Jermain Taylor never graduated from high school, and he never went to college either. But he loves the University of Arkansas more than most who have degrees from there. Arkansas Razorback paraphernalia adorns his body nearly at all times. He loves the school, its sports teams and the Razorback culture.
He loves it no matter what.
Taylor, age 36, defeated Sam Soliman via 12-round decision on October 8 to become the IBF middleweight champion. It was Taylor’s first title win since defeating Cory Spinks by split decision in May 2007. Taylor twice defeated long-reigning middleweight king Bernard Hopkins two years prior to become the new face of the division albeit for a short time. He defended his titles four times in two years before losing them to Kelly Pavlik in September 2007. Before the loss, Taylor bested Hopkins in the rematch, earned a draw against Winky Wright and won decisions against Kassim Ouma and Spinks.
But most boxing fans didn’t want to see the former undisputed middleweight champion fight Soliman for the title on Wednesday. In fact, most fans don’t want him fighting at all. Most writers didn’t want to see it either, something they opined about through stories and social media banter all month leading up to the fight.
Their reasoning was sound enough. Between 2007 and 2009, Taylor suffered four losses in five fights, including three brutal knockouts at the hands of Kelly Pavlik, Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham. In the last bout of the period, Taylor was diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage following his Round 12 knockout loss to Abraham.
When Taylor came back to the ring in 2011, he underwent a battery of medical tests at the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. He passed them and was granted a license to fight again when the Nevada Athletic Commission’s Medical Advisory board voted 5-0 in his favor.
“I’ve seen a guy who I was with at the Olympics training camp, and he can’t even talk now,” Taylor told the New York Times’ Josh Katzowitz in 2013. “His brain swelled up, and his speech was slurred. I don’t want to be like that. But he chose his sport. I chose this sport. And I love it.”
But never mind that. Boxing doesn’t love Taylor.
Not being loved back is the worst. They call the phenomenon “unrequited love” but I think a better term might be something like “life-sucking death punch to the soul.” Or something like that. I don’t know. But I know it sucks. I’ve been there. It’s awful.
I remember the first time I saw her. Her name was Marcy (it wasn’t, but for the purposes of this story it will be). I didn’t know what to do! Literally, I was frozen in my tracks. I had no answer for Marcy’s existence. I was stunned by her. She was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen. In boxing terms, she was Ray Robinson and I was some bum off the street with two fists and a face.
I had no hope.
I was a sophomore in high school. She was a freshman. She was in the gym that day for some kind of orientation. I don’t know. I don’t remember that part. But I remember seeing her across the room. I remember seeing her and feeling like my heart broke into a million little pieces right then and there.
I didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t say one word to Marcy that day, and I didn’t say anything to her for two years after either. What was I going to say? She was from another planet. I might as well have been an ant. Besides, I knew if I walked up to her, it’d be like she was speaking Arabic and I’d be speaking Chinese.
Even when I ended up talking to her, it was by accident. I would call her phone and hang up. I did that for two years. It wasn’t that I was building up the courage to speak to her. I didn’t have that in me. I just wanted to hear her voice. But one day she caught on to me. You see, there was a new service offered by the phone company that not everyone had yet back then. It was called Caller ID, and it showed the name and number for all incoming calls. When I was as senior, and she was a junior, Marcy had it.
I’d never heard of such a device! Clearly, this contraption was the work of the devil.
Marcy figured everything out like a little detective. She called me back and detailed to me how she deduced it. I’ll never forget the conversation. My stepsister and I shared a phone line in our house. It was listed in her name. But Marcy knew it wasn’t her. Marcy knew it was me.
Marcy was used to people falling head over heels for her. But it was the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to me! Marcy was sweet about it though. She wasn’t interested in me in that way, but she was always sweet to me. She’d talk to me on the phone. She’d entertain me if I visited her at work. She’d read all the little letters I’d write to her. Marcy was always kind and warm-hearted, even if I wasn’t.
But she’d never date me, and it sucked! Oh my Lord, it was the absolute worst feeling in the world. She dated someone else. Or if she wasn’t dating him, it was someone else. Or no one. Just never me. I just wasn’t her type, and there was no convincing her otherwise.
I tried, of course. Sometimes I think I did the best I could. But like I said, I didn’t know what to do. I was too young, selfish and stupid to know what to do. We’ve all been there, in one way or another.
Anyway, I loved Marcy as much as my little heart was capable of loving anyone back then. But I didn’t know how to love. Not really. Not yet. I came from a broken home rife with all sorts of dysfunction. I didn’t know what to do, so eventually I decided I’d just pretend like I didn’t love her. And when that didn’t work, I decided to just make myself forget her. And when I couldn’t figure out how to do that, I turned to drugs for help.
That’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to admit to myself. I started doing drugs, something I battled for seven long years, to forget about a girl! It’s incredibly embarrassing and shows a great weakness in my character.
Drugs eventually worked, except that they didn’t. You see, Marcy always popped into my head for some reason anyway. And I didn’t remember why until almost 20 years later. I have to tell you, there’s no greater sense of loss that I’ve experienced in my life than that remembrance. Knowing that the unforgiving march of time can go on and on and on without the acknowledgment of something so important is a devastating realization.
It all seems such a waste. Obviously, the waste isn’t thinking or believing or wanting things to have worked out differently than they did between Marcy and I in the romantic realm. Marcy fell in love and got married. She has three daughters now, each as beautiful I remember her, and a husband she loves more than anything else in the world. And I fell in love, too. Rachel and I were meant to be together. When God made Rachel, he was thinking of me! I love her so much. I could not ask for a more perfect wife. We’re two peas in a pod. We’ve been married for nine years now, going on one hundred.
But Marcy was important to me, and I ignored it. I can’t get that back. I never would have known how to love Rachel if I’d never seen Marcy across room that day. I never would have known what love is without having experienced the unrequited kind first. I never would have turned out to be me if had I not met Marcy.
I could’ve been at her wedding. I could’ve seen her grow into a mother. I could’ve been there if she needed me. I could’ve just loved her anyway.
But I didn’t.
All I did was discover 20 years later that not being loved back isn’t the worst thing after all. No. The worst is denying where love exists in the first place. The worst is throwing the truth away for a lie. The worst is forsaking unrequited love for the vanity of sparing your own feelings.
Here’s what I respect about Jermain Taylor: He hasn’t done that in his love for boxing. He might have taken two years off to pout about his life. He might have made poor decisions here and there. He might never be what he could have been.
But Taylor loves boxing, and he knows something about love that I didn’t, too.
Taylor knows love isn’t dependent on reaction, but action. Love is really straightforward if you think about it. The Beatles were right: It’s easy! Where most people get love wrong is that they believe it necessitates being loved back in return. But that’s all wrong. Love doesn’t demand reciprocity. It demands respect. Not for you. But for it.
Love exists for its own sake.
Taylor might do lots of things wrong in life. I’ve only met him twice. I don’t know. I know he doesn’t throw punches in proportion to the physical tools God gave him. I know he can’t always get out the way of knockout blows. I know he might very well be a criminal in regards to pending legal matters.
But Taylor I also know that he gets this one thing right in life above all else: He loves boxing, and he keeps on loving it. No matter what, he loves it. Boxing might not love him back, but Taylor loves boxing anyway.
“A champion is someone who gets up when he can’t,” said Jack Dempsey. It’s probably the most famous quote of one of boxing’s most popular heavyweight champions ever. Taylor is now the IBF middleweight champion because he does exactly that, even when he probably shouldn’t.
Whatever there is to say in regards to other matters, I’ll tell you this about that particular piece of information: I respect and admire the hell out of that.