Jermain Taylor must Right the Ship

jermain taylor24.05.07 - By Anthony Coleman: After his recent performance on Saturday night I think it is fair to say that Jermain Taylor has now become one of the most maligned champions in boxing today. This isn’t hyperbole; an overreaction to one bad performance. Instead it is a culmination of long simmering resentment held by boxing fans. They view Jermain Taylor as a built up HBO product with severely limited skills, a benefactor of both HBO’s cheerleading and dubious decisions by the judges. Oh yeah and his last two fights were against undeserving junior middleweight challengers and he failed to look impressive in either one of those fights.

Add it all it up and you are left with a fighter with declining credibility amongst fans, and when that happens fans won’t watch his fights on HBO or go to the arenas to see him. Taylor is no stuck in the proverbial rock and the hard place, and he must do something in order to avoid becoming the boxing version of Kwame Brown.

This wasn’t supposed to be Jermain Taylor’s career. By this time, in the year 2007, Taylor was supposed to be the dominant undisputed Middleweight champion of the world, and a true pound for pound elite level boxer. When he turned pro in 2001, after winning a bronze medal in the Sydney Olympics, Taylor was thought of as being the top prospect in the sport.

He was blessed with good power, a strong jab and very good athleticism and strength for a Middleweight. He would soon be scooped up by HBO and hyped to the moon as the next superstar in the sport. In fact even as a young prospect, Taylor showed a lot of potential. The problem is that he never improved as a fighter as his career progressed.

By 2004, even when he was still facing blown-up Junior Middleweights and faded former title holders like Raul Marquez and William Joppy, Taylor still showed his laundry list of flaws and he had his list of detractors even then. However, the detractors really came out of the forest when he won the Middleweight title in highly controversial fashion against Bernard Hopkins. In that fight he gave all of his detractors ammunition to fire away at him: his balance and footwork were a problem, he pulled back on the right hand, he threw sloppy combinations and his aggression wasn’t effective. Even worse, he didn’t silence his critics when he rematched with Hopkins and won another disputed decision. He still displayed the same amateur mistakes.

In his next two fights he fought to a stalemate with Winky Wright in another controversial decision and looked average in decisioning undersized Kasim Ouma. Meanwhile his list of detractors grew and the bandwagon riders who thought that he would become the future of the Middleweight division were jumping off as fast as they could. After another controversial points win, this time over Cory Spinks, the bandwagon is now very sparse and he literally has fans coming directly to him voicing there displeasure with his ring skills. In fact, the guestbook for Taylor’s official website needed to be shut down, because there were so many insults directed by fans toward the very-disputed Middleweight champion of the world.

Jermain Taylor and his braintrust (Al Heymon, Lou Dibella and HBO) may believe that this reaction and sentiment is only held by a minority of boxing fans, and that most boxing fans buy into him as a true superstar. Honestly, if they believed this they would be fooling themselves. If you go onto any boxing forum (like Maxboxing) you are guaranteed to read posters slamming Taylor as overhyped and overrated. This along with his poor fight attendance, disappointing ratings, and negative crowd reaction should give Taylor’s braintrust one conclusion: he is simply not loved or respected by the fans. Fans have turned against him because his fights are boring, his skills are limited, and his boxing I.Q is the equivalent of Forrest Gump. In other words: he isn’t a superstar, no matter how many times HBO will tell you he is one.

Furthermore, HBO has helped ruin his stock with the fans. Right now HBO is giving him the boxing equivalent of the “push”. For those not familiar with wrestling terminology, a “push” is when a promoter attempts to make a wrestler more popular with the fans by either giving the wrestler more screen time or allowing them to win match after match. However, if the fans don’t think the wrestler isn’t that great to begin with, and the wrestler in name is still being pushed down the audience’s throats, the fans often will turn against him and boo his ass to oblivion whenever he comes to the ring. This is exactly what has happened to Taylor.

HBO saw a lot of potential in Jermain Taylor, signed him to an exclusive deal, gave him easy fight after easy fight all the while HBO’s lead commentator, Jim Lamply was cheerleading about his supposed greatness and giving biased commentary in his fights. HBO thought that they were making Taylor more popular with the fans by giving him main events and telling the world he was a future great, but instead they hurt his standing with the fans because he wasn’t over (read: popular with the fans) to begin with and fans were tired of HBO’s preferential treatment of him in his promotion and fights. Fans are essentially tired of him being pushed down their throats.

As it stands now, Taylor is at a crossroads in his career. The majority of boxing fans have turned against him, and his approval rating with the boxing media is so low it is almost Bush-like. He must do something drastic in order to right the ship or he will sink his career. Here are my recommendations:

1. Fight and beat the best available opponents. Most fans hate it when champions routinely avoid a top level challenger. It makes them seem like illegitimate champions. That is why it is imperative that Taylor takes on the best opponents and not, as he said, the “best fighter for the best money”. In his next fight, Taylor must get into the ring with either Kelly Pavlik (the number 1 contender at Middleweight) or move up in weight and face either Joe Calzaghe or Mikkel Kessler. Also he must not just face those aforementioned boxers, he must defeat them. We need to believe that Taylor is truly a pound-for-pound level fighter like he has been hyped.

2. He needs to fight more to improve his skills: As noted by Maxboxing’s Steve Kim, Taylor’s growth was stunted because he was never given time to develop his tools as a fighter. He was rushed into that HBO contract and before he won the title he only fought 3 times per year. Since he won the title two years ago, that total has dropped to twice a year. He simply isn’t fighting enough in order to correct his many, many technical flaws. He should be fighting four to five times a year in order to improve his technique.

3. He need to fight in a more entertaining style: Certain fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr. don’t understand the importance of looking entertaining while also looking dominant. Boxing, like all sports, is entertainment and it is important for fight fans to be entertained in the ring while getting a sense of seeing true greatness. Sugar Ray Robinson did this, Roberto Duran did this and so did Sugar Ray Leonard. Jermain Taylor obviously doesn’t come close to this. Taylor’s style is pretty boring and basic. He is overly methodical and he doesn’t let his hands go anymore. He needs to throw a higher volume of punches in order to get fight fans interested in his fights and to build a fanbase.

4. He needs to listen to his corner: Last week’s performance revealed to the world that he doesn’t take instructions very well. Manny Steward damn near had an aneurysm trying to force Taylor to do basic things in his fight with Spinks. If he would have done them, Taylor probably would have won the fight in clear fashion. Yet, he wouldn’t comply with Steward’s demands and made the fight so much harder on himself than he should have. If he chooses to retain Steward’s services (and that’s a big if), Taylor has one of the sport’s true all time great trainers and his advice will be invaluable to his progression as a prize fighter. It would be wise for him to listen to such advice.

Those are only a few pointers that I would give to Taylor and his handlers (obviously there are other things that he needs to improve). Now the ball is in his court. Say what you want, but he is still officially the WBC and recognized Middleweight champion of the world so he still has a leg to stand on. He has time in order for his ship to weather the storm and make something happen in the long term. However, the doubts still linger: will he be willing take this route or will he take the road of least resistance? He is an HBO player and taking the hard road to improve his goodwill with the fans and to enhance his skills may seem undesirable. As funny as it sounds, millions of dollars in fat paychecks will often distort a person’s view of reality (just ask Roy Jones and Floyd Mayweather).

Also there is considerable doubt if Taylor can defeat the top available fighters if he gets them into the ring. The general consensus among fight fans and boxing scribes is that Jermain Taylor would be the underdog if he ever stepped into the ring with Kelly Pavlik, Joe Calzaghe or Mikkel Kessler. The thought of stepping up and fighting fighters who are bigger and more technically gifted than him may give Taylor pause. Whether he likes it or not, Jermain Taylor must do something in order to shed his image as the American, Middleweight version of Audley Harrison.


-Am I the only who sees the transparency in Calzaghe’s call outs to Jermain Taylor? It is clear to me why he desperately wants to fight Taylor while he barley whispers the name of Mikkel Kessler: he knows that he can (and probably would) beat Taylor in impressive fashion. Seriously, there is more demand for a Calzaghe-Kessler fight on both sides on the Atlantic than there is for a Calzaghe-Taylor fight. Yet Kessler is bigger, stronger and more technically sound than Taylor and would give him one hell of a fight. Calzaghe sees Taylor as the incomplete fighter that he is and wants to cherry pick. There is something impressive about handing the undisputed, undefeated Middleweight champ his first loss and Calzaghe knows it.

-As I said in my previous article, Kelly Pavlik may turn out to be the loser in this whole situation. The chances of him fighting Taylor might be less than fifty percent and he may end up picking up the belt from the garbage can, ala Lennox Lewis. It is unfair to him, because while he will gain recognition as the WBC champ; he won’t gain recognition as the undisputed champion if he did defeat Taylor. He has earned his right to fight for the championship and it would suck for him if he didn’t get his chance on the world’s stage. If a fight with Taylor can’t be made I would love to see him face Arthur Abraham in a unification fight or move up in weight and battle Mikkel Kessler. If he can get any of those big fights, Pavlik might prove to be the next American pound-for-pound talent.

-BTW: I would like to apologize to Ring Legend on Maxboxing’s board. I behaved like a jag bag towards you the other day.

Article posted on 25.05.2007

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