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Humbled Taylor seeks redemption: this time, he battles Pavlik in Las Vegas.

IT'S POSSIBLE NO ONE REALIZED how truly humbled Jermain Taylor felt until his appearance last fall at the James H. Penick Boys & Girls Club, where he was honored as the Boys & Girls Club Man of the Year.

"My wife knows how down I've been. To see all of you here tonight is just so special," Taylor told the overflow crowd.

Just weeks earlier, he'd been knocked out by challenger Kelly Pavlik in a world middleweight championship fight in Atlantic City, N.J. "Knocked out" may be a kind description. HBO slow-motion replays of Pavlik's seventh-round onslaught would have been horrifying to even the casual boxing fan. Taylor's face, up against Pavlik's deciding right hand to the jaw, seemed to roll like a wave from one side to the other, like a cranial earthquake.

To make matters worse, it all seemed to happen so suddenly. Yes, Pavlik had been relentless throughout the fight, but Taylor seemed to be in decent shape. He'd had his own chance to put Pavlik away, perhaps, in the second round, when he sent the challenger to his knees with a combination. Pavlik was rocked and wobbly and lucky to survive the round--and Taylor would lament later not finishing the Ohioan off when he had that one good chance.

The fighters hammered away for five more rounds. Pavlik was willing to go at Taylor regularly like a Rock'em Sock'em boxer, and that seemed to play nicely into Taylor's ability to jab with the left and dance out of trouble. But in the third round he got pinned in a corner, and in the fourth round he was also up on the ropes. By the fifth and sixth rounds, Taylor was fighting more cautiously. And the seventh looked like more of the same. Until ...

Boom, kaboom. Pavlik delivered dynamite with his fists just as Taylor reverted to an old bad habit of dropping his left hand, and for the first time in his professional career, Taylor was out.

Less than a month later, Taylor still seemed down psychologically until a compassionate crowd at the Penick Boys & Girls Club seemed to pick him back up. With his wife, Erica, by his side, Taylor greeted well-wishers before his few minutes at the dais, and when he'd received his honor, it was a quick getaway.

News from Taylor's team leading up to his Las Vegas camp opening on Jan. 1 was about the dismissal of Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward after four fairly lackluster showings by Taylor: a draw with Winky Wright, the unimpressive wins over Ouma and Spinks, and the loss to Pavlik.

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Taylor never did seem to buy into Steward's suggestions, but Steward usually got the blame from Taylor's camp for the boxer's non-punching, stand-around act. The complete use of the ring with his feet and the constant jabbing we saw from Taylor on his way up seemed discarded. The dropping of the left hand as the fight went on was never eradicated.

Taylor turned training back over to longtime mentor Ozell Nelson. He had guided Taylor since age 13 to amateur stardom and the Olympics and on to a professional career, where the trusted Pat Burns from Miami was brought in to train the prodigy. Burns and the Taylor camp parted ways after Taylor's second win over former middleweight titleholder Bernard Hopkins, a far more convincing Taylor decision than the first, controversial one over B-Hop.

Taylor may have more sympathy from his longtime fans since the loss to Pavlik, but he also has more skeptics who believe he's gone as far as he can go. Pavlik is bigger and packs a more powerful punch than anyone Taylor has faced. And Taylor isn't the hungry fighter he once was.

But spilled on his butt as he was in Atlantic City, Taylor seeks redemption. A win will not result in an exchange in title belts, as both fighters have moved up to 166 pounds for this bout with new titles on the line. Taylor's next title fight will come in the super middleweight division, with the 160 pounds for middleweight qualification too hard for him now at age 29.

Win, and Taylor answers critics who question why he dumped Steward for his mentor, who may know Taylor better than anyone but still isn't a proven Hall of Fame corner man. A win also will answer questions about why he's training for six weeks in the bright lights and distractions of Las Vegas and how the seclusion of Steward's compound in upstate New York failed him.

Lose, and Taylor's days as a prime HBO pay-per-view draw are likely done. His future fights will be against more powerful sluggers, and Taylor isn't getting any younger. B-Hop has lasted into his 40s as a viable fighter, and Oscar De la Hoya still entices the ticket-buying and TV-viewing public. Taylor may be as loved as any Arkansas athlete these days by his fellow Arkansans, but outside of Arkansas he's never been in the same league as those guys.

TAYLOR: ABOUT THE FIGHT

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Jermain Taylor greeted the media in Las Vegas on Jan. 17 for his only interview since beginning training for his upcoming bout with Kelly Pavlik. Here are Taylor's thoughts on the fight:

You're OK not fighting for a belt this time?

"When I win, I'll be walking out of there with everything he took from me. I'm walking out of there with my pride."

Is it working out better without Emanuel Steward?

"It feels great. It's just like the old days. When we started out it was just me and Ozell [Nelson]. I'm working hard every day. I'm doing a lot more sparring. Emanuel Steward is a great guy, a Hall of Fame trainer and a friend of mine. I love him to death. But he isn't coaching me now."

Why is the unconventional training necessary, using the sledgehammer, tire and tennis balls?

"The tennis balls are for slipping punches, so I don't get hit with the punches I got hit with in the fight. As far as the tire, it gives you muscle and endurance. I had him hurt in the second round and I didn't finish him. If I had the endurance, I wouldn't have gotten tired. I would have finished him."

What kind of changes are you making in this training camp?

"A lot harder training. Ozell's putting me through all kinds of stuff. Me and him together, there's nothing that's going to stop us. I've been doing a lot more running. I've been running five miles a day except Sunday. I'm running every day, serious running and I'm training hard with commitment and I'm going to be ready."

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THE REMATCH

Taylor vs. Pavlik

Date: Feb. 16

Where: NGN Grand Hotel, Las Vegas

TV: HBO Pay-per-view

Time: 9 p.m. (CDT)

Tickets: Ranging from $100 to $600 through Ticketmaster.com
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Title Annotation:BOXING: ANALYSIS; Jermain Taylor honored as Man of the Year
Author:Harris, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 28, 2008
Words:1148
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