“This camp, it’s all work. It wasn’t like that last camp.”
                               —–Former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, Feb. 7

Wednesday, I was hearing all the right things coming from the mouths of Team Pavlik on their media conference call. Thursday, I head all the right things coming from Team Taylor on their conference call.

I’d say the rematch is pretty darn close to 50-50, even if the Vegas pros say Taylor’s the underdog coming in to the Feb. 16th re-do.

The Arkansas-born underdog hates it for being so, but Jermain Taylor accepts the painful fact that it took a loss for him to get his competitive fires reignited, and back burning brightly, he told the media.

“It’s a shame to say that (it took a loss to wake me up), but yes,” said Taylor, who tasted loss for the first time as a pro on Sept. 29, when he succumbed to a Kelly Pavlik onslaught in the seventh round of their middleweight title scrap. “Now I feel at the top of my game. It took a buttkicking to get me back on track.”

Taylor had a sneaky suspicion that he was cutting some corners, ignoring that inner voice that told him to get up at 5AM for road work, and giving in to the one that said, ‘hey, you’ve beaten the best, Bernard Hopkins, you can snuggle under the covers a while longer, it’s just Kelly Pavlik.’

“I underestimated him a little bit,” Taylor conceded, and vowed that he’s learned his lesson, and that he will be in condition to go 12 hard rounds, and finish off his foe should he be in that position, rather than let him off the hook.

Taylor could’ve finished off the Ohioan in the second round of their first fight, but instead, he tuckered himself out and was flailing and gulping for air by the sixth round of their scheduled twelve rounder. This time, Taylor said, his new-old trainer Ozell Nelson, is pushing him to the cardio limit, ensuring the fighter that he will have some reserves left late: “I think my mindset wasn’t right (in the first fight). I got too comfortable.”

Nelson said he and Steward share blame for that. “We all took Kelly a little lightly,” he said.

So, who’s fault was it that Taylor got off track, and started resting on his laurels?

The fighter accepted full blame for that, but promoter Lou Dibella also noted that he and Al Haymon did JT no favors by putting their man in with a spate of crafty defensive specialists and lefties (Hopkins, Wright, Spinks, Ouma), thereby making it hard for the 2000 Olympian to look good, even though he was winning his fights.

“A couple of fights we made for him he was not going to look good in,” said Dibella, who says that a Taylor win would enable him to pick and choose his foes, be it Calzaghe, or Jones, or whoever.

Yes, Dibella said, Taylor and Emanuel Steward didn’t jell in the corner, but that’s water under the bridge.

Now, he said, in JT’s voice and actions, he sees the “hunger, drive and fire” necessary for Taylor to ascend back to the apex. “I’m very confident this is the best Jermain Taylor that will walk into the ring and take care of business,” he said. It’s human nature, Dibella said, to let down somewhat after you’ve beaten boxing’s best, and put millions in your pocket after you came from nothing. “There’s going to be a letdown,” he said.

Dibella started the call by calling out Team Pavlik for being cocky and insulting on their conference call the day before, and said he hopes that they are cocky, because he thinks this Taylor is a different animal than the September version.

Nelson was a little surprised that Loew was squawking, but he says his revenge will come when on Feb. 16, Taylor will turn into the “Ghostbuster.” Taylor himself was surprised that Team Pavlik could be cocky, because Kelly “knows his ass was whupped (in the second round.”

Taylor’s camp has been punishing, he said. He went 18 rounds a few days ago, he said, whereas in the initial camp, he never went 12 rounds once. He hammered home the point that he will have better stamina for the rematch, saying, “I should’ve trained harder (in the first match). In the later rounds in the first fight, I went into survival mode. I didn’t do what I was supposed to in camp. I lost what it took to become middleweight champion, and that’s why I’m not world champion any more.”

Taylor takes solace in the knowledge that he was beating Pavlik at “half-ass” effectiveness and salivates at the prospect of being at maximum efficiency come Feb. 16.

His new-old trainer, Nelson, got off a good zinger when he responded to Pavlik trainer Jack Loew’s glee that the man who taught JT his supposed bad habits is back in the mix. “Those same bad habits kept Kelly from making the Olympic team, so that sounds pretty good to me,” said Nelson.

Score that one for Nelson, who stated that he wanted to add more work to Taylor’s load last camp, but deferred to Steward.

Taylor touched on the weight issue, and he did concede that making 160 drained him excessively. He does have a light heavyweight type body, he said, but he wouldn’t dwell on the issue, for fear of coming off as an excuse-maker.

That the middleweight title is not on the line will not detract from the lure of the rematch, he feels. “I don’t think it detracts,” Taylor said. “The guy beat me for the championship. Can he do it again or did he get lucky?”

Bottom line, the easiest way for Taylor to explain why he’ll win the rematch, and hand the pride of Youngstown his first pro loss: “He was at his best, and I wasn’t.”

It’s like everyone heading into the voting booth, not sure if you’re pulling the lever for Clinton or Obama.

Yesterday, I was leaning towards Pavlik. Today, I’m back in the middle. What about you, TSS Universe?

SPEEDBAG Next week, the best boxing writer in the business, in my humble opinion, comes aboard TSS. I am pumped, and so should you be.