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The Rise, Reign and Fall of Jermain Taylor

"And that right hand hurt Taylor! Taylor is stunned! Left hook pops Taylor's head up! Uppercut on Taylor! Down goes Jermain! And Steve Smoger is gonna stop the fight! There's a brand new middleweight champion! He's from Youngstown, Ohio!"

That one Jim Lampley call from the finish of the epic first fight between Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik will forever be connected in my mind with the fall of Taylor's career. And make no mistake, Taylor's career has since that first loss taken a serious nosedive.

But, like most things, it's not really as simple as that.

When Pavlik knocked out Taylor, it introduced us to a new middleweight champion, one some hoped would live up to the hype, as those same some felt Jermain had failed to do after two razor-thin decisions that ended the Bernard Hopkins Era at 160 pounds.

Your opinion of Pavlik's rather pathetic reign as middleweight champ may not be the same as mine, but I think it's safe to say Kelly (like him or not, and I do) has hardly done anything Taylor did not while serving as The Man.

Jermain Taylor recently pulled out of the much-ballyhooed Super Six World Boxing Classic. Prior to that, promoter Lou DiBella had severed ties to Taylor, leaving money on the table after a brutal 12th round knockout last September against Arthur Abraham put Taylor in the hospital in Germany. People have said Taylor still doesn't remember the Abraham fight.

With Jermain on the shelf for the foreseeable future, the thought that keeps coming into my head is that even if he's not actually retired, I hope people will remember Jermain's career as it deserves to be remembered.

The key thing to always remember: Jermain Taylor was a man who took challenges.

The Rise

In his pro debut, Taylor fought at Madison Square Garden, way back in 2001. He faced a Scranton native named "Irish" Chris Walsh. Now was Walsh a good fighter? No, not really. But empty or not, he came in with a 17-4-1 record. Not many guys, even celebrated amateurs, take a first pro fight against someone with that sort of record. (Walsh's career would peak in 2003, when he beat a 40-year-old Hector Camacho. It was Camacho's only loss of the decade.)

Taylor would move fairly quickly, beating plenty of journeymen, gatekeepers and pro opponents, and by 2004, getting to the stiffer sort of foes like that, guys like Alex Bunema (TKO-7), Raul Marquez (TKO-9) and William Joppy (shutout unanimous decision).

The Reign

Taylor's two fights with Hopkins have been discussed to death. He got the W in both, though many will argue until the day they die that he didn't deserve the W in either. But no matter how you look at it, both fights were close, and Taylor acquitted himself as a legitimate top-shelf middleweight.

71230144_medium And what did he do immediately after that? Taylor made his first defense in 2006 against Winky Wright. There wasn't exactly a line to fight Winky Wright in '06, as he had just come off of two clear wins over Shane Mosley and an utterly dominant win against Felix Trinidad. Between Trinidad and Taylor, Winky fought and decisively beat Sam Soliman. Wright hadn't lost a fight since a controversial decision against Fernando Vargas in 1999.

Taylor, under new trainer Manny Steward, fought erratically that night, and walked out with a draw against Wright. Though there was plenty of reason to stage a rematch, they never did meet again.

Six months later, Taylor took a fight with junior middleweight contender and former titlist Kassim Ouma. That fight was clearly meant to get Jermain back in the win column and end his '06 on a high note, and it felt as though that fight along with Wright's bout the same month against Ike Quartey were designed by HBO to showcase the two main event fighters and get a rematch going; which, again, did not happen.

Taylor was then set to fight "Contender" season one winner Sergio Mora, whose name was about as big as it was going to get. Mora backed out, refusing to fight Taylor in Memphis, and save for one fight against Vernon Forrest, Mora's career really has never recovered.

Taylor instead fought junior middleweight titlist Cory Spinks on short notice. I actually give Jermain plenty of credit for this fight. Sure, Spinks was coming up in weight, but it wasn't like there were a ton of credible options out there (Edison Miranda and Pavlik were fighting each other on the undercard, knocking out two names), and no fight with Spinks is ever easy. Even if you beat Spinks, as Jermain did, you never look good against him, and your profile is never raised because of it. Taylor won, didn't look good, and really didn't get much credit for it.

It was also a clear sign that he and trainer Emmanuel Steward simply weren't working very well with one another. It was their third fight together. They had trouble clicking against Wright, but in this fight, Steward repeatedly lambasted Taylor in the corner to little response:

The chinks in the armor were really starting to show.

The Fall

Taylor was also saying he'd be moving up in weight after that fight, as making 160 was getting tough. But after Taylor beat Spinks and Pavlik destroyed Miranda, public demand for Taylor-Pavlik was pretty high, and Jermain defended the middleweight crown again.

Pavlik was down in the second, but roared back to score that seventh round knockout. It was an instant classic of a fight. It was Taylor's first loss, and instead of going out and looking for a comeback opponent, he exercised the contractual clause that gave him a rematch with Pavlik at a 164-pound catchweight. Pavlik beat him again, and Jermain moved up to super middleweight officially.

A win over Jeff Lacy came without much trouble, but offered a warning when Lacy wobbled Taylor in the middle of the fight, deserving a knockdown but not getting the call from referee Laurence Cole. Without being terribly insulting to Lacy, if "Left Hook" could shake Jermain up, was Jermain's chin there anymore?

Taylor fought WBC titlist Carl Froch last April. In a fight Taylor was winning, Froch stormed him in the 12th and finished him off with just 14 seconds left to go. Not to be topped, Arthur Abraham would six months later put Taylor away with six seconds remaining in the fight, though Abraham was going to win anyway.

The Lasting Thoughts

Jermain Taylor's career can be scrutinized plenty, don't get me wrong. I think he made some bad career decisions, mainly in regard to his trainers. Pat Burns guided Jermain to the middleweight championship of the world and was then replaced by Steward, whose working relationship with Taylor was a disaster. Taylor then promoted longtime friend and mentor Ozell Nelson to the role of lead trainer, and that didn't really work out either. It was Nelson who had convinced Taylor to fire Burns and go with Steward.

There was always sort of a flippant, indifferent air about Taylor, too. Not that he didn't take boxing seriously or didn't care about it, he just never gave off that usual "serious business" vibe that most fighters do. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, really. You can also rephrase this as "Jermain was a laid-back dude who didn't seem to let all the 'serious business' of boxing get to him," and it sounds a lot better. But I don't know if that helped or hurt his perception among fans.

And then there was the strange news that Taylor was going to lift weight for the first time ever before the Abraham fight. Something like that gives the impression that because of weird training habits, Taylor was never as good as he should have been.

But all of that is what it is, and you can't change any of it now. Taylor was one of my favorite fighters of the last decade. He was likable, he was a good fighter, and he kept a schedule that most guys wouldn't touch. Once his career started cracking a little bit, he didn't run around looking for easy fights. When he'd lost three of four, he entered a tournament with five other top-shelf fighters.

Jermain has a lot of guts. And now he's shown the sense to get out (at least for now) before bad gets ugly. I just hope he'll get the credit he deserves. In an era where a lot of guys have been criticized for taking easy fights, Taylor consistently fought tough competition.

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