Boxing
Bad tidings for "Bad Intentions"
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - All of a sudden, I'm worried about Jermain Taylor.

Don't get me wrong, I've always been a fan of the affable Arkansan - nicknamed "Bad Intentions" - as he's made his way through the years from Olympian to prospect to champion to rebounding veteran.

I thought he won both bouts with Bernard Hopkins in 2005. I gave him exactly six rounds of the oft-discussed match with Winky Wright in 2006. And I agreed with Tim Smith of the New York Daily News that he'd done enough to win an over-the-weight rematch with Kelly Pavlik in 2008.

And when it came time to interview prior to the Pavlik rematch, I found him entertaining, informative and completely cooperative - the qualities I most hope to find in any athlete.

But I don't like what he's got on his plate come Saturday night.

In Carl Froch, an unbeaten 31-year-old Englishman largely unknown outside his home country, Taylor meets a roadblock similar - in circumstance, if not style - to the one his good friend Jeff Lacy encountered in March 2006 on the way to his own establishing 168-pound dominance.

Lest we forget, Lacy went in an unbeaten and heavily favored big name and was widely expected to outmuscle, outwork and outslug an overprotected Welshman by the name of Joe Calzaghe.

Needless to say, it didn't quite work out. And Jeff's not been the same since.

Three years and a month later, Taylor travels a strikingly familiar path, challenging Froch - the 24-0 incumbent WBC champion at 168 - in his first title fight since a brutal KO loss to Pavlik in 2007.

Naysayers claim, much as they did when Calzaghe was the supposed U.K. patsy of the month, that Froch's level of competition pales in comparison to Taylor's, who's been fighting bigger names for better purses since shortly after his graduation from amateur to pro.

Their theories are indeed true...to a point.

While Joppy, Hopkins, Wright, Spinks and Pavlik are clearly a better list of foes than Froch's most recent fivesome of Dodson, Tatevosyan, Reid, Rybacki and Pascal, it bears noting that - outside of a sleepwalk against Lacy last November and a glorified sparring session with Kassim Ouma in 2006 - it's been more than four years since Taylor left a ring with a clear cut, dominant and winning performance.

If anything, he's regressed as the years have passed, showing less of the menacing aggression that made him a can't-miss contender and more of the unsteady and raw technique that troubled former trainer Emanuel Steward and yielded more stagnation than stardom.

Meanwhile, in his last fight in December, Froch won eight, nine and 10 rounds on three scorecards from an unbeaten and physically imposing specimen in Pascal, who'd scored 14 knockouts in 21 wins and had spent his entire career campaigning between super middle and light heavyweight.

Froch's 19 KOs in 23 fights before Pascal prove his power in the weight class, including an impressive five-round stoppage of durable Robin Reid, a former three-defense WBC champion who'd once come within a whisker of beating Calzaghe over 12 rounds for the WBO belt.

At 6-feet even, the Englishman stands tall enough to look Taylor in the eye, and, unlike Taylor, has been accustomed to taking punches from natural 168- pounders and above since beginning his career in the 170-pound neighborhood back in 2002.

Meanwhile, Taylor had stamina issues and was wobbled badly by a less-than- devastating Hopkins at 160 and violently stopped by Pavlik - whose own power punches at 170 pounds last year did little more than irritate the old Philadelphian over 12 one-sided rounds.

Froch crosses the pond armed with ample belief as well.

"Jermain seems very confident, talking about being back and No. 1, but make no mistake, this is my belt," he said. "I am the champion. I am undefeated. Only a few warriors have gone the distance with me. Everyone else hasn't been able to stay in there.

"Calzaghe didn't want to fight me. When I became the champion it was vacant and you don't get as much respect that way for some reason. But I am the WBC super middleweight champion and come Sunday morning, Jermain Taylor will be disappointed that he doesn't have the belt. I'm showing the Americans what 'The Cobra' is made of."

* * * * * * * * * *

This weeks title-fight schedule:

FRIDAY

Vacant IBF junior middleweight title - St. Louis, Mo.

Deandre Latimore (No. 7 contender) vs. Cory Spinks (No. 8 contender)

Latimore (19-1, 16 KO): First title fight; One fight beyond eight rounds

Spinks (36-5, 11 KO): Former champion at 147 and 154 pounds; Six wins in 10 title fights (6-4)

FitzHitz says: Spinks by decision

SATURDAY

WBC super middleweight title - Mashantucket, Conn.

Carl Froch (champion) vs. Jermain Taylor (No. 1 contender)

Froch (24-0, 19 KO): First title defense; Second fight in United States

Taylor (28-2-1, 17 KO): Won 13 of 14 fights above 160 pounds; Four wins in six title fights (4-1-1)

FitzHitz says: Froch in 11

WBO junior featherweight title - Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Juan Manuel Lopez (champion) vs. Gerry Penalosa (unranked)

Lopez (24-0, 22 KO): Third title defense; First-round KOs in all three title fights

Penalosa (54-6-2, 36 KO): WBO champion at 118 pounds; Five wins in 11 title fights (5-5-1)

FitzHitz says: Lopez in 8

WBA middleweight title - Krefeld, Germany

Felix Sturm (champion) vs. Koji Sato (No. 14 contender)

Sturm (31-2-1, 13 KO): Sixth title defense of third reign; Eight wins in 11 title fights (8-2-1)

Sato (14-0, 13 KO): First title fight; One fight beyond six rounds

FitzHitz says: Sturm in 10

WBO super middleweight title - Krefeld, Germany

Karoly Balzsay (champion) vs. Maselino Masoe (No. 9 contender)

Balzsay (20-0, 14 KO): First title defense; Won 12 of 16 fights in Germany by KO

Masoe (29-5, 27 KO): Former champion at 160 pounds; Lost title in Germany in 2006

FitzHitz says: Balzsay in 10

THURSDAY

IBF junior featherweight title - Panama City, Panama

Celestino Caballero (champion) vs. Jeffrey Mathebula (No. 1 contender)

Caballero (31-2, 22 KO): First IBF title defense; Unbeaten in seven title fights (7-0)

Mathebula (22-1-2, 12 KO): First title fight; First fight outside South Africa

FitzHitz says: Caballero in 6

Last weeks record: 2-1 (66.7%)

Overall picks record: 81-34 (70.4%)

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a 20-year veteran of sports journalism, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and "Cold Hard Sports" on the MVN network (coldhardsports.com). Reach him via e-mail at fitzbitz@msn.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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