KO threat is quickly fading. His previous three bouts, along with his willingness to face a relatively unknown and dangerous boxer from across the sea, shows that he's serious about his career. A distinction that was in question two years ago.

He has dug himself out of the sand. His road towards the ascent back into pound-for-pound lists, and tasting the nectar of universal approval, begins Saturday night.

e-mail Michael Nelson