There are, of course, promoters, managers and trainers who regard the declining fighters with whom they are sometimes associated as nothing more than meal tickets, a means of squeezing out another paycheck or two before the fast-emptying well from which they are drawing runs totally dry.
Lou DiBella, the former HBO Sports senior vice president-turned-boxing-promoter, can never be lumped with those who deservedly fall into the category of the uncaring. If anything, he cares too deeply, assuming almost a parental-type responsibility for the health and welfare of his fighters.
This is the guy who, while with HBO, summarily rejected a proposal to pair Roy Jones Jr., then still at the top of his game, with the remains of the once-great Thomas Hearns, which would have been a mismatch of epic proportions, the potential for high ratings be damned. There are other examples, if you study DiBella’s history closely enough, of his walking away from marketable fighters whom he perceived as entering a danger zone – and, admittedly, every fighter lives in a world of risk – that simply had become excessively dangerous.
All of which makes DiBella’s renewed participation as the promoter of former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor (32-4-1, 20 KOs) — who challenges IBF 160-pound titlist Sam “King” Soliman (44-11, 18 KOs) in the ESPN-televised main event Wednesday night at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss. – especially curious. DiBella will be promoting this, the fourth fight in five outings on the 36-year-old Taylor’s comeback tour, but he’s remembered as the same concerned individual who cut ties with Taylor after the Little Rock, Ark., native was stopped with less than 10 seconds remaining in the 12th round of his Super Six Boxing Classic bout with Arthur Abraham on Oct. 17, 2009, in Berlin, Germany. It marked Taylor’s fourth loss in a five-fight stretch, three coming inside the distance. Taylor was hospitalized with a concussion and short-term memory loss, a set of circumstances which prompted DiBella to voluntarily remove himself from the equation.
“To me, a lot of these fights go beyond just not being attractive,” he announced in January 2010, when it became evident Taylor would continue his career with or without DiBella’s participation. “They go into the realm of dangerous. And by the way, I think I’m entitled to say that because I have put my money where my mouth is. I’m not coming at it as a hypocrite. I’m not trying to sell (fans) a death match.”
DiBella hasn’t changed; he remains a staunch advocate for staging competitive bouts involving fighters who have not started down the slippery slope that, should they stay too long at the fair, sometimes results in slurred speech and irreversible brain damage. But Jermain Taylor has been given a clean bill of health by neurological experts at two highly reputable hospitals, as well as being licensed by boxing commissions in Nevada and California. That’s a pile of evidence that suggests that denying the man known as “Bad Intentions” a means to make a living at what he knows best would be as wrong as throwing an obviously damaged fighter into a veritable wolf pit.
Then there is the matter of this latest title shot for Taylor, who is not being asked to jump into deep, shark-infested waters with an anchor tied around one foot and a cement block around the other. Soliman is a good fighter, to be sure, but he turns 41 on Nov. 13, he’s lost 11 times and his knockout percentage suggests that, well, he isn’t exactly a puncher on a par with WBA middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin (30-0, 27 KOs) or WBO champ Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (31-0, 22 KOs), either of whom would pose a far more substantial threat to Taylor’s face and internal organs than the Aussie. The guess here is that DiBella, being DiBella, would never consent to pairing Taylor with as devastating a knockout artist as Golovkin in a unification bout should JT reclaim a share of the middleweight throne by getting past Soliman.
“I’ve been with Jermain Taylor since he was a kid,” noted DiBella, taking care not to give away too much of his future plans for this latest stage of Taylor’s career. “We go way, way back, through a lot of stuff. I care deeply about the guy. But I didn’t want Jermain to be licensed and fight King Kong. I believed that if I was involved, along with Al (Taylor’s adviser, Al Haymon), we offered a checks-and-balances system for Jermain, even though he had been given a clean bill of health. We didn’t want to see him thrown in with a really tenacious puncher.
“If you look at Jermain’s record on this comeback, he’s had four fights. I promoted his fights with Jessie Nicklow, Caleb Truax and Raul Munoz. His last one (a seventh-round stoppage of Juan Carlos Candelo, on Dec. 14, 2013, was promoted by Golden Boy), wasn’t our show, but this one (a co-promotion with Warriors Boxing, in association with Soliman Stanley Promotions) is. You have to remember he’s fighting a 42-year-old man (sic) with no punching power for a world title.
“I am not going to sit here and defend my record on health and safety. Jermain was going to fight anyway, OK? In my heart I firmly believe that he has been safer on this comeback because I got involved again. People also want to dump on Al, but he got this kid a shot at a world title against an old guy who isn’t exactly King Kong.”
So Jermain Taylor, part of DiBella’s big haul of talented prospects following the 2000 Sydney Olympics, is back on that high wire, albeit with a fairly wide safety net under him. Can he reclaim at least a portion of his past glories? It’s not unreasonable to believe it’s a possibility. He does, after all, have a penchant for faring well against old guys with moderate power, having twice defeated future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins on close decisions. Taylor remains the only man ever to have twice put smudges on Hopkins’ record.
Despite the slump that rendered Taylor as almost an afterthought in the boxing community, DiBella correctly notes that there is a marked difference between being on the wrong end of a quick, emphatic knockout as opposed to a sustained beatdown, the kind that can swiftly suck the prime right out even the most gifted of fighters. Taylor has been kayoed, but his losses inside the distance – to Kelly Pavlik, Carl Froch and Abraham – were more of the lightning-strike variety.
“Jermain took some time off from boxing (after the loss to Abraham in the Super Six, from which he then withdrew),” DiBella noted. “He then went to the neurological units at both the Cleveland and Mayo Clinics. He probably underwent more extensive testing than any fighter in recent years, and he was cleared by both hospitals to continue fighting.
“After those tests, he gave me permission to speak to the doctor directly. I asked the doctor, `If Jermain were your son, would you let him fight?’ The doctor said, `Well, you’re not asking me the right question. I wouldn’t let my son fight, period, because it’s an inherently dangerous sport. But if you’re asking me, based upon a completely sophisticated and extensive battery of tests whether I believe Jermain is at greater risk than any other fighter, I don’t believe he is.’”
Perhaps remembering the incredible success Main Events had in procuring high-potential fighters from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (Evander Holyfield, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor, Mark Breland, Virgil Hill and Tyrell Biggs), DiBella signed JT, a bronze medalist, as part of the 2000 Olympic class that included Americans Ricardo Williams Jr. (the junior welterweight silver medal), Clarence Vinson (bantamweight bronze medalist), heavyweight Michael Bennett and flyweight Jose Navarro, as well as Paolo Vidoz (the super heavyweight bronze medalist from Italy) and middleweight Jerson Ravelo (Dominican Republic). Williams was pegged as the most likely candidate for superstardom from that group, but he flamed out, as did most of the others, leaving Taylor as the fastest riser and foremost hope for sustained success for DiBella’s fledgling company. Along the way, DiBella and his protégé became as tight as it ever gets between promoter and fighter, making Taylor’s plummet from elite status a matter of personal as well as professional concern for Sweet Lou.
Now we are here again, with Taylor toting not only the baggage of what occurred inside the ropes during that 1-4 descent, but also from an incident at Taylor’s suburban Little Rock home on Aug. 27, in which the boxer shot his cousin, Tyrone Hinton, “multiple times,” according to the police report. Taylor was charged with two felonies, domestic battery and aggravated assault. He entered a plea of non-guilty and subsequently was freed on $25,000 bond and granted permission by District Judge Wayne Gruber to travel out of state for the title bout with Solomon.
Given the spate of NFL-related news of suspensions handed out to star players for domestic violence against wives/girlfriends and children, it might appear that Taylor has been given something of a pass due to his celebrity status in his home state. The situation no doubt will at least be mentioned during the ESPN telecast. But DiBella said there is more to the story than what appears at first glance, which will come to light when the case finally goes before a court of law.
“Did I have concerns? Yes,” he said. “But I made some phone calls. The judge set a very low bail, and he made it clear Jermain was free to go ahead with this fight. There is such a thing in this country as innocent until proven guilty.”
The ring is not a court of law, but certain truths are always revealed on fight night. It will be interesting to see which verdict is rendered when Jermain Taylor states his case against Soliman.