Jermain Taylor, 36-year-old Arkansas native, claimed the International Boxing Federation Middleweight Championship on Oct. 8 at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Miss., in a unanimous decision against Australian 40-year-old and former-title-holder Sam Soliman.
Although seeing Taylor (33-4-1) get a win — albeit it was an unexpected fight coming out of nowhere in the first place — has always roused my spirits and fondness for the sport. His most recent fight did nothing more than offer an example of the declination boxing is and has been going through since the end of the 1980s: the days of Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.
Growing up, I remember fighting off sleep on weekend nights when the Little Rock-born-and-raised Taylor would be boxing on HBO. In a house of avid boxing fans — my mother excluded, it’s too violent, she says—we hooted and hollered for the Arkansas boy made big as if we were calling the Hogs before a Saturday kickoff.
In 2005, Taylor became the world middleweight champion after defeating Bernard Hopkins. But then, the downward spiral that indubitably consumes all athletes hit Taylor without refrain.
Taylor lost four of five fights in two years. He slipped into obscurity and retirement after a brain bleed from one of those losses.
But athletes have a hard time staying away from a sport they, many times, attach their meaning as a person to.
Since 2011, the year Taylor began his comeback, the former world champion has won four fights — none of which amount to a hill of beans in the boxing world.
His recent fights before claiming the title on Oct. 8 include wins over Jessie Nicklow (24-4), Caleb Truax (24-1-2), Raul Munoz (23-16-1) and J.C. Candelo (32-14-4.) There’s a reason you’ve never heard any of their names: They’re no names.
In his five-fight winning streak he’s faced not one true title-contender, and this is because his promoter Lou Dibella and his manager Al Haymon have been protecting him.
His championship fight was no test either. The fight against almost-41-year-old Soliman was a living, breathing metaphor for the current state of boxing — old, declining and just trying to make a buck.
I say this not to assail the sport, which I cherish for the affinity I have for the history of the Sweet Science, but rather to yearn for a change — a change in which two fighters past their primes aren’t pitted against each other to make a sleazy dollar.
Taylor knocked down or caused Soliman to slip in the 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th and 12th rounds after Soliman injured his knee. But neither one of these fighters, relentless as they both are, are champions — anymore.
After the fight, Teddy Atlas said, “The true test of Taylor will come when he doesn’t fight someone who is 40.”
This is a test I believe, and anyone with any knowledge of the sport and Taylor’s career will concur, he will fail.
The fight on ESPN2 was in Mississippi because Taylor has name recognition in the area. Tickets sold, so why not let a slipping boxer with a past brain injury hang around one punch too long.
To add to the ridiculousness, the fight was only possible through a judge’s permission to travel out of state. Anyone, regardless of their financial state, could have got that permission from a judge, right?
Taylor is out on a $25,000 bail from an Aug. 26 shooting incident. The titular champion shot his cousin multiple times and was charged with first-degree domestic battery and aggravated assault.
Although boxing has long been associated with violence and criminality outside the ring, the idea of a current champion fighting while out on bail is simply preposterous, as has become the state of boxing.
With UFC ratings up and taking over the world as the dominant combat-oriented sport, boxing promoters are fain to find any way to reclaim superiority no matter the degradation they must drag its athletes through in the process.
Taylor’s farcical win on Oct. 8, for fans of the home-state fighter like myself, was more of a loss for the sport than a win for the formerly once-true champion.