Dan Rafael of ESPN.com has confirmed the rumor that has been floating around the past few days: Former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor has in fact been back in training with old trainer Pat Burns, and will return as a fighter for the first time since October 2009. The comeback date is set for August 13 in Little Rock, Ark., and Showtime is likely to televise.
Taylor, who turns 33 on August 11, will return as a middleweight instead of a super middleweight. The fallen star obviously had his greatest success at 160 pounds, and was the man who ended the long, dominant reign of Bernard Hopkins with a controversial decision win in July 2005 that made him the legit middleweight champion of the world. A rematch five months later again saw Taylor win by narrow margins, but many felt he never truly beat Hopkins.
Still, Taylor became one of the flagship stars of HBO, the network obviously and understandably excited about what appeared to be the next great middleweight. Taylor had a lot of positives. For starters, he could fight, and twice gutted out close fights with Hopkins. Also, he was gentlemanly, friendly, had a winning smile (it apparently matters sometimes), and was just plain easy to like. He was an athlete, and a former Olympian, winning the bronze medal as a light middleweight in the 2000 games in Sydney.
But after Hopkins, things got messy.
Taylor fired Pat Burns, the trainer who had led him to the mountain top, in favor of the more famous Emanuel Steward. Their professional relationship was a rocky, four-fight run that saw Taylor go 2-1-1, starting with a draw against Winky Wright where their oil-and-water mixture was readily apparent pretty quickly. It seemed as though in rounds where Taylor listened to Steward's advice and coaching, he won. And when he didn't, he looked lost, and Wright took over the fight.
After an easy win over Kassim Ouma, the Taylor camp tried to set up a fight with Sergio Mora, who balked in an infamously bad career move because he didn't want to fight Taylor in Memphis, overplaying his hand as a "star" fighter since he had won the "Contender" TV show's first season. The fight went instead to Cory Spinks, who uglied it up and made for a terrible fight on HBO, with Steward famously losing his mind over the course of the fight:
After getting the nod against Spinks, Taylor was signed up to fight the man who had stolen the show that same evening: Kelly Pavlik, who trounced the feared Edison Miranda that night in Memphis.
Taylor started well against Pavlik in September 2007, flooring the Ohioan in the second round. But after that, it was the Kelly Pavlik show, and in one of the great fights of the last decade, Pavlik stormed back to knock out the middleweight champion in the seventh round.
The two rematched at a catchweight the following February. Steward was no longer in Taylor's corner, replaced by longtime Taylor confidante and coach Ozell Nelson. But the magic was gone. Taylor lost a decision to Pavlik, then moved up to super middleweight. He beat friend Jeff Lacy in a passionless fight in Nashville, getting himself in the win column and picking up a shot at WBC titlist Carl Froch. Taylor looked better than he had in a couple of years when he fought Froch in April 2009, but in the end was thwarted by Froch's 12th round rally:
After that, Taylor signed up for Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic, a round robin tournament that is just now about to come to a close. In the first round that October, he was matched with German puncher Arthur Abraham. Abraham pretty easily controlled the majority of the fight, and in the waning seconds of the bout, knocked Taylor out in a rather frightening scene:
Following that loss, promoter Lou DiBella severed ties with Taylor, saying he no longer wanted to promote the former champion because he feared for his health:
"Jermain's career has been outstanding, and it has been a pleasure and honor to promote him. His victories against Bernard Hopkins remain the highlights of my career as a promoter. Jermain is not only a great fighter, but a good and decent man with a wonderful family. It is out of genuine concern for him and his family that I am compelled to make this decision."
Only a month later, Taylor made the decision to withdraw from the tournament and put his career on hold:
"I plan on keeping myself in shape and making a return to the sport sometime in the future. This was not an easy decision for me, having discuss it with my family, trainer, friends and my adviser Al Haymon, because I'm a very competitive person -- but I know this is the smart road for me to take."
Apparently, this is "sometime in the future." After almost two full years out of the sport, Taylor (28-4-1, 17 KO) will return to action. Should he? The neurological tests say he's fine. Pat Burns is satisfied enough with that to train him:
"I like everything I'm seeing, but most important, both neurologists he has seen have given him 100 percent clearance to compete and, based on what I've seen, he looks outstanding. He's very hungry. He has the look he had when he was on the way up."
It would be great if such a nice guy were able to make a significant career comeback in his mid-30s, after two years out of the sport, and after things went the way they did.
But it's not likely that Taylor makes it back to the top. No matter how hungry he looks in the gym.