Jermain Taylor takes a big leap this weekend, going from worn-out Raul Marquez to still-useful William Joppy. Taylor, the phenom from Little Rock, Ark., has never shared the ring with a fighter with Joppy's credentials. He is a former WBA middleweight champion and, just a year ago, was challenging Bernard Hopkins – the best fighter on the planet.
Joppy failed, of course, but the toughness he displayed was memorable. It even impressed Hopkins.
In short, Taylor is taking a risk. Some young hotshots have passed the test when going up against a savvy, experienced, capable veteran. Others have not.
Here's a look at the latter – some of the more shocking developments in recent crossroads showdowns.
Marlon Starling KO 11 Mark Breland (1987): Breland was the most decorated amateur in United States history and, though he held the WBA welterweight title going into his first defense against top contender Starling, he was completely unproven as a pro. He won the vacant title by knocking out the ordinary Harold Volbrecht, a South African whose previous-most noteworthy outing was a title fight loss to Pipino Cuevas seven years earlier. Predictably, Breland knocked him out. But, in Starling, he was facing a talented counterpuncher who was a solid, complete professional. Starling had trouble with Breland early on because of the New Yorker's freakishly long reach. But Hartford, Connecticut's “Magic Man” finally caught up with the weak-chinned Breland, stopping him in the 11th round. The pair fought to a draw eight months later. Starling went on to a career-defining win over Lloyd Honeyghan, as he was one of the most underappreciated fighters of the 1980s. Breland managed some noteworthy wins, but never came close to reaching his enormous potential.
Bobby Czyz KO 5 Andrew Maynard (1990): It was Czyz who started out as the young matinee idol, as an undefeated middleweight brought along in Main Events' stable of “Tomorrow's Champions”. But, by the time he met Maynard, he was thought to have seen better days. He lost his IBF light heavyweight title to “Prince” Charles Williams in 1987, lost a rematch, dropped a decision to Virgil Hill in '89 and was upset by Dennis Andries later that year. Maynard, meanwhile, had won a medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and was expected to use the former champ as a steppingstone. But Czyz used his experience and smarts to easily defeat a fighter who wasn't nearly as good as people thought. Czyz went on to win the WBA cruiserweight title in an overachieving career. Maynard disappeared after getting knocked out by Thomas Hearns in 1993.
Booker T. Word KO 2 Anthony Hembrick (1991): Hembrick was yet another Olympic hotshot, but one with an interesting story. A favorite to win the gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Hembrick missed the bus – literally – on his way to his first round fight and thus missed out on his Olympic dream. His lack of common sense was evident before his showdown with Word, a bruising puncher who was strong but limited. Hembrick, undefeated at the time, was expected to box circles around Word. The favorite's supreme confidence was evident on his choreographed walk to the ring, as he engaged in a ludicrous dance routine with members of his boorish entourage. Word made him pay, knocking him into tomorrow with a blistering assault that ruined Hembrick forever. Neither fighter did anything of note after that, but Word will always be remembered for knocking out someone who probably deserved to be knocked out.
Willy Salazar KO 7 Danny Romero (1995): Romero was an undefeated teenager from Albuquerque who became the first American in 85 years to win a flyweight title, as he beat Francisco Tejedor in April 1995. As future fights were being discussed, most notably a showdown with Albuquerque rival Johnny Tapia, Romero took a tuneup fight against unheralded veteran Salazar. The unknown fighter shocked Romero by shutting his eye with his jab and punishing him as the fight wore on. The fight was mercifully stopped in the 7th, and it appeared Romero was ruined. But he eventually came back, and he and Tapia finally met two years later. Tapia won a decision. Salazar remained a useful trialhorse.
Jesse James Leija NC 5 Hector Camacho Jr. (2001): Camacho Jr. was pretty much like his nutty father, Hector Sr., especially in the ring, where his penchant for safety-first boxing was often maddening. Camacho backpedaled, he slapped, he tied opponents up. But he won, usually by dreadfully-dull decision against less-than-sterling opposition. Nevertheless, he was undefeated going into the fight with Leija, who was considered used goods after a long, illustrious career. But, on Leija's birthday, he roughed the younger man up through five rounds before the fight was called in the fifth round. It appeared that Camacho Jr. simply didn't want to continue, but the fight was somehow ruled a no contest. Camacho has, predictably, turned into nothing special. Leija has staged his umpteenth comeback and will meet Arturo Gatti in January. He will once again be a big underdog.