Once you have survived the guerrilla warfare it takes to mentally then technically stand up to Bernard Hopkins, you would think, fighting any one else would be a return to business as normal. And yet next up for Jermain Taylor stands Winky Wright, the man labeled as the looming threat to Taylor establishing himself as the dominant middleweight of his time. Yes, the troublesome task of unseating Hopkins and securing the title rematch has been achieved. Yet even in victory providing for ascension, analysis must breach easy assumptions and the cluttering presumptions of expectations born of short term goals attained.
For Jermain Taylor the close decision wins over Hopkins signaled a need to transition the middleweight champion from a success orientated developmental phase into a mature, championship dynamism. Reviewing the early rounds against Hopkins, in their July 16, 2005 first go-round, Team Taylor realized that Taylor had a tendency to overcommit, literally draining himself without realizing, in efficient scoring blows, results commensurate to that kind of physical expense. There were other matters to do with defense to offense transitions and cardio capacity preparation that Pat Burns – Taylor’s longtime trainer – felt were properly progressing.
In fact, Taylor’s performance against Hopkins in their December 2005 rematch illustrated the champion had technically stalled. His power boxing lacked imagination or even assertive invention at key junctures when the 41-year-old Hopkins was clearly resting. His combination applications were very strong and quick, but his overall punching strategy was becoming static and predictable. Aside from Rocky Marciano and Joe Frazier, predictability in a fighter typically spells disaster. Was the fighter who came out to defend his newly won title against the aging Lion of Philly, having preened about in custom suits and spouting words of moderate self-affirmation during fight week, really the essence of the prime boxing champion known as Jermain “Bad Intentions” Taylor?
The longer a fighter succeeds the more introspective becomes the self-analysis; how does one improve upon success? Taylor and his aids and promoter Lou DiBella collectively felt that longtime trainer Pat Burns, while having been ideal for his trek to the championship level was not perfectly suited to bring out in Taylor what can only described as a hardcore, professional championship persona. If mentoring had to give way to exigent polishing, then the choice of Detroit’s Manny Steward seemed almost a logical step and a natural maturation within Team Taylor generally. Retained as day to day trainer, Ozell Nelson continues on in the role of shadowing supervisor, the continuity of Taylor’s in the gym regiment thus preserved and at the same time reoriented to a embody a high end professional stricture. In bringing onboard Steward, Taylor availed himself of the atmospherics of Detroit’s Kronk Gym for daily saunas known as sparring, an almost religious approach to psychological preparation as well as the analytical crafting of fight planning, at which Steward has excelled late in his training career.
Beating out training rhythms swatting the pads with the critical sage that is Manny Steward, Taylor reinvests in his commitment to making boxing not just his sporting livelihood but his passionate necessity. Working with Steward means a fighter enters into a contract, a devotional exercise fully committing to a process of excellence for results. Looking at the chance to work with Taylor, Steward realized here was a fighter with world-class qualities who only needed ‘attitude’ injected into his boxing. Quiet by nature, though possessing awesome physical potential, Taylor was a silent assassin waiting to be unleashed.
Essentially, Steward will be looking to have Taylor utilize the finishing qualities of his power boxing. Burns certainly grounded Taylor well in the fundamentals of the jab, working off it in combination and moving in the ring to always be defensively responsible. Gifted with speed and agility, Taylor has been working on taking his power hitting uptempo, working situationally to dominate with the size and strength he naturally possesses. Steward will be looking for Taylor to get off the jab with force and accuracy, but then to get into the delivery of those monster right hands with imposing authority, ala his former protégé Thomas Hearns. For all of his jabbing acuity, Taylor can get trapped within the pattering routine of just jabbing out rounds; Steward will want to have Taylor make transitions to attack with more resoluteness. And look for Taylor to come out and try to establish his power punching right from the opening bell against the southpaw Wright, who loves to tempo down fights, making fights into counterpunching exchanges from angles of defensive posturing.
What would a more decisive Taylor have accomplished against William Joppy down the stretch or against Hopkins in their stalemating rematch? Think of Steward-honed boxing legends Thomas Hearns and Lennox Lewis, both men worked the jab to drop in thundering right hands, always aware to clean up with the left hook. Fighting uptempo and at range, power comes from quick transitions of on balance fighters having jabbed opponents into less than defensible situations. The attitude to find a way to dominate distance in order to attack or counterattack comes from mental assertion under duress, technical awareness and consummate conditioning.
Having boxed 24 metronomic rounds with Bernard Hopkins, middleweight Jermain Taylor was certainly convinced that his high end cardio fitness was not where it had to be to wage 12 rounds with a Winky Wright or a Joe Calzaghe. And how was he to properly channel his energies if he felt straightjacketed by overly cautious boxing postures? Young enough to apply his physicality to opponents over the distance, if necessary, Taylor needed to lean how to fight with offensive accuracy and not just expel and drain vital reserves.
More than situational hitting and less than all-out attack bombing, to learn that exacting methodology Taylor wisely looked to Steward for guidance. Breaking up ‘Winky’ Wright’s numbing rhythm is also going to be a key factor in taking the fight out of the former 154 lb. boss. Give Wright the space and means to jab and counter and few at middleweight can win more than a few rounds off him over the 12. With Steward’s tutelage, Taylor will be fighting as the bigger man, making assertions to the body and using the physicality necessary within a disciplined, accurate punching regiment. For that, Taylor needed top sparring over a protracted time period and that’s where working at the Kronk came in during the late spring. Maturing champions take to sparring to work out the congesting elements of instinctive expressions and rote technical drills they are formulating toward individual technical mastery.
Working out at the Pepsi Pavilion in Memphis, Tennessee, Jermain Taylor looked keen during fight week to keep the blood coursing, the tempo energized, for he’s the younger man, the guy arriving at the prime juncture of his boxing career. Heading into this showdown with the talented Ronald Wright, Taylor wears the title of champion, no matter the politics or the administrative distinctions of governing bodies. Everything has been put into place, the sacrifices have been made, confidence brimming, concentration asserting total splendor, the body and soul doing justice to certitude. Or so he and Manny Steward, Ozell Nelson and Lou DiBella hope. So are both fighters are hyped and ready, telling us that their camps were “perfect.” We note that Jose Luis Castillo said the same thing; but, we digress.
It wouldn’t be a bad time for Jermain Taylor to do something special. Obviously, the unflappable Wright will be determined to box a clinical outing and smother Taylor’s bad intentions. Still, if Taylor has dreams of being something larger than the guy with a belt at 160, well, he’s got to start making statements in the ring. Breaking through the mine field defensive system of Wright would certainly be a thrilling conquest, even if only boxing fans are interested in this fight. Big wins tend to start ripples of expectation and right now most things about Taylor look ordinary, efficient and proceeding according to plan.
Great! Well done!
How about making a spectacle of yourself Jermain? Rip it up. Make Mr. Ronald Wright fight for a change, as if he’s being seriously bothered. Make us make some noise. And while you are at it do more than what’s expected of you.
Wouldn’t that be interesting? DiBella’s been challenging Taylor to be great for two years now. Emanuel Steward won’t be asking.
(Patrick Kehoe may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)