By Gary Purfield
“I had a conversation directly with one of the top neurologist in the world and here’s the exact conversation, I believe I can say this. I asked him, the doctor, if Jermain Taylor was your own kid would you let him fight. And what the doctor said was no, I wouldn’t let him fight and I wouldn’t let my own kid fight under any circumstances. But if what you’re asking me is, is Jermain Taylor any different than any other fighter, is there any more risk, is there any more unnecessary risk, than any other fighter, then I can’t tell you that. And based upon that, the man has the right to be master of his own dominion. Like he said, he’s a fighter, fighters fight.”
That was Jermain Taylor’s promoter, Lou Dibella speaking during a conference call Wednesday promoting Friday’s fight, where Jermain Taylor 28-4-1 (17 KO) makes his comeback to the ring after being out of boxing for more than two years. Taylor will headline a special edition of Showtime’s ShoBox series taking on Jessie Nicklow 22-2-3 (8 KO) from the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon, California.
It seems not that long ago Jermain Taylor was the future star of the middleweight division and one of boxing’s bright lights. The 2000 Olympic Bronze Medalist dethroned long-time middleweight king Bernard Hopkins in July of 2005 and then won the rematch later the same year. Taylor brought the pleasant personality and excitement in the ring that would draw fans. He had taken over one of boxing’s glory divisions and seemed ready to continue his ascent in the sport.
But according to Taylor, he lost his hunger and got lazy. He failed to keep the fire and drive that got him to the title and was unable to maintain his place at the top of the mountain. He lost his title to Kelly Pavlik and then moved to Super Middleweight for the wrong reasons. He was brutally knocked out in consecutive fights against Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham.
“I’ve taken two years off and now I’ve got my focus back. I’ve never taken a break from boxing. The two years I had off it just woke me up. I was fighting at 168. I was not supposed to be there, I was just lazy.”
Taylor believes that he has regained his hunger and focus. He is back with his former trainer, Pat Burns who was with him when he won the middleweight title, and feels he is ready to get back to the top. Taylor also believes his renewed dedication is the answer to the stamina issues he had that cost him in fights he was winning early against Pavlik, Carl Froch, and Arthur Abraham.
“I’m more focused. It wasn’t training camp that was bothering me. It was the off time that was catching up with me. Hanging out and all the other stuff. And now I’m boxing, boxing, boxing, boxing, that’s it. I was training but I wasn’t smart, I was fighting in a weight class I never should have been. I’m eating grapefruit right now; I’m eating steak right now. I ate a steak last night. I mean come on man, I’m a 160 pounder and I got lazy and I got off my game. Now I’m back on boxing.
The first question for Taylor will be if he is still has the skills and ability that got him to the top. But the bigger question is whether he should even be boxing at all. Against Pavlik, Froch, and Abraham he was not just stopped– He was knocked out in devastating fashion. Following the KO loss to Abraham in the super six opener he had to be hospitalized for several days before being allowed to return home from Germany.
Before making his comeback, Taylor underwent a series of medical exams to make sure he was physically fit to be in the ring. The outcome of those tests was enough to convince promoter, Lou Dibella that Taylor was ready to return. Dibella did a rare thing in boxing after the Abraham fight. He chose to side with the fighter’s safety over a payday. Dibella, who has promoted Taylor since the beginning of his pro career, stated he would no longer promote Taylor if he chose to continue fighting at that time. But now after medical exams Dibella, who has no trouble making his feelings known, explained what convinced him that Taylor is ready to get back into the fight game.
“After Jermain really made an effort to rededicate himself to the sport, to get himself into physical shape as a fighter. After seeing that he had seen the best specialists in the world from the Mayo Clinic to the Cleveland Clinic, to experts in Arkansas and Nevada, the neurological center in Nevada, every doctor had the same conclusion. After reviewing all the medical records including the medical records from Germany (following the Abraham fight) and they said the same thing, which was Jermain Taylor is physically able to fight; Jermain Taylor can resume his boxing career.”
Dibella went on to state that he asked Taylor for permission to speak with his doctors and was given the go ahead to do so. Dibella talked about learning from the doctors that his brain is not at any risk greater than any other fighter that steps in the ring and he is comfortable working with Taylor after speaking with the doctors.
For his part, Taylor has no concerns that he is medically at risk getting back in the ring following his past bouts. Taylor also believes his story coming back to the ring will give fans a reason to support his efforts.
“I was never worried about that. That was the last thing on my mind. When I step in that ring, that I know your putting your life on the line when you get in that ring, I would never step back in that ring again if it’s bad. So no, I never worried about that.
Everybody loves a comeback. Everybody loves a comeback story. Everybody’s made mistakes. That’s why I love boxing so much. You can be down and come back and win a championship and everything else. That’s what I’m bringing back to boxing.”
Friday won’t tell everything, considering his opponent. If Taylor is remotely what he used to be he should dispose of Nicklow without much difficulty based on his natural talent. Future fights will tell if Taylor has it in him to be at the top or if he should be in the ring at all.
When Taylor stopped fighting, it appeared he was the rare fighter who made the decision that his health and safety was more important than continuing his career. When he announced his return it appeared he was another delusional fighter unable to let go of the past. But few fighters in this position can say they have been cleared by the world renowned Mayo Clinic.
Jermain Taylor may be just another fighter who goes past his due date. But he may be a rare case of a fighter who stepped away at the right time to return at a better time. He may truly be ready to go and hungry to return. He could be the comeback story he believes he will provide to fans. Friday, he starts the process. Time will tell how his story will end. But Taylor was clear on why he is returning and his plans for his future.
“I’m returning to boxing to be number one and to hold those belts up in the air.”
- I have to admit this story as a whole got to me. Jermain Taylor right now represents everything good and bad about boxing. To those who hate the violence of combat sports he is everything that is wrong. A fighter who has been badly hurt still getting in the ring for more punishment. But to those who love the sport and the boxers for the fire inside them that drives them to compete he represents why we love the sport. When he announced his return I was very skeptical. After hearing all the medical testing that was done I think he may actually be ready to fight. I hope for his safety that is the case. I hope that his future fights are successful from a health perspective first and a sporting perspective would be icing on the cake.
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