Mixed Emotions: Taylor-Wright Thrills Without Resolution

19.06.06 - By Phillip Przybylo: The FedEx Forum in Memphis, TN, USA, held the action-packed battle for the undisputed world middleweight championship as the fighters held nothing back during the majority of the 12-round split draw. Champion Jermain Taylor held onto his belt Saturday night after his spirited performance Saturday night. Challenger Winky Wright held onto his respect after outlanding the champ for the first nine rounds. But ultimately, Wright had little else to hold onto but his own bitterness as he was denied his chance at glory on the scorecards in favor of a rising star whose glow is ever increasing by the polish waxed onto him by trainer Emmanuel Steward.

Unlike the majority of high stakes bouts of recent years, both Taylor and Wright clashed as if they had nothing to lose from the opening bell. Taylor impressed his heavily biased fan base in the arena with free-flowing combinations that dazzled with quickness (but not with crispness). Despite being in the ring with the quintessential pro in Wright, a former undisputed junior middleweight champion, Taylor made his Bad Intentions clear when he showed now fear with his energy activity level that won him the first round and about half of his awarded rounds.

Wright has been underrated his whole career. Even without apparent tactical flaws, he was the betting man's underdog in this fight as well. However, more than anything else, his performance level has been underrated. Just because he has not knocked out foes in great fights does not mean he does not give good fights with damaging effects for oft-stunned and staggered opponents. Winky comes to fight.

Ratings and pundits aside, one thing was clear--Winky was in a fight.

During the second round, Wright evened the bout with an aggressive posture, jabbing Taylor back, and then pounding the champion against the ropes. The jab would continually find its way home to Taylor's unguarded chin in the first half of the fight, particularly in rounds three and five. The accuracy of the jab and Jermain's own inaccuracy clearly threw the champion off his game in many rounds. Taylor would resign himself to leaning against the ropes for large portions of rounds and sporadically unleash a combination to back Wright off.

The southpaw challenger was not one to back off, though. At least, not yet. So Taylor would have to rely on slightly improving footwork and power punching combinations to keep the bout even through the first six rounds. Oddly enough, his piston-like jab--his signature punch of the past--was nowhere to be found. However, in its place were lead rights and lead left hooks that were slowly finding their target, especially in the final seconds of most rounds. Also in his repertoire: a confidence and calmness that only trainer Steward and weeks at Kronk Gym could provide. The later rounds--his achillies heel against Bernard Hopkins--would prove to be his saving grace because of the better stamina the calmness provided.

The pitched battle hit its peak in the ninth round. Wright would win the majority of exchanges on the ropes and Taylor would win his share in the center of the ring. In this fight: winning exchanges equals thunderous punches in bunches. While no Hagler-Hearns, the pacing of the fight was near brutal for the combatants. By the end of the ninth round, Taylor's left eye was practically swollen shut from a head butt and a hundred or so Wright right jabs. Wright's head was bumpy and bruised as well.

However, after the ninth, the pace of the last few rounds resembled the first few rounds of most "superfights" of this era with caution by both fighters. Maybe it was Steward who, in between refrains of "stay off the ropes," told Taylor to look for counter shots as Wright appeared to be open after throwing his reaching jabs. Maybe it was the headbutts (almost ordinary with conventional versus southpaw stances) that helped swell Taylor's eye and clearly affected a more bewildered Wright.

Or maybe it was the intelligence of both fighters who realized that their original pace would likely lead to exhaustion or much worse.

In the end, the new pace likely led to moderately disappointing "championship rounds" down the home stretch.

The Arkansas-native would take at least two of the final three rounds with his willingness to stay off the ropes and circle in the ring more. Wright, too, was content to move around and even dance, but the center of the ring was still Taylor's forte. In a dramatic contentious battle, there was no dramatic or climatic ending. The only solace was the occasional Taylor combination--brave enough considering he only had one working eye. The lack of excitement at the end was only compounded by the judges' scores of 115-113 (Taylor), 115-113 (Wright), and 114-114.

Wright left the ring in disgust before the customary post-fight interview with Larry Merchant for the television audience. He would later claim that the decision was essentially a hometown decision in favor of Taylor. His claim would have had much more merit had he been aggressive in the last few rounds. Instead, he was hesitant to pull the trigger on his punches when he had Taylor against the ropes and danced around a little too much. His opponent showed a little more class in accepting the decision because--shock of all shocks--the judges may have actually scored the fight correctly!

For now, Taylor (25-0-1) remains champion and has a bright future ahead of him because he fought evenly with a truly elite boxer. Should he stay with Steward and continue to hone his skills, he may go from rising star to superstar. Wright remains undervalued (50-3-1) and sounded as if he rather not see Taylor again, but perhaps that was dejection and a career's worth of bitterness talking.

For the future, we can hope the rematch has a more satisfying ending to it. We can hope there will be a rematch, period.

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Article posted on 20.06.2006

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