No fighter in the last two years has gained as much as Jermain Taylor has. Five-and-a-half years following his pro debut against Chris Walsh (a fourth round TKO) at Madison Square Garden, in a show main evented by Carmine Tufano and Joseph Hughes, Taylor found himself across the ring from "The Executioner" himself, Bernard Hopkins. Here he was, just shy of his 27th birthday, with a perfect 23-0 record, and having never really been tested in the ring.
It's not to say he hadn't faced good fighters. He dominated William Joppy and Raul Marquez, and destroyed Daniel Edouard in his previous fight. Taylor was a serious prospect, and a likeable, charismatic, Mr. America type of guy.
And then the world found out just how good he was, as Taylor beat Hopkins by split decision, then followed up with a tight unanimous decision victory in their rematch five months later. People will always debate who won those fights, but the record books say Taylor, and no one disagrees that the fights were almost too close to call either way.
Not willing to simply sit back and be famous for beating Hopkins, taking on overmatched opposition while building his bank account and his record, Jermain Taylor went from two fights with Bernard Hopkins to a fight against Winky Wright, perhaps the toughest man in boxing to truly defeat. Taylor and Wright fought to a hotly contested draw that night, but any hopes of a rematch were extinguished almost right away, as Wright fervently disagreed with the decision, which Winky often will.
While HBO (and fight fans) held out hope that Taylor/Wright II would come in December '06 -- a hope that Taylor reportedly shared, or was at least more than willing to sign off on -- Taylor instead matched up with Kassim Ouma, and dominated a good fighter for 12 rounds.
Rumors of Taylor taking on super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe have fizzled (no surprise given Calzaghe's spotty track record of taking on the best possible opponent), and Winky and Hopkins are going to fight each other. So who does Jermain Taylor fight next? Here's a list of my personal top five choices:
1. John Duddy
It's not the best fight I could think of. But stick an undefeated Duddy into a main event against Jermain Taylor in Madison Square Garden, and you're going to have big fight atmosphere gone bananas. Duddy would be a serious underdog, but he'd bring in the Irish-American demographic in a big way and probably have the majority of the crowd with him. Plus, he's just a fun fighter with guts to spare.
2. Sergiy Dzinziruk
He's a light middleweight champion with a win over Daniel Santos, and he has the frame to move up. Given the lack of depth at 154 and the fact that I don't think anyone is itching to fight him, moving up to face Taylor with his 33-0 record is probably his best chance at a payday, and he deserves one. Another guy in the thick of the race for World's Most Criminally Ignored Fighter.
3. Arthur Abraham
King Arthur is a tough son of a bitch, has some credibility, and is a young middleweight with a perfect record and the IBF belt. He'd almost certainly have to travel to the States (probably Memphis) for the first time in his career, but it would be an intriguing matchup.
4. Edison Miranda or Allan Green
The closer we get to Miranda/Green on March 3, the more I think Green might just pop the Miranda balloon. Miranda is a marketing dream, a huge puncher that messed up Arthur Abraham something awful in his only career loss, and put Willie Gibbs' lights out in the first round on HBO in December, and Gibbs is no chump.
But Green is already being seen as a stepping stone to either a Taylor/Miranda fight, or even just a Miranda/Pavlik matchup that could lead to the winner of that one fighting Taylor down the line. Green's a quality super middleweight with a 23-0, 16 KO record. He hasn't had a real eye-catching win yet, but he could very well beat Miranda and mess up a lot of plans.
5. Felix Sturm
I know, I know. He's not the most exciting guy in the world. But Felix Sturm is a damn good boxer that should have become a success in America after his outstanding performance (and some would argue victory) against Oscar de la Hoya in 2004. To this day, there are a lot of boxing writers and fans and Oscar detractors that point to that fight as some evidence that Oscar isn't all he's cracked up to be, since he apparently should have walked all over Sturm. Why has Sturm received so little credit for that fight? Why has he stayed in Germany since then? This wouldn't happen (unless it took place in Germany) because there's no market, and maybe because Sturm is exactly the type of guy Taylor should be kept away from -- an unheralded, uninteresting, unknown in the States (except for one fight) type of guy. There's everything to lose, zero to gain.
Hopefully we'll find out soon who Jermain Taylor's next opponent will be, because he's one of the brightest stars in boxing, and one of the champions that's willing to fight the best opponents.