I fear that what I'm about to open with here could be taken the wrong way: Jermain Taylor has a lot to prove on the 29th.
It's difficult, of course, to say that someone who is near-indisputably the ruler of his division has anything to prove. Truly, Taylor has proven more over his career than his upcoming opponent, Kelly Pavlik, has. And the only real competition for Taylor as far as ranking the top guy at 160 pounds is Winky Wright, against whom he fought to a very entertaining draw last year.
The problem is, that's the last time we saw that Jermain Taylor. In the meantime, we've seen the landscape of the middleweight division shift some. Bernard Hopkins -- conquered twice by Taylor -- moved up to 175 pounds, destroying Antonio Tarver, and then beating Winky at a catchweight. Wright continued being Wright, beating Ike Quartey with ease and fighting well against Hopkins.
Meanwhile, Jermain Taylor took on 154-pound contender Kassim Ouma last December, winning handily but failing to really impress. By all accounts and logic, the bigger, stronger Taylor should've knocked out Ouma. Instead, he didn't even really hurt him. This past May, Taylor had an awful night in an awful fight against an awful opponent, when he defeated 154-pound champ Cory Spinks in Memphis via split decision.
(One thing about the Spinks fight that I want to again make clear: The split decision was idiotic. I agree with Jim Lampley completely when he said that, based on his 117-111 for Spinks scorecard, judge Dick Flaherty should never be allowed to score a world title fight, or any other important fight, again. And for the other guys around the web and elsewhere that also thought Spinks won, I still don't know what the hell they were on that night.)
And while Taylor took sloppy, uninspired victories over guys he probably should've beaten with less trouble, two hard-punching middleweights were getting noticed: Pavlik and Colombian knockout sensation Edison Miranda.
Manny Steward wanted Taylor to fight Miranda in May, when we wound up with Spinks subbing in for a thick-skulled Sergio Mora. After Youngstown, Ohio's, Pavlik dismantled Miranda in the Taylor-Spinks co-feature, it was apparent why. Miranda is a one-dimensional fighter, the kind of guy Taylor could have easily -- and impressively, in the mind of the public -- defeated.
But could there have been another reason? Taylor has already publicly said that this will be his final fight at 160 pounds, as he gears up for a move to the super middleweight division, home of undefeated pound-for-pound top tenner Joe Calzaghe.
Had Taylor beaten Miranda, he could've made that jump sooner. We might be talking Taylor-Calzaghe in November, which would've been a very big fight and a big payday for both camps. He could have bypassed ever fighting Kelly Pavlik.
Instead, May 19 showed us two things. First, we saw Kelly Pavlik make a star of himself with another dominant performance, improving to 31-0 with his 28th knockout. Then we saw the champion, Jermain Taylor, have his fight booed and ridiculed harshly on HBO.
The Taylor camp couldn't have ducked Pavlik without some serious backlash. I already have taken his announcement of a move to 168 to be a way of explaining a loss to Pavlik, which I think Taylor and his people truly fear. That way, he can say, "Oh, I had a hell of a time making weight." This would ignore, of course, that it's not like it's easy for Pavlik to get to 160 pounds, either. Both of these guys have their future at least one weight class up.
But since Pavlik made such an overwhelming statement against Miranda, the fight was absolutely necessary. And I'm very happy we're getting it. Pavlik is a legit threat to Taylor, a guy with some issues still (defensive lapses are Pavlik's biggest flaw) but real punching power and one of the best straight right hands in boxing. He can also be relentless, as he showed against Miranda. It'll be interesting to see if he brings that gameplan to Taylor, and if he does, how the champion will react to it. He hasn't fought anyone like that in years.
If he does bring the heat to Taylor like he did against Miranda, I think Jermain Taylor could be in some serious trouble on the 29th. On the other hand, I'm also not sure that Taylor doesn't have it in him to bring it right back if pushed into it. It's not like Hopkins, Wright, Ouma or Spinks were really bringing thunder down on him at any point, particularly Spinks. (And, for the record, I don't blame Taylor for the Spinks fight -- what the hell was he supposed to do, get a lasso?)
If Taylor retains and moves on to 168 pounds as planned, the division has nothing. If Pavlik wins, the division goes back to having one real star, the same as it does now. Kelly Pavlik made his name a while ago for a lot of us, and for sure in May. But this is his chance to become the middleweight champion of the world, an HBO headliner. That's a whole other set of pressures. Pavlik has never been in a fight that was near this magnitude. Taylor has been there.
I think the fight is very intriguing on a lot of levels. I wonder where Taylor's punching power has gone, and if he can stand toe-to-toe with Pavlik should it come to that. Miranda is a vicious puncher, and he barely stood a chance against Pavlik from the opening bell, scoring only moments of any real effectiveness. And I wonder if Kelly Pavlik, even with some really good wins, is ready for a guy who is as savvy as Jermain Taylor. I truly believe that the most underrated part of Taylor's game is his brain -- the guy is a smart boxer along with being a tremendous athlete.
With September having been gutted by injuries that knocked Vargas/Mayorga, Marquez/Juarez and Klitschko/McCline off the slate, it's up to Taylor and Pavlik to salvage the month. It is a major title fight, and HBO is treating it as such. Only this fight and Taylor-Wright as non-PPV bouts have been given the "Countdown" treatment from the network. This is two of the best in the division (arguably the two best) going one-on-one for the middleweight title. After such a long layoff for major fights, I can't wait for this one.