The Stewardship

emanuel steward(Emanuel Steward, seen here giving Jermain Taylor an earful in between the 11th & 12th round of the Taylor-Spinks bout) 24.05.07 - By Eric R. Sloan: Remember the look on Michael Spinks’ face during referee instructions before he fought Mike Tyson? Under the boxing definition of fear, that look on Spinks’ face is referenced. It is rare, however, that fight fans get such an obvious insight into a fighter’s mental preparedness, or lack thereof, before the opening bell. Spinks, a hall of famer, had never showed “the look” before that night. Ninety-one seconds later, Spinks suffered the only loss of his professional career and retired from the sport.

More often, however, a fighter’s mental deficits surface publicly during the one minute rest periods between rounds. The classic example of such is Teddy Atlas and Michael Moorer. Atlas set the bar for creative tough love and one minute motivational speaking. I’m not sure Moorer ever really understood or appreciated it, but he became heavyweight champion regardless because Atlas knew how to manage this problem after years of practice. While Atlas is in a class of his own in this respect, Emmanuel Steward has a history of opening cans of verbal whoop derriere in the corner—most trainers do.

Given Jermain Taylor’s current need to be yelled at between rounds, there has been speculation lately about whether Steward should remain in the camp. After all, he inherited the middleweight champion. Steward and Taylor have not been together for too long. Manny doesn’t need the money, and he has other middleweights, namely Andy Lee, who will burn up the division within the next few years. Steward has more work to do with Wladimir Klitschko, a fighter who listens, and there is that pretty good gig at HBO when he’s not working a corner. All things considered, it looks like Manny should walk away from Bad Intentions and leave the begging and yelling to someone else.

Setting the foregoing aside, Steward should base his decision on what Taylor’s promoter, DiBella Entertainment, elects to do at this juncture. Taylor stated in a recent interview that the only fight he is interested in is a rematch with Winky Wright. If DiBella secures that fight next, then Manny can focus on training Taylor without the mental sideshow. If the next opponent is somebody else, assuming Taylor doesn’t look for another welterweight opponent, then there is probably nothing Manny can do to save Taylor from Taylor and he should walk away.

This is not to say that Taylor is an unworthy champion. His skill, his undefeated record, his victories over Bernard Hopkins, and his well grounded nature make him, in many respects, a prototypical champion. However, something is going on inside Jermain’s head that we cannot see until he steps into the ring. Emmanuel Steward is the only person who knows whether the mental factor can be effectively managed, and Steward knows better than anyone when it is time to separate himself from failure. A loss is a loss, but losing a championship is more—especially when the loss can be predicted by “the look.”

Article posted on 24.05.2007

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