Taylor-Pavlik: Jermain Taylor Looks For Redemption

jermain taylorMatthew Hurley: When then middleweight champion Jermain Taylor knocked down challenger Kelly Pavlik in the second round of their September 29th showdown the much derided fighter from Little Rock, Arkansas suddenly found fistic redemption after several lackluster performances in the ring. In one instant he had erased the questionable decisions that had gone his way and the tepid performances he put up against smaller men like junior middleweight titlist Cory Spinks. In two short years he had alienated not only the boxing public in general, but his own fan base.

Now, with the hard hitting Pavlik flailing about the ring, trying desperately to regain his balance and his senses all that had gone before would certainly be forgiven. The fans would embrace him once again.

Only Pavlik didn’t go away. The tough fighter from Youngstown, Ohio survived Taylor’s onslaught, reversed the tide and knocked the champion out in the seventh round. Despite the fact that the bout was one of the best of 2007 and that it takes two to put on a great fight, Taylor’s effort was brushed aside like pencil erasing as Pavlik was crowned not just the new middleweight champion of the world but the savior of a division that had sunk into a malaise during the former champion’s reign.

Out of that wreckage Taylor split with trainer Emanuel Steward in favor of longtime friend and mentor Ozell Nelson as his chief corner man. The fighter also invoked a rematch clause in the initial contract for his fight with Pavlik that allowed for a rematch at a catch-weight of 166 pounds. The initial reaction to Taylor’s desire to step back in the ring immediately with his conqueror was mixed. On one hand Taylor’s bravado and willingness to forgo a tune-up bout for his return was seen as becoming of a true champion, while on the other hand it seemed foolhardy after such a crushing defeat. Yet Taylor never hesitated and insists he can correct the mistakes he made in the first fight to finish what he started in that second round when he feels he let it all slip away.

There are those who feel that Taylor and Emanuel Steward simply never quite jelled, including Taylor himself, and others who feel Taylor was never the world beater HBO, who hyped the fighter relentlessly, had hoped he would become. Taylor feels more comfortable under the auspices of Nelson, but is comfort what the fighter needs as he prepares to engage with the murderous punching Pavlik for a second time?

“You can over hype this fight if you want,” Taylor said at a pre-fight press conference. “You can call it a career defining fight, because that’s exactly what this fight is for me. This is the most important fight of my career. I’m putting it in my trainer’s hands (Ozell Nelson), but I’m putting it in mine also, because I know exactly what I have to do. Ozell has been with me from the beginning (and) he knows the buttons to push with me that made me a world champion. We are ready to go back to work like we used to do it.”

Taylor has also been conciliatory in regards to his former trainer Emanuel Steward as has Nelson.

“It was more of a communication gap with Manny,” Nelson said in a teleconference. “The chemistry was great in training camp, but when it came fight time it just did not carry over in the ring. We learned a lot from Manny and I will use some of the same techniques he was working with Jermain on.”

Nelson maintains that despite Pavlik’s vaunted punching power and unrelenting pressure it was Taylor’s lack of endurance that led to his downfall. He insists that under a new training regime that aspect of Taylor’s game that failed him the first time will lead him to victory the second time around.

Still, some wonder if Taylor might be cashing out against Pavlik, particularly as the fight is being held at a higher weight which may help him but will certainly help the long lean Pavlik who said that he was thrilled the fight would take place at 166 pounds. “I can eat pasta now,” he says. Pavlik’s middleweight championship will not be on the line.

But to doubt Taylor’s resolve would be to doubt the warrior’s heart that was beating furiously on September 29th even as Pavlik was beginning to walk him down. The fighter never stopped trying and that second round window, that was wide open for him but slowly slid shut, still gnaws at him. It’s what convinces him that with a training camp under the tutelage of Nelson he can reclaim a status in boxing that he never quite lived up to.

Even former trainer Emanuel Steward still believes that Taylor is capable of beating Pavlik. “You saw what happened in that second round,” the Kronk impresario recently told writer Tim Smith. “He had Pavlik down. Pavlik was hurt. If Jermain had brought anything up and under the fight would have been over.”

Taylor’s promoter Lou DiBella feels that with the changes Taylor has made and the humbling experience of losing his first professional fight it has made him reminiscent of the hungry young fighter who rose up through the middleweight ranks and captured the eye of the boxing public.

“Jermain looks more determined than I have ever seen him. Physically, he is in the best shape of his career and is going through one of his most grueling training camps. There is no doubt on February 16th Jermain will be ready for anything that Kelly brings to the ring.”

In a promotional sound bite for the pay-per-view telecast Taylor reiterates DiBella’s belief. “No excuses, Kelly beat me fair and square last time, but I know what I have to do this time around, and I promise you things will be different. I’m expecting a lot of fireworks in the rematch, just like the first fight between us.”

The Pavlik – Taylor II February 16th pay-per-view broadcast, beginning at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT will be produced and distributed by HBO Pay-Per-View. The fight will take place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Tickets are still available and can be purchased at the MGM Grand Arena Box Office or through Ticketmaster.

Article posted on 05.02.2008

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