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Jermain Taylor: Can he Truly Walk Away from Boxing?

By Jeff Stoyanoff

It hasn’t been the best of holiday seasons for the sport of boxing. The Mayweather-Pacquiao debacle has derailed the entire sport just when things seemed to be looking up. Pacquiao had put together another stellar year, Mayweather had come back and looked fantastic, there was the typical slew of tremendous fights involving exciting fighters who continued to ply their trade in the often overlooked lower weight classes, and a number of promoters and managers had come together and actually found enough common ground to put together a unique event in the Super Six Super Middleweight Classic. It had been an outstanding year. For the first time in a long time, boxing actually seemed to be successfully getting out of its own way. Boxing was still on the fringe in the world of sports, but at least it wasn’t embarrassing itself. It just couldn’t last, Mayweather and Pacquiao saw to that.

Yet, in the wake of the breakdown of THE mega fight, another story has popped up. Jermain Taylor is withdrawing from the Super Six. Taylor suffered a vicious knockout loss at the hands of Arthur Abraham in the first phase of the round robin tournament. The loss was his fourth in his last five fights with three of those coming by knockout. Perhaps even more disturbing than the knockout was the way Taylor looked in the fight. Taylor seemed unsteady throughout looking very much like a fighter whose best days were well behind him. Obviously, credit must be given to Abraham who fought extremely well and who was clearly leading in the fight even before landing the devastating right hand that brought things abruptly to an end. Furthermore, it seems safe to say that the punch landed by Abraham would have stopped Taylor then, a month before, or five years before. However, Taylor seemed to have lost a measure of his fluidity and this fight was the first time that the loss was so clearly on display.

In the wake of that loss, many fans openly wished that Taylor would withdraw fearing for his health if he continued to box. Predictably, Taylor was defiantly courageous saying that he wanted to continue and that he felt he could still be a factor in the event. A fighter is forced to endure and overcome so much to make it at all in boxing, let alone make it to elite status as Taylor has. The willingness to sacrifice and the ability to overcome doubt and fear become traits unto themselves. Perhaps that is why so many great fighters find it so difficult to walk away. If one allows themselves to walk away when things get tough they will never make it. Losing one’s skills to the point of no longer being able to compete probably feels like just one more time when the going has gotten rough. What to do? Quit? In the mind of a great fighter, that is simply never an option. The mindset is so thoroughly ingrained as to become almost involuntary.

That is why many fans braced for the worst. They prepared themselves for the possibility that Taylor would persevere and continue on against fearsome competition. The whole thing had the potential to be downright ugly; ultimately leading to the kind of sad night that makes even fans wonder if boxing is truly something worthwhile. And then it happened, Taylor announced that he was withdrawing from the event. If the last month was a circus that is all too common in boxing, then the last week was a feel good moment that is not nearly common enough. Taylor is not out of the woods yet; as he left the door open for an eventual return to the sport. However, for the moment, a rare thing transpired. A fine fighter stepped away rather than suffer ignominious and unnecessary defeat. Taylor didn’t quit, he just knew when to walk away.

Now What?

Initially, it looked as if the winner of a February 5th clash between Allan Green and Sakio Bika would be slated to replace Taylor in the Super Six. Either man would have been an able replacement for Taylor. However, the Bika-Green tilt was recently canceled and Green was given the spot in the Super Six. The reality is, coming off three losses in four fights; Taylor was a long shot to be a difference maker in the tournament going in. Thus, the fact that Green will similarly be a dark horse at best is of little importance. It is what Green brings to the table that makes him a viable replacement. Green brings enough in the way of talent to keep his opponents interested. And, he brings enough in the way of questions to keep fans interested. Sadly, it is this second area where Bika likely fell short. Despite his recent win on The Contender and three successive knockouts as a follow up, many must have felt that Bika simply could not compete at the highest levels in the Super Middleweight Division. After all, Bika had already fought Calzaghe and Bute losing both fights. Admittedly, Bika went the distance both times and did not seem overwhelmed. Nonetheless, Bika has already taken his shot and fell short while Green has yet to test his talents at the top. Has Bika raised his game to a new level in the later stages of his career? Unfortunately for him, that question is not as compelling as just how good is Allan Green?

Unlike Bika, Allan Green seemed destined for a big stage like the Super Six. The ascendance of Allan Green reached a crescendo with his devastating first round (first 30 seconds) knockout of Jaidon Codrington on Shobox in 2005. That victory was so emphatic that there are plenty of people still clinging to the notion that Green is possessed of volcanic talent; that he is capable of erupting at any time and decimating any opponent. Green has shown himself to be quite human since his initial flashes of brilliance. Green was knocked down and badly hurt against journeyman (and contender alum) Donnie McRary in 2006. Green managed to get to his feet and stop McRary, but he was not as fortunate against Edison Miranda. Miranda handed Green his lone loss with a unanimous decision win that saw Green sent to the canvas twice in the tenth and final round. Still, in the aftermath, with his career seemingly irreversibly headed toward B level obscurity, Green unleashed an instrument of doubt; an injury. After the Miranda loss, Green divulged that he had recently had a majority of his colon removed and that he would now be able to resume his career free from the health problems that had hampered his performance previously. Since then, Green has won all of his fights, but has not yet had the step up moment that will either rebut or confirm his own career prognosis.

Green and Bika provide a dramatic juxtaposition in their respective careers. Both men have never quite made it, which is why they were both such tantalizing choices to replace Taylor. Yet, their career stories diverge sharply on many levels. Bika has demonstrated that he might just be coming into his own late in his career and he is now fighting at a level that nobody would have thought within his reach. Bika has seemingly already provided answers as to his ability to compete at the top levels of the Super Middleweight Division. Conversely, Green is navigating uncharted waters in his career. He claims that he is finally free from injury, and thereby doubt perhaps, and that he is thus ready to take his place at the top of the division. So far, Green’s talk has not been tested. However, his claim can only be definitively dismissed in the ring, against the best. Where Bika provides answers, Green provides only questions.

February 5th would have given fans that which they crave the most, definitive answers provided in the ring. Yet, that step was bypassed and the more intriguing name was simply given the spot, once again boxing as a sport and boxing as a business crossed paths and the business path won. Green is a suitable replacement to be sure, but a Bika-Green fight would have not only been a good fight, but a positive story during a bad stretch for boxing.. A compelling bout would have provided welcome good news; unfortunately, a compelling fight being called off is just old news.

Taylor, Hatton and the Warrior’s Conundrum

While Green prepares to take a critical step in his career, Taylor ponders his own next step. If Boxing is fortunate, Taylor will decide to hang up the gloves for good. It has been an outstanding career for Taylor. He was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world and he holds two wins over ring legend Bernard Hopkins. In addition, even his losses are laden with sterling moments and moments of near glory. Taylor is the only man to put down Carl Froch and he was within a minute of turning that knockdown into a tremendous victory. Taylor had Kelly Pavlik down and nearly out in the second round of their first fight. Had Taylor found the range with just one more punch Pavlik very well may have been stopped right there. Taylor legitimately lost both fights and credit must be given to both men who overcame adversity themselves and found a way to win. However, the near misses show that Taylor was no pretender. He was far from a guy who simply found himself in the right place at the right time. Taylor was a remarkably talented fighter and a true warrior in the ring. It is that warrior spirit that he must contend with now as he considers continuing in the sport. How does one separate himself from the very spirit that makes him the successful fighter that he has been?

It is ironic that as Taylor considers his future, the other major story is the likely comeback of Ricky Hatton. Hatton occupies the same place as Taylor in nearly every way possible. Hatton has absolutely nothing left to prove, but still he cannot walk away. Boxing is the ultimate sport of light and shadow. The sport itself is a Jungian delight. At its core is a savagery that any sane person should be anxious to disavow. Yet, the sport is also the unquestioned domain of the most admirable traits such as: Courage, discipline, and dedication. Boxing is exhilarating and fearsome; a sport of savage beauty. It is filled with glory and regret. Taylor considers walking away and we all hope for the best. Hatton ponders a comeback and we all prepare ourselves for the worst. The ethos of boxing is a study in duality. Courage and commitment lead to glory, but that same dedication makes it difficult to know when it is time to move on. Taylor and Hatton are merely the latest chapter. Taylor’s decision is a positive. The moment offers some light to a world of shadow. Yet, Hatton looms and so then does a sense of impending sadness that always permeates the world of boxing. Only in boxing do triumph and tragedy coexist in such equal measure.

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