Hometown fans expect more from Taylor

By George Willis


Hometown fans expect more from Taylor

LITTLE ROCK—The love affair is over or at the very least there is some mutual discontent when it comes to middleweight champion Jermain Taylor and his hometown fans in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The local folks, who have idolized and supported Taylor through his journey from Olympian to world champion, aren’t exactly worshiping at the throne of their native son these days as a wave of criticism has hammered Taylor after back-to-back uninspiring victories over Kassim Ouma last December and Cory Spinks last May.
“Little Rock has turned its back on him,” said one Team Taylor insider. “But he hasn’t given them anything to jump up and down about.”
Taylor is on a Disney vacation with his wife and kids, perhaps seeking refuge from the arrows that have come his way of late. There was a time he could do no wrong in Arkansas, but the sports talks shows here have been flooded with criticism over his performances against Ouma and Spinks, two fights against junior middleweights where Taylor failed to dominate as expected.
Ouma, one of the toughest and more courageous boxers in any weight division, took Taylor’s best punches for 12 rounds before losing a decision.  Spinks, a former undisputed welterweight champion, ran for 12 rounds, exposing Taylor’s inability to cut off the ring and annihilate an under-sized opponent.  One judge actually had Spinks winning, 117-111.
The Spinks fight was especially disappointing because it followed an under-card bout where middleweight prospect Kelly Pavlik of Youngstown, Ohio, was spectacular in scoring a seventh-round knockout over top contender Edison Miranda.  Pavlik  (31-0 with 28 knockouts) became the king of Memphis that night.
Not so long ago, Taylor looked like the future of boxing when he won the middleweight title in a close decision from Bernard Hopkins in July 2005 and validated it with an even better performance in the rematch in December of that year.  But since then he hasn’t been impressive, escaping with a gift draw against Winky Wright last summer before going the distance with Ouma and Spinks.  Now it seems Taylor (27-0-1 with 17 KO) will be fighting for his own future when he faces Pavlik on Sept. 29 in Atlantic City.
That highly-anticipated fight hasn’t been finalized with Team Taylor balking at an HBO offering of a $2.5 million purse, which is about a half million less than he received for the Spinks fight.  Taylor’s management is holding out for more money, but sources say HBO wasn’t happy with the ratings or the performance Taylor generated in his last two fights and is holding firm on the pay-cut.
Amazingly, despite being a young, undefeated world champion, Taylor has little leverage.  That’s because his image would take a further beating should he walk away from the most meaningful middleweight fight this year because of $500,000.
Frankly, Taylor needs a victory over Pavlik to regain the respect and adoration he once enjoyed not only in Little Rock but the boxing community as a whole.  Hopkins gave Taylor his opportunity. Now it’s time for Taylor to do the same for Pavlik.
“The truth is Taylor needs Kelly more than Kelly needs Taylor,” said a promoter with no connection to the two fighters. “For Jermain to fight someone else would look like he’s running.”
As for Team Taylor, all appear (emphasis on appear) to be on the same page again after some serious finger pointing in the aftermath of the Spinks fight.  Just who signed off on the Spinks match-up became a point of contention with most of the blame shoved toward trainer Emanuel Steward even though he admonished Taylor during the fight by saying: “This is why I wanted you to fight Miranda.”
But any rifts seem to have been settled as Steward will remain Taylor’s trainer for the Pavlik fight though there are plenty of talk show callers in Little Rock who wish Taylor would return to his former trainer Pat Burns.  Their simple reasoning is Taylor has abandoned his jab in his last three fights under Steward and last looked good in his second fight with Hopkins when Burns was in his corner. Also, Steward’s screaming at Taylor during the Spinks fight raised questions about the chemistry between the two.
Nonetheless, talk to those close to Taylor and most feel a fight against Pavlik would be the best thing for Taylor, whose training habits, focus and dedication have come under scrutiny in recent fights. There will be a push to persuade him to train somewhere other than in Memphis where he trained for his last fight, perhaps in the Poconos where Steward likes to isolate his fighters from outside distractions and temptations.
Also Pavlik is a right-handed in-your-face puncher, which is a more suitable style for Taylor than southpaws like Wright, Spinks and Ouma. Pavlik’s let’s-get-busy approach stole the show on the under-card of Taylor-Spinks. He gave Miranda the kind of an old-fashioned beat down boxing fans love.  It was the kind of performance we haven’t seen from Taylor since before his fights with Hopkins.
“We’ve slid off the map a little bit, but in a way that’s good,” another Team Taylor insider said. “This should make him more motivated. Jermain only fights when you make him fight. He’s got to come back strong on this fight.”
Maybe that will make Taylor a hometown hero again.
Sponsored by:


Send questions and comments to: gwillis@boxingtalk.com