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Jermain Taylor’s “Comeback”

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There was a time when Jermain Taylor was one of my favorite fighters, in and out of the ring. In his glory years, he fought Bernard Hopkins twice and beat him both times. The fights were close. The decisions could have gone either way; particularly in their first outing. But no one would dispute the notion that Taylor tested Hopkins in ways that no one other than Roy Jones had before.

Then things turned sour for Taylor. Listening to the wrong people, he dumped trainer Pat Burns (who’d taken him from his first pro fight to the undisputed middleweight championship of the world). In 2007, after three lethargic title defenses, Jermain was knocked out by Kelly Pavlik. That ushered in a two-year period in which his ring ledger showed four losses in five fights, including three brutal knockout defeats and a brain bleed that Taylor suffered at the hands of Arthur Abraham in the opening round of Showtime’s 168-pound tournament.

Taylor withdrew from the “Super Six” tournament after his loss to Abraham and spent the next two years away from the ring. During that time, his weight rose to over 200 pounds. There were issues with drinking and women and run-ins with the law that seemed to result from stupidity rather than malicious intent. Pat Burns (who never lost his fondness for Jermain) put the matter in perspective, saying, “He’s furious at the people who he now knows exploited him. And it spills over into how he feels about the rest of the world.”

In December 2011, Taylor returned to the ring. He needed that structure in his life and he needed the money. Burns agreed to train him. Over the next two years, Jermain won four fights against club-fight-level opposition, raising his record to 32 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw.

Then, on May 31, 2014, Sam Soliman of Australia won the IBF 160-pound belt by decisioning a shopworn Felix Sturm. That set the wheels of cynicism into high gear. Taylor’s manager (the ubiquitous Al Haymon) arranged for third parties to pay an outsized purse to Soliman to defend his belt against Taylor. It was an investment, part of an effort by Haymon to wrest control another 160-pound weight class bauble.

Soliman was the ideal beltholder for a diminished Taylor to challenge. The Aussie is one month shy of his forty-first birthday and had lost eleven times. He’s also a light puncher with only 18 knockouts to his credit in 56 fights.

Soliman-Taylor was slated for October 8 at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Media reaction to the proposed fight was largely negative.

First, there was a school of thought that Taylor didn’t deserve a title shot. He hadn’t fought at 160 pounds since 2007 and hadn’t beaten a world-class middleweight (as opposed to a blown-up super-welterweight) since 2005.

Second, although Jermain passed a battery of tests at the Mayo Clinic and Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, his prior brain bleed was cause for concern. Team Taylor said that Jermain was at no greater risk for injury than any other fighter. A number of doctors, including Margaret Goodman (former chief ringside physician for the Nevada State Athletic Commission and a foremost advocate for fighter safety) disagreed.

And there was another particularly troubling issue.

On August 26, Taylor was arrested at his home in Maumelle (a suburb of Little Rock) and charged with two felonies — first-degree domestic battery and aggravated assault – after shooting his cousin in the leg.

Lieutenant Carl Minden of the Pulaski County sheriff’s office issued a statement to the media recounting the incident as follows: “Mr. Taylor’s cousin and another individual came to his residence, and there was some sort of altercation. At some point, Mr. Taylor retrieved a handgun and fired several rounds. His cousin was struck multiple times. The cousin is alive and in serious condition at an area hospital.”

Minden further stated that, when the police arrived at Taylor’s home, Jermain was “very cooperative with our investigators. He was very calm, and there were absolutely no difficulties.”

Piecing together information from multiple sources, it appears as though Taylor and his cousin had been at odds, a situation that was exacerbated when the cousin borrowed Jermain’s truck and damaged it in a traffic accident. On the night of the shooting, the cousin appeared uninvited at Taylor’s home with a second man (who a source says had recently been released from jail). Jermain ordered them off his property. They wouldn’t leave, so Erica Taylor (Jermain’s wife) called the police. Meanwhile, Jermain took a gun and fired some warning shots in the air, at which point the cousin said that Jermain didn’t have the guts to shoot him. Taylor, who may well have felt physically threatened by then, shot his cousin three times in the leg.

One day after his arrest, Taylor was released on $25,000 bail. The court allowed him to leave Arkansas to train in Florida and fight Soliman in Mississippi.

Under the law, there’s a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. That said; if Taylor had been playing in the National Football League, it’s unlikely that he would have suited up on October 8. Further by way of analogy, Michael Phelps was arrested in Maryland on September 30 on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. One week later, USA Swimming suspended him from competition for six months.

When fight night arrived, Taylor vs. Soliman was a sloppy ugly mess. Jermain fought tentatively and looked older than his 36 years. His timing was off and his punches had no pop. He looked like damaged goods. Fortunately for him, Soliman was damaged goods. The Aussie had hurt his right knee in training and acknowledged after the bout that he’d almost pulled out of the fight. He should have. It would have spared fight fans twelve horrible rounds of boxing.

People who were channel surfing and tuned in to Taylor-Soliman without the audio could have been forgiven for thinking that they were watching two club fighters in a walkout bout. Virtually no clean punches were landed, nor was there much effective aggression or ring generalship. As the rounds dragged on, Soliman’s damaged knee became more and more of an impediment. He kept falling down, occasionally helped on his journey to the canvas by a jab or glancing blow from Taylor. Neither the referee, the ring doctor, or Soliman’s corner had enough sense to stop the nonsense. And Jermain was unable to end it.

Taylor won a unanimous decision. Neither fighter would last three rounds against Gennady Golovkin. Of course, neither Soliman nor the current version of Jermain Taylor would have lasted three rounds against Taylor in his prime.

That brings to mind the thoughts of Pat English, who, at the start of Taylor’s comeback, declared, “As one of the attorneys who litigated the Stephan Johnson wrongful death case, this is extremely troubling to me. These people are taking a boxer with all the classic symptoms of being ‘shot’ and who has had a brain bleed and allowing him to come back. This is a disaster waiting to happen. Stephan Johnson died after being allowed to fight after suffering what the scans showed to be a likely brain bleed. Do we want to repeat that? There are times when one simply should not be silent.”

One might add that medical tests aren’t the only indicator of when a fighter should retire. Just because a boxer passes a “head test” doesn’t mean that he should be in the ring. Muhammad Ali received a clean bill of health from the Mayo Clinic before he fought Larry Holmes. There comes a time when the dangers inherent in boxing outweigh the benefits to be gained from fighting.

Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam is currently the mandatory challenger for Taylor’s IBF belt. But this is boxing. “Mandatory” challengers can be put on hold. And Al Haymon can be expected to maximize his investment.

The most cynical ploy, and possibly the most profitable, might be to match Taylor against Floyd Mayweather. Remember; the sanctioning bodies have already massaged their rules to allow Mayweather to hold 147 and 154-pound titles at the same time. One can surmise that Floyd would love to claim he has duplicated Henry Armstrong’s feat of simultaneously wearing three crowns. Of course, when Armstrong did it, there were only eight world champions.

Meanwhile, Jermain Taylor will soldier on.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Pat Burns said ten hours after Taylor-Soliman. “But Jermain won. He’s the guy getting on the plane and going home with the belt.”

And as for Jermain’s personal future?

“I think he’ll be okay,” Burns answered after a moment’s reflection. “I hope he’ll be okay. But it’s hard to tell.”

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His next book (The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens) will be published later this month by Counterpoint.

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Tyson Fury Returns on Saturday with a Familiar Foe in the Opposite Corner

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“Tyson Fury made a name for himself last night, one that already has a ready-made ring about it and will be destined to become familiar in boxing.” Alan Hubbard, a ringside correspondent for The (London) Examiner wrote those words after Fury wrested the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles from Derek Chisora with a comprehensive 12-round decision on July 23, 2011.

Those words were prescient. Tyson Fury did go on to become a familiar name in the sport. Indeed, one could argue that at this moment in history no active boxer is more famous.

More than 11 full years have elapsed since Fury toppled Chisora. In the ensuing years, the Gypsy King outpointed Wladimir Klitschko in Germany to win the world heavyweight title, battled personal demons that sidelined him for two-and-half years, returned to the ring with a flourish, ultimately regaining the world heavyweight title, or at least a version of it, in the second chapter of his memorable trilogy with Deontay Wilder, and rising so high in the opinion of boxing enthusiasts that he would be favored over any other boxer on the planet.

Oh, and lest we forget, since defeating Chisora in 2011, Fury whipped Chisora again, stopping him after 10 one-sided frames in 2014. Fury’s eight-inch height advantage enabled him to control the distance vs. “Dell Boy” who was never knocked down but who absorbed a great deal of punishment before his chief second said, “no mas.”

A third meeting between Fury (32-0-1, 23 KOs) and the soon-to-be-39-year-old Chisora (33-12) would seem to be superfluous. Del Boy, coming off a narrow win over Kubrat Pulev, has lost three of his last four. But on Saturday, Dec. 3, they will go at it again. The venue is London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, capacity 62,850, and by all indications, despite a chill in the air (the temperature is expected to hover around 40 degrees), there won’t be too many empty seats.

For promoter Frank Warren, Fury vs Chisora is Plan B – he was hoping to match Fury against Anthony Joshua – but he believes that Fury has become so popular that he can make a tidy profit no matter who is in the opposite corner. The Gypsy King, once referenced as the enfant terrible of British boxing, has toned down his rhetoric (one might say that he proactively distanced himself from Kanye West) and become almost cuddly, a source of inspiration for many Brits, the first member of the black sheep Traveler community about whom this could ever be said.

Fury, needless to say, is a heavy favorite. The odds are in the 25/1 range. The co-feature is likewise looked upon as a mismatch. Daniel Dubois, who shares the diluted WBA heavyweight title with Oleksandr Usyk, is a consensus 16/1 favorite over Kevin Lerena (28-1, 19 KOs) who rides in on a 17-fight winning streak. The six-foot-one Lerena carried a career-high 234 pounds for his last assignment against ancient Mariusz Wach, but the South African southpaw has fought most of his career as a cruiserweight.

The undercard includes featherweight Isaac Lowe, Tyson Fury’s bosom buddy, and Hosea Burton, Fury’s cousin, both of whom appear to be matched soft in scheduled six-rounders, plus 18-year-old phenom Royston Barney Smith in a 4-rounder against a transplanted Nicaraguan.

This is a pay-per-view event in the UK, but U.S. fight fans who subscribe to ESPN+ can see it for free. The ring walks for the main event are expected to go about 4 pm ET.

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What Path will Yokasta Valle Choose Next?

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After the recent controversial ruling that made her a world champion in three different divisions, the fans of the Costa Rican Yokasta Valle are wondering: What path will the successful boxer choose next?

On Saturday, November 26th, in a fight of continuous exchanges with the then undefeated Argentine Evelyn Bermúdez (17-1-1, 6 KOs), “Yoka” Valle (27-2, 9 KOs) came out with her arm raised at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, where she won the IBF and WBO belts, which Bermúdez was defending for the seventh and second time, respectively.

Although the Costa Rican fighter (pictured on the right) went on the attack for practically the entire 10 rounds, the exchanges were even, give and take, with good moments for both fighters, which made it difficult to evaluate each round. Hence the discomfort of many fans, especially in the Bermúdez camp, with the card of judge Adalaide Byrd (99-91), which apparently had Bermúdez prevailing in only one round. Neither did Judge Daniel Sandoval’s card (97-93) represent what transpired in the ring, while Zachary Young’s score of 95-95 was more accurate, distributing five rounds for each combatant.

In the case of Byrd, she also received innumerable criticism in the first fight between Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, which was held in September 2017 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and which ended with a favorable scorecard for each boxer and another of 114-114.

At that time, Byrd had judged more than 400 fights over a 20-year span, and her discordant scorecard of 118-110 reflected Canelo winning 10 rounds and GGG only two (the fourth and the seventh). Dave Moretti leaned towards Golovkin (115-113), while Don Trella (114-114) saw it even.

CHAMPION IN THREE CATEGORIES

Born in Matagalpa, Nicaragua on August 28, 1992 and living in Costa Rica since her childhood, Valle made her boxing debut at the age of 22 in the light flyweight category. In that first experience at the pro level, she defeated Mexican María Guadalupe Gómez by unanimous decision in four rounds, on July 26, 2014, in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

Two years later, in her twelfth fight, she conquered the IBF title at 102 pounds by split decision against Ana Victoria Polo in San José, Costa Rica. In December 2017, Valle suffered her first professional failure against the local Naoko Fujioka, who won by unanimous decision at Korakuén Hall in Tokyo where they fought for the vacant WBO light flyweight belt.

Six months later, on June 16, 2018, Valle lost again by unanimous decision against German Christina Rupprecht (11-0-1, 3 KOs) in Munich, a duel that was for the WBO strawweight interim belt. Rupprecht maintains that belt and is again in Valle’s sights.

Following those two setbacks, “Yoka” Valle compiled 14 victories, including the one she obtained in Marbella against Spaniard Joana Pastrana in August 2019, which she won by split decision securing the IBF 105-pound belt.

More recently, on September 8th in Costa Rica, Valle became a two-division champion at 105 pounds, by unanimously prevailing (the three judges scored the fight 100-90) over Vietnamese Thi Thu Nhi Nguyen, who ceded the WBO title. And then with her success against Bermúdez last weekend, Valle made history in Costa Rican boxing by adding her third crown in three different divisions (102, 105 and 108 pounds).

WHERE WILL YOKASTA VALLE GO NEXT?

Valle, who now owns two light flyweight titles (IBF and WBO) could next go in search of unification with Mexican Jéssica Nery (WBA super champion) or with Canadian Kim Clavel, who holds the WBC title. (Clavel and Nery collide on Thursday in Laval, Quebec.)

However, a more viable option would be to return to 105 pounds and seek a fight with American Seniesa Estrada (23-0, 9 KOs), who maintains the WBA belt, or with Rupprecht, who remains unbeaten. That seemed to be Valle’s immediate objective, as she affirmed it in the ring after defeating Nguyen. In an indirect reference to Seniesa Estrada and Tina Rupprecht, Valle said “I want the belts. I’ve been saying it from the beginning, I want the WBC and WBA next, whoever has ’em.”

At Friday’s weigh-in for her fight with Bermúdez, Valle stated “I want to fight the best. I want to be undisputed. When Tina (Rupprecht) and Seniesa (Estrada) were not available, my team and I made the decision to move up in weight and challenge Evelyn for her world title belts. I have to fight. [MarvNation CEO] Marvin Rodriguez presented this fight to me. This is the type of fight I want. It is champion versus champion. I want to give the fans these types of fights.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kim Clavel caught the flu and pulled out on Wednesday just prior to the weigh-in. Her match with Jessica Nery was rescheduled for Jan. 13.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hogan Photos

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish

Please note any adjustments made for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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Regis Prograis Knocks Out José Zepeda and Clears the Way for José Ramírez

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American Regis Prograis had to wait three years and a month for the opportunity to hold a world crown once again. On Saturday, November 26, at the Dignity Health Sports Park, in Carson, California, Prograis faced José Zepeda for the vacant WBC junior welterweight belt. Prograis was victorious by applying chloroform to Zepeda in the eleventh round.

Previously, on October 26, 2019, Prograis (28-1, 24 KOs) had lost the WBA junior welterweight belt by majority decision to Scotsman Josh Taylor at the 02 Arena in England.

Since then, the thirty-three-year-old Prograis who is based in Houston, Texas has obtained four wins (including vs Zepeda), all before the limit, as proof of the devilish power of his powerful fists, especially the left one.

Prior to the duel with Zepeda (35-2, 27 KOs), most experts favored Prograis, who after winning the intense battle, recognized that it was the most demanding fight of his career. “That dude is tough, tough, tough. He came to fight, he probably gave me one of my hardest fights, I’m not even gonna lie,” said Prograis. “This dude is tough, bro. I’ve got so much respect for you. You prepared me to get this belt and hold this belt. I congratulate you. All the best to you, bro. Don’t stop, I feel like you can still be a world champion.”

Almost from the very beginning of the fight, Prograis showed greater speed with his hands and legs, and a general sense of technical superiority over Zepeda, who in the second round opened up a wound above his left eye with a legal blow.

From then on, Prograis’s strong impacts gradually undermined Zepeda’s resistance. Zepeda arrived totally exhausted in the eleventh round, where he received a straight left to the face, putting him in poor condition. A run with both fists from Prograis knocked him down and referee Ray Corona called the match with 59 seconds remaining in the round. This is the first setback that Zepeda has suffered by knockout in professional boxing.

On several occasions, Prograis has stated that he wants revenge against the undefeated Taylor (19-0, 13 KOs), but now, by order of the WBC, he must face American José Carlos Ramírez (27-1, 17 KOs).

Ramírez, 30 years old, is currently ranked second by the WBC. In February of 2019, in his second defense of his 140-pound belt, he defeated Zepeda by majority decision.

Twenty-five months later, Ramírez succumbed by unanimous decision to Taylor at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, enabling the Scotsman to become the undisputed king of the category by winning the four most prestigious belts (WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF).

Recently, Ramírez expressed an interest in dueling with the main 140-pound contenders, including a second fight with Zepeda; although he did not rule out clashing with Prograis or Taylor. “Every fighter has the same amount of risk,” said Ramirez. “We’re a little under-promoted compared to other weight classes but I think that the best fights are at 140. You see guys fighting twice or three times, doing a trilogy. Honestly, I would love to face Regis, because I’ve never faced him. I would love to make the rematch with Zepeda, because he’s such a good fighter. Obviously I want Josh Taylor, man. I want Josh Taylor bad.”

Photo credit: Al Applerose

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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