The Super Six World Boxing Classic begins Saturday night when former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor meets Arthur Abraham at the O2 World Arena in Berlin.
Taylor, a 3 to 1 underdog on some books, enters the tournament having lost three of his last four fights. His only win during that stretch came against the pitifully shot Jeff Lacy in 2008. Just before signing to meet Bernard Hopkins for the middleweight championship in 2005, Taylor was built up to be the kind of dynamic superstar American boxing desperately needed. Over the next 4 1/2 years, however, Taylor, a Bronze medalist for the U.S. in the 2000 Olympics, has mystified the world with his steady decline. Two narrow decisions over Hopkins, a draw with “Winky” Wright, tepid bouts with smaller handpicked opponents Kasim Ouma and Cory Spinks, and three losses in his last four fights have left his career a fit subject for the production crew of MysteryQuest.
Nothing less than a spectacular performance in the Super Six Tournament will revitalize his career. And to do that, Taylor will have to go through a tough obstacle course, one that starts with undefeated Arthur Abraham, who recently vacated his middleweight title to compete in the tournament. Taylor certainly sounds like a man ready to turn his fortunes around. “Every fighter has to be ready to do battle and go to war,” he said recently. “I’m expecting a war and I’m prepared for it.”
Many see this fight as “Experience,” meaning Taylor, versus “Inexperience,” meaning Abraham. On the surface it might appear that way, but Taylor has gone 5-3-1 (0) in his last nine fights. That record could easily be 3-6 (0). Remove Ouma and Spinks–decidedly not “high level”–from the equation and Taylor might be 1-6 (0) against quality competition. Meanwhile Abraham, 30-0 (24), has beaten some good fighters in Europe: Ian Gardner, Kofi Jantuah, Kingsley Ikeke, Hector Velazco, Edison Miranda, and Howard Eastman. He suffered some rough spots against Eastman, Miranda, and southpaw terror Khoren Gevor, but fought through them to win. True, there are no future Hall of Fame inductees on his ledger, but Abraham has been tested by a variety of styles and has never been in a disputed decision. Only his first fight with Edison Miranda, who lost five points for fouls, might qualify as controversial. Another question is whether Abraham, 29, can be
effective at a higher weight. A look at his record answers that one pat: Out of 30 fights, Abraham has been over 160 pounds 13 times.
Still, Taylor, a 6’ 1” and with a 74 ½” reach, is the bigger man. Lee Payton, editor of The Boxing Bulletin, thinks Taylor will use his size to his advantage. “He likes to stay at range,” Payton said, “poke a jab out there and set up hard right hands. I feel that this is the best way to negate what Abraham likes to do, which is to wait for the opponent to become aggressive and make him pay with crushing counters. If Taylor can maintain his distance most of the night, I really like his chances, because whether he is landing or not, he’ll keep the German’s hands busy on defense.”
In order to outwork Abraham, however, Taylor will have to be busier than usual, something his touchy stamina might object to. Judging from his dramatic knockout loss to Carl Froch last April, Taylor may no longer be able to withstand punishment over a long fight. It will take a very special kind of nutritionist to help him shake off the effects of hard left hooks and right crosses. At middleweight, Abraham had legitimate one-punch knockout power. He dramatically flattened Elvin Ayala and Khoren Gevor with crushing lefts, and, at a catchweight of 166 pounds, basically finished Edison Miranda with a single shot that turned their fight around completely in the fourth round. If he lands big punches against Taylor throughout the fight, the crowd in Berlin might not hear the final bell.
Defensively, Abraham is far superior, keeping a tight guard while allowing opponents to pound on his arms and gloves. In this posture Abraham is difficult to hit cleanly with more than one shot at a time. When he opens up and goes on the attack, however, he leaves himself open by throwing wide shots, particularly arcing left hooks. Like Taylor, Abraham gets away with this because he has fairly good hand speed. Nothing compared to other quick participants in the Super Six—Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell, for example—but adequate. In fact, Abraham appears to run a distant second to Taylor in speed. Taylor has fast hands and a quick counter left hook, but Abraham, an accomplished chess player, is more cerebral than given credit for and will use some of his ringcraft to offset his disadvantage in speed. Among his tricks are a variety of feints–shoulder, foot,–and a jab often used to disrupt rhythm. He also has good timing and is a patient fighter,
one willing to wait to spot flaws and openings. This means Taylor might find himself countered after tipping his right hand or pursued by furies when he backs straight up in front of Abraham. Taylor, 31, also has a bad habit of languishing in front of his opponent without purpose and seemingly adrift. Often he swings his left arm–locked at a right angle–back and forth in front of him as if attempting to hypnotize his opponent. It never works.
In order to defeat Taylor, Abraham, Berlin via Armenia, might have to be more aggressive than he is used to, particularly early. Allowing Taylor, 28-3-1 (17), to sweep the first three or four rounds will make it less likely that Taylor will fade late through attrition. That would give Taylor his best chance to win.
By far the most plausible scenario for Taylor to win is by points. Although his right hand still has some sting to it, Taylor can no longer be considered a particularly hard puncher. When he cranks up double left hooks and uppercuts in combination he can still get anyone in trouble. Unfortunately, trouble is usually as far as it goes. As poor a finisher as has been seen in boxing recently, Taylor has not scored a knockout in over 4 ½ years. He had Kelly Pavlik, Jeff Lacey, and Carl Froch all hurt and let each of them escape. As for Abraham, it is unlikely that he will be stopped. One thing mouthy Edison Miranda can do well is punch, and he belted Abraham several times in their first match. Abraham suffered a broken jaw but he was never knocked down. In that case, Taylor will have to try to outbox the cagey Armenian. To do that, Taylor, who does not have much mobility, will have to be nearly perfect for 36 minutes against a difficult opponent.
Does he have the discipline to stick to a jab and counter strategy or will he gradually unravel as the fight goes on?
After getting hammered to defeat in his last fight is it possible that Taylor might be suffering from the boxing equivalent of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? “It’s difficult to say where Taylor is mentally after such a disappointing result,” says Payton. “It must have ripped his heart out to know that he was so close to having the belt wrapped around his waist. That said, this tournament is a huge opportunity to erase that terrible memory, and from the sound of things, he’s coming to give it his best effort. I think it’s worth noting that this is a man who jumped in there with Hopkins twice and came back after getting knocked out to fight well against Pavlik.”
Taylor, Little Rock, Arkansas, may have heart, but he is going to need more than that to get past Abraham. Eventually, Abraham will hurt Taylor, most likely when Taylor retreats in a straight line, and at the point it will be a question of whether or not “Bad Intentions” can take it. If he can, Taylor may still shut down completely and last the distance in losing a unanimous decision. If not, Abraham should be able to score a late TKO and earn three points in the Super Six tournament for his efforts.