Matthew Hurley: When all is said and done Jermain Taylor lost twice to Kelly Pavlik and the proud fighter from Arkansas will have to deal with the fact that no matter what he does from here on out his career will most probably be defined by those two losses. Taylor has been in an uncomfortable hot seat for years now. So revered was he as he marched through the middleweight ranks towards a title shot against long time champion Bernard Hopkins that he was all but anointed boxing’s brightest shining star before the flame had even been lit. Looking back it would seem that the young upstart never really had a chance at all. All the hype overshadowed the fact that he was a flawed fighter and not quite as good as his marketing team had hoped.
But the kid always had heart. And heart counts for a whole helluva lot when the sport you’ve chosen as your profession requires you to get hit to the body and the head not once but countless times over a period of thirty-six minutes or less. With marked stoicism Jermain Taylor dealt with all the condescending remarks from media scribes and fans who had decided that they were just sick of him and his marginal middleweight title reign. He deserved many of the boos that came his way because, quite frankly, after winning the title Mr. ‘Bad Intentions’ just didn’t live up to his moniker. He was mediocre at best but more detrimental to his diminishing fan base, he was boring.
Sometimes it takes the heckling from the crowd to awaken a complacent athlete and that’s what happened with Taylor. Going into the first fight with Kelly Pavlik the weary fighter knew that he needed a stellar performance to not only silence his critics but bring boxing fans back into his embrace. Make no mistake, Jermain was hurt badly by the dismissive response from the public. He wanted to be the next Marvin Hagler. He probably knew he never could be, even when he was training in the Kronk Gym in Detroit and Hagler’s most celebrated victim Thomas Hearns was shouting encouragement to him from outside the ropes. But the desire to be great, to win over the fans burned in his belly.
When he lost to Pavlik by knockout Taylor was left dumbstruck. He had lost not only his title but his identity. How would all those people who had turned their backs on him react to him now that he had lost the one thing that defined him, his titles? But the sport of boxing is a mercurial beast. Sometimes losing can be a blessing, particularly if you lose with valor. And Taylor went out on his shield against Pavlik. He went out befitting a champion.
Just like that, the fans welcomed him back into their embrace. Most thought that his desire to get back in the ring with his conqueror was foolhardy and hardly anyone gave him a serious chance of reversing the outcome that befell him in the first go round. But Taylor, reinvigorated by the love shown to him from his fans did what a true champion is supposed to do. He dusted himself off and climbed right back in the ring with a man that had beaten him to the ground. We didn’t know until Saturday if indeed it was foolhardy or if the young fighter who suddenly seemed so old really did have the skill set to match his courage.
He did. Although he would not be successful in his bid to gain revenge on Kelly Pavlik, his performance left little doubt that Jermain Taylor was never a pretender to the thrown. Taylor fought a technically sound fight on Saturday night. It was arguably one of the best performances of his career. Some might say that he once again ran out of gas in the later rounds but that would be to the detriment of the effort put forth by the relentless Kelly Pavlik. In the end Pavlik is just a little bit better than Jermain Taylor. And there’s nothing wrong with that because Pavlik is damn good and because of his even keel and unwillingness to get caught up in all the hoopla that goes with being a burgeoning superstar he will probably only get better.
At the post fight press conference there was an obvious sense of sadness about Jermain Taylor. He hid his eyes behind dark sunglasses. Yet the fighter so maligned in the recent past conducted himself with grace and dignity, praising his opponent and, in refreshing candor said, “I’m gonna take my ass home and go fishing.” Such a respite from the tortures of the ring is well deserved.
But the applause from the gathered crowd in the media room meant a lot to the fighter. He acknowledged it with slow nods and a gracious smile. Jermain Taylor may have lost the fight but he won something in return – respect. And respect is all any fighter truly desires.