Boxing
Taylor seeks convincing return to elite
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Boxing Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As boxers go, Jermain Taylor's led a pretty charmed life.

A berth in the Olympics. A carefully guided early pro career. An initial title shot against an aging legend. And according to many, some favorable judging in both that bout and its rematch five months later.

Problem is, the Arkansas native has done little to capitalize on such good fortune.

Rather than assuming iron-fisted control of the 160-pound ranks with a series of impressive defenses, Taylor has regressed markedly in his post-coronation outings, failing to provide even one of the signature wins so commonplace during the reigns of recent rulers Monzon, Hagler and Hopkins.

His June 2006 draw with pound-for-pound elitist Winky Wright again left critics questioning scorecards, while subsequent decision wins over blown-up junior middles Kassim Ouma (UD 12) and Cory Spinks (SD 12) failed to register resoundingly on even the most forgiving of grading curves.

And that sound you've heard since?

That's been the air seeping insistently out of the "Bad Intentions" balloon.

Just how much flight is left could be determined Saturday night, when the 29- year-old Taylor defends his WBC/WBO belts against unbeaten challenger Kelly Pavlik at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Jermain Taylor
Jermain Taylor needs to prove himself against a worthy opponent.
Pavlik, a 25-year-old from Youngstown, Ohio, enters at 31-0 overall and on a 12-bout knockout streak, including an impressive seventh-round TKO of would-be Taylor challenger Edison Miranda on May 19.

"I think he's aware of the talk and I think he's frustrated by it, and I think this is a fight where he can do something about it," said Mark Vaz, a long- time friend and former manager of Taylor's, who joined the fighter during his pre-fight training camp in the Pocono Mountains.

"He's fought a bunch of guys recently where it?s been hard to look good, and I think even he'd admit that maybe he didn't do as much with those chances as he could have or should have. But he's been looking forward to this one for a while now."

Taylor has spent the last several weeks sequestered in the Pennsylvania wilderness, where he's tried to fine-tune the productive aggression that's waned in recent outings under trainer extraordinaire Emanuel Steward.

Among the sparring partners he's worked with is fellow Steward pupil Kermit Cintron, the IBF welterweight champion who?s 3-0 with three KOs since latching on with the Detroit-area veteran following a loss to Antonio Margarito in 2005.

"He looks good," Cintron said. "No question about it. You go up there and you only think of one thing, boxing. There's nothing else to distract you. There are no excuses. You go up there to get ready for a fight and you have no choice, but to get your mind on your work."

Taylor's return headlines a nine-bout seashore card that also features unbeaten welterweight prospect Andre Berto in a 12-rounder against fringe contender David Estrada, and recent 147-pound title challenger Carlos Quintana in a 10-round tune-up match with journeyman Christopher Henry.

A middleweight since turning pro in 2001, Taylor is widely expected to vacate the division after the Pavlik fight to pursue a big-purse match at 168 pounds with the winner of this fall's showdown between super middle belt-holders Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler.

Also lurking in the heavier neighborhood are former opponents Hopkins and Wright, as well as potential spotlight foes like Roy Jones Jr. and Felix Trinidad - who'll fight each other in January. Hopkins beat Wright via unanimous decision in a 170-pound bout on July 21 in Las Vegas.

"(Pavlik) is the kind of guy Jermain really likes to fight," Vaz said. "He'll come to Jermain and force the action, rather than running and sliding all over the ring. That'll play right into Jermain's hands. I think this is a matchup where he can come off looking very impressive.

"From there, the sky's still the limit."

FitzHitz says: Taylor in 9.

Mike Tyson pleaded guilty this week.

The hapless courtroom flameout on drug charges will almost certainly result in more jail time for the former heavyweight champion, or at least an extended stay under lock and key at his local rehab center.

If spared prison, he may rage on and continue to disappear under an avalanche of debt created by a mountain of excess that few could comprehend, let alone ring up. Or he may change course and reinvent himself, perhaps as a movie star or a wrestler or as Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s meringue partner in that ridiculous ABC reality dance show.

Either way, his days as a main-eventer have ended.

And as I sit here a few hours later, it makes me a little sad.

Not because it's happening to Tyson, mind you. In spite of camera-friendly claims of serenity and maturity, he still shows the hair-trigger thug streak that tarnished his later career every bit as much as Cus D'Amato?s gym tutelage promised greatness during the early days.

The guy's a violent felon. He's had multiple run-ins with the law that didn't result in jail stays, and he's provided enough material to create a 24-hour network "All Mike/All Juvenile/All The Time" fueled solely by press conference outbursts, interview meltdowns and other run-of-the-mill train wrecks.

Boxing will be as good without him as it ever was with him.

Truth is...I'm sad about Tyson?s demise for more selfish reasons.

Because he's the latest and maybe last in a long line of icons from my formative years 'the 1980s' to complete his run at the top, delivering another clear signal that the torch has been passed and my own so-called "Glory Days" are gone for good.

Springsteen's mellowed. Reagan's dead. Gretzky, Elway and LT retired. The stadiums where I saw my first concerts, baseball games and hockey fights have been reduced to vacant lots or parking garages.

And my hometown of Niagara Falls has gone from vibrant tourist center to war zone.

Of course, Tyson was hardly the guy I'd have chosen to carry the flag. But rightly or wrongly, he was the most feared fighter of the decade. He was the guy who got flashbulbs flashing and keyboards clicking. And he was the guy around whom the heavyweights revolved for at least a couple of years.

But I never was a fan.

Even when he was decking the Marvis Fraziers and Jesse Fergusons on the way up and brutalizing the Trevor Berbicks and Tony Tuckers to capture titles once he'd arrived, I was always among those insisting Tyson was winning as much due to timing as talent.

Had he shown up five years earlier, a younger Larry Holmes would have slapped him like a child. Had it been 10 years, a menacing George Foreman would have swatted him like a gnat. And don't even begin to imagine 15 or 20 years prior, when Ali would've danced endless circles around his dizzied form.

Still, he was the man for a while. He devoured whatever limping quarry they put in front of him and did it with a violence and speed that inspired the non-sophisticate, while making the "expert" give the slaughter at least a glimpse for its sheer ferocity.

When he finally did lose, on that gloriously stunning February 1990 night in Tokyo, it set into motion the segment where curiosity replaced carnage and immaturity outdid invincibility. And, though he did capture a recognized title belt later on in the 90s, that 80s aura was permanently altered.

No longer was he the killing machine who'd tried to drive an opponent's nose into his brain during a nationally televised beat down. Instead, he was the loudmouth punk who talked a good game but came up embarrassingly short at put up or shut up time.

Holyfield whipped him twice. Lewis punished him after that. And even after being picked with the idea they were incapable of inflicting damage while his handlers traced a path back to a big-money title purse, C-level tomato cans like Danny Williams and Kevin McBride were able to do it as well.

And in doing so, they put a few more calendar pages between now and then.

Some call it wasted potential. Others blame the evils of greed and excess. And still others like me reason that it was never all it appeared to be in the first place. But regardless of the party line being spewed, we would no doubt agree that the show has unquestionably ended.

I never liked you, Mike.

But somehow I'm going to miss you.

Move over Vitali Klitschko. Step aside DaVarryl Williamson. I'm with Sam Peter now.

And so it goes these days in the life of Jameel McCline, fickle player of the heavyweight field.

The 6-foot-6 Harlem native, known as much for his primetime failures as his "Big Time" nickname, has apparently managed to make the quantum leap from comeback opponent past mid-card filler to title challenger without having to throw a single unscripted punch.

Winless in previous belt grabs against Wladimir Klitschko, Chris Byrd and Nikolay Valuev, the now 37-year-old McCline is on his way to a fourth opportunity in October at Madison Square Garden, thanks to the balky physiques of WBC incumbent Oleg Maskaev and former WBO and WBC champ Vitali Klitschko.

A replacement match between Peter and McCline was finalized Wednesday, after a financial agreement between the fighters was reached and the Garden gave its thumbs-up.

McCline had been scheduled to face the elder Klitschko earlier this month in the older brother's first in-ring action since an eighth-round stoppage of Danny Williams in December 2004. That meeting was scrubbed due to a back injury, however, which reportedly necessitated surgery for Klitschko to correct a disc problem aggravated during training.

Maskaev, meanwhile, had been scheduled to defend against Peter - the Nigerian phenom with consecutive decision wins over James Toney in title-elimination bouts - but had to pull out of their Oct. 6 date at MSG due to injury.

The WBC responded by giving Peter the interim title, which guarantees him either a shot at Maskaev upon his return, or the full-fledged crown should Maskaev refuse the match.

McCline was briefly paired with Williamson in a hastily arranged co-feature to the Maskaev-Peter main event, but was suddenly elevated to challenger status against Peter when the first proposed replacement for Maskaev - long-time division clown prince Andrew Golota - was rejected by the television powers- that-be at Showtime.

Golota, who's 0-3-1 in title fights with two first-round KO losses, remains on the card in a match with Irish novelty Kevin McBride.

It's a full dance card for world title fights this weekend.

The light heavyweight division is the staging area for an IBF championship match in Sheffield, England, where hometown incumbent Clinton Woods makes his fourth defense against pond-crossing Mexican export Julio Cesar Gonzalez on Saturday night at Hallam FM Arena.

The bout is a rematch of one that took place just more than two years ago at the same site, where Woods scored a unanimous decision - 116-112, 117-111 and 118-112 - in his first outing after stopping Rico Hoye for the vacant crown in March 2005.

Woods has since downed Jason DeLisle (TKO 6) and Glen Johnson (SD 12) to improve his career slate to 40-3-1 overall, while Gonzalez has rattled off defeats of DeLisle (UD 12), Rodney Moore (KO 3) and Vitali Kopitko (TKO 3) to push his own mark to 41-3.

Gonzalez won and lost the WBO's 175-pound title over successive bouts in 2003 and 2004, earning it via 12-round split decision from Dariusz Michalczewski in October before unanimously dropping it in defense No. 1 to Zsolt Erdei just three months later in January.

He failed in one previous title try, losing by wide scorecard margin to Roy Jones Jr. for the WBC/WBA/IBF/IBO crowns in July 2001.

Woods drew and lost in consecutive bouts with Johnson for the vacant IBF title in November 2003 and February 2004. He also unsuccessfully bid for Jones' belt collection, falling via sixth-round TKO in September 2002.

Another slice of the division's bejeweled pie is up for grabs at Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif., where unbeaten belt-holder Chad Dawson risks the WBC laurels against substitute foe Epifanio Mendoza on Saturday.

Dawson, who improved to 24-0 and scored his 16th stoppage with a sixth-round TKO of Jesus Ruiz in his second title defense on June 9, had been scheduled to meet unbeaten prospect Adrian Diaconu before the Canadian pulled out with a bruised right hand.

Mendoza, who's making his first world title appearance, has won four straight since being stopped in seven rounds by David Lopez in an NABF middleweight championship bout in June 2006. The 31-year-old Colombian turned pro in 1999 and is 28-4-1 with 24 KOs.

The 25-year-old Dawson defeated Tomasz Adamek for his title in February, sweeping the scorecards by counts of 116-110, 117-109 and 118-108 at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Fla.

Underneath the Dawson-Mendoza bout is a 12-rounder for the IBF?s bantamweight championship.

One-loss southpaw Luis Alberto Perez will defend for the first time - facing Ghana native-turned-Bronx resident Joseph Agbeko - since winning a vacant crown via seventh-round TKO of Genaro Garcia at the Harbour Yard Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. in July.

Perez, 29, was a three-defense IBF champion at 115 pounds between 2003 and 2006 before moving up to defeat Garcia. His lone defeat as a pro came via unanimous decision to Filipino veteran Vernie Torres in September 2000.

He is 25-1 with 16 KOs.

Agbeko, now 24-1 with 21 KOs, opened his career with 21 straight wins before dropping a majority decision to Wladimir Sidorenko for the WBA's intercontinental title in May 2004.

He's fought just three times since, defeating Sumaila Badu in October 2004 then taking a two-plus year break before returning with fourth-round TKOs of Baba Nsor and Fidencio Reyes in March and August of this year.

Lastly, on Sunday, Thai minimumweight mouthful Pornsawan Kratingdaenggym travels to the Philippines to meet local contender Donnie Nietes for the WBO's vacant 105-pound title at the Cebu City Waterfront Hotel.

Kratingdaenggym, who also goes by the only slightly less taxing pseudonym "Pornsawan Porpramook," is slightly less than two months removed from his last bout - a unanimous 12-round decision over Benjie Sorolla, presumably between dinner and dancing at the Por Kungpao Restaurant in Bangkok.

He is 20-0 with 15 KOs.

Nietes, meanwhile, is 10-0-2 since his lone career loss, a 10-round split decision to Indonesian Angky Angkota three years ago. He last fought in July in Cebu City, improving to 21-1 and scoring his 13th stoppage with a seventh- round KO of Thai journeyman Saengpetch Sor Sakulphan.

Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show, broadcast weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m. on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com).

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

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