The boy turned five three days ago, but dad couldn’t be there for it.
It crushed the father, but when he got morose, he remembered who he is, what he does, why he does it. Sam Soliman does thisbecause he loves it, and because it was and is the best route for him to take to accumulate enough dough to send that little fella to excellent schools as he goes up the ladder of learning.
“It was tough, not being there for his birthday,” the IBF 160 champ told me, as he counted down to his Wednesday (tonight!) defense against Jermain Taylor, in Mississippi, and on ESPN2.
“Back in Australia, he’s going to go to great schools, thanks to this sport that I’ve been loyal to for 24 years.”
“I’m over the moon for everything my son does,” he continued. “Now I’m into watching Spiderman, and Batman and stuff.”
He credits the youth for keeping him in a young frame of mind, and that is germane to this scrap with Taylor, the ex middleweight champ. Soliman has been portrayed as a softer touch, a bit older, a bit more light-fisted than some of the other guys Taylor could be thrown in with. It’s not a knock on Soliman so much as a concession to Taylor’s history; he had a brain bleed a couple years ago after a fight, and went on hiatus. After stringent testing, docs say he’s no more at risk than any other boxer to suffer a recurrence of such trauma.
“I’ve been missing the hell out of my son,” said the 44-11 fighter, telling me he’s loaded up in NYC, while training, with Thomas the Tank Engine toys. The boy adores them…
With family out of site, not mind, Soliman said his sparring has been stellar, that he’s worked with five youngsters, all unbeatens, who have shown him vintage Taylor (age 36; 32-4-1 (20 Kos) looks. Now, will we see vintage Taylor? No; that ship sailed. He’s aged, and been whacked out a few times. Not to mention, he has some legal issues hanging over his head. Will he use that as fuel, redirect his worry and energy into training, which is something he can actually control? Or will the mental strain prove his undoing, and will it help allow a maybe more focused Soliman to impose his will on fight night? We shall have to wait till tonight…
Soliman might just have an edge in the motivation department if, as he says, the spirit of Nelson Mandela is working inside him. The civil rights/ant-apartheid giant is a role model for Soliman, who has been named an ambassador for that cause. The immensity of that honor, he is one of just three people, along with Botlhale Boikanyo and Susan Goosage, to be so honored, can’t be downplayed. Soliman tells me he spends a lot time talking to teens, 15, 16, 17 year old, about making the right choices, and talking up his sport, and how boxing is there for the underserved and those that have fallen through the cracks. “For Nelson Mandela, and his legacy, I hope to continue to make a difference around the world,” he said. That legacy, and Soliman’s part in it, will get a boost if he beats Taylor tonight. He’s made it hard in the gym, with sick sparring, so, he says, he’ll be ready for the best Taylor.
He’s had all these pro fights, and a load of kickboxing bouts, and he promises the big stage won’t daunt him tonight. And if those surrounding Taylor think he lacks pop, he will note that his 18 KOs are deceiving, that he’s fought tough outs, and that his brain, and his immense belief in self, will prove his best ally. “And my extra strength in this fight is Nelson Mandela. It gives me a boost, and extra rocket.”
And Taylor…There will be so many extra sets of eyes on this fight tonight to see how he acts, how he reacts given that he has a massive storm cloud hanging over him. He stands accused after being arrested, of shooting his own cousin, at the boxer’s home in Alabama. Does that hang over his head, infect him, does worry cause him to lose some needed focus? Judging by his recent posts to his Instagram account, many are speculating that he is hanging by a thread, that he is close to being unhinged. Ranting about “not losing to no white boy,” that sort of provocative and inflammatory race-based material in this sensitive day and age, he’s taking a huge risk of blowback. And, it seems, he’s past the point of caring. Does that serve him well in the ring tonight, or does it give Soliman another rocket boost? We shall have to wait, to see if Taylor will indeed “lose to another white boy.”
Soliman, told of Taylor’s recent rant following the shooting incident, laughed, and admitted in all his years, in all his fights, “I’ve experienced a lot of things, had 177 fights, fought in over 30 countries, but a guy shooting a guy months before our fight, that’s a new one for me.”
Readers, talk to me: how do you see this one playing out? And, gauge and guess about Taylor’s mental state? Will it help, hinder or not affect his in the ring effort?