Saturday, July 25, 2009

Can Jermain Taylor Pull The Upset?

By Lee Payton

Photos © Justin McKie

The Super-Middleweight tournament is set. Showtime has picked 6 of the top 168lb fighters in the world to duke it out in a round-robin format that will eventually produce a top dog in the division - although the eventual winner might have to face Lucien Bute when it's all said and done to validate their claim. In the first round former World Middleweight Champion, Jermain Taylor, will be taking on undefeated Arthur Abraham, in Germany.

Most see this as another disastrous KO loss for the Arkansas native, and it very well could end up that way, but I think the fight deserves more than a 5 second analysis.

A lot of fans tend to underrate Jermain Taylor. Maybe it's because he was an HBO darling for so long. Perhaps they didn't like the decisions he got against Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright. Or maybe they just have no faith in him to really win it.

That's all fair, but as we find out so very often in this sport, every fight is special, so I think it's a mistake to believe that Abraham is just going to flatten him because Carl Froch (pictured taking a right hand from Taylor) and Kelly Pavlik have done so in the past.

One thing that stood out to me when I took my first look at this fight is the fact that the conventional opponents Taylor has had the most trouble with were all his height. Froch, Pavlik and Hopkins are all 6' or a little better. Abraham is listed at 5'10. Usually I'm hesitant to put too much stock into a couple of inches, but in this case I think they can be significant factors in the match-up.

Those other guys were able to reach Taylor with shots when he thought he was out of range. With Abraham, he actually will be safe at that distance because of the extra inches in height and reach. That half a step back he's been criticized for will actually be an asset here, in my view.

Having watched all of his televised fights, I can tell you that a shorter, orthodox fighter who isn't likely to apply consistent pressure is right up Taylor's alley. He won't have to think as much, which would help him conserve some of the nervous energy he tends to burn. I feel that he will be more comfortable with this opponent than against any of the other 4.

Another advantage Taylor has going into this one is punch output. While Arthur's defense has proven to be quite reliable, the high guard means his hands are busy. If Taylor has the discipline to use his stick all night (which is easier to do against a shorter, steady target than shifty guys like Hops and Froch), he should be able to keep Abraham's gloves pasted to his face for the majority of the fight. I think it's a pretty sure thing that Jermain will get off first and throw more punches against this guy. That's not to be overlooked.

Neither are his athletic gifts. This will be a rare occasion for Arthur in that he is going up against someone who can match or possibly exceed him in some important physical categories.

Of course, fighting in Germany, where Abraham is dearly loved, isn't going to make pulling off the upset any easier. Those cannon balls in Art's gloves could also erase any good work that has been done. However, I think the equation is slightly more difficult than "Abraham's heavy hands + Taylor's chin and stamina = Arthur by KO", and I believe we'll see that when they step into the ring.

Given his history it would be kind of amazing to see Jermain Taylor in the finals of this awesome tournament, but don't count him out just yet. He's got the tools to make things very interesting. Any way you look at it, he's the most proven fighter out of the bunch, which makes me wonder why so many are picking him to fall apart, and not Ward or Dirrell, who have never come close to competing on this level.

His next fight will either temporarily silence Taylor's critics, or it'll just be another big fight "he could have won". We'll find out which, October 17.

e-mail Lee Payton