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Risk management: insurance man advises champ.

ANDREW MEADORS RETURNED to his downtown Little Rock office after a whirlwind week in Las Vegas, picked up his phone and was overwhelmed to discover hundreds of voice mail messages lined up from all over the world.

Some of those unfamiliar voices were simply phoning in congratulatory words of praise, while the majority of the callers were hoping to nab a piece of a lucrative empire that Meadors and a handful of others have spent years skillfully, carefully and patiently crafting.

Just a couple of days removed from what he calls "by far the most gratifying high in my life," Meadors hung up the phone and took a minute to reflect.

"We all realized when we got back from Las Vegas what it's like to be stalked," Meadors said. He is business adviser to Little Rock boxer Jermain Taylor, who defeated Bernard Hopkins One Client is Plenty for Business Adviser on July 16 in Las Vegas to become the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. "Everybody wanted something. They were like, 'Hey Andrew, I know you're swamped, but here's what I need.' They all think that it's just them calling, but it's not. It's all 200 or 300 of them calling."

Not to sound ungrateful, added Meadors, but the hype surrounding Taylor's split-decision victory was a far cry from the days when he had to pound on the doors of local bars just to get them to put up a fight poster announcing a future bout.

"It's kind of ironic because all of us at Team Taylor have been working so hard over the years to create this persona of the next superstar in boxing that it's like, 'We've created a monster,'" he said. "When [ring announcer] Michael Buffer said, 'And the new ...,' it changed all of our lives forever."

After spending years building Taylor's image as a down-to-earth athlete with a strong sense of community, Meadors said the most difficult part of his job is now turning down the various charities and businesses that want a piece of the state's new poster boy.

But that's all part of the role he plays within Team Taylor, which is a small organization by boxing standards. Meadors also juggles a working commitment as a partner at Meadors Adams & Lee Inc., a Little Rock insurance agency with roots dating back to 1909.

"I never would've thought back when we sat around our dorm room watching boxing in college that I'd someday be an adviser to a middleweight champion," Meadors said. "Life is funny like that, I guess."

Split Decision

It was no fluke that Meadors, a sports nut who was destined for the family insurance business, ended up being a business adviser to a worldwide boxing phenomenon.

In his college days at Southern Methodist University in Dallas--where he headed in part because of the professional and Southwest Conference teams in the area--Meadors sought an opportunity to work his first gig when a CBS Sports crew came to town his senior year

Eric Dickerson, an NFL Hall of Fame running back who played in college at SMU, helped draw the national attention to Dallas, and the network was looking for local guys to do hustle work while the crew was in town.

"You know the guy you see on the sidelines at football games holding the sound dish and getting tackled all the time?" said Meadors. "Well, that was my first job."

After graduating from SMU with a degree in business and finance in 1985, he took a job selling advertising for KDFW-TV, a CBS affiliate in Dallas, before joining the family insurance agency two years later.

After moving back to Little Rock, Meadors' involvement with sports began to blossom. In addition to selling insurance, Meadors kept working as an independent contractor for ABC and CBS, where he helped TV crews with local contacts, and working as a statistician and researcher for "Monday Night Football" and Southwest Conference football.

He co-hosted a local sports talk radio show for nearly a decade and eventually hooked up with Jermain Taylor and his longtime trainer, Ozell Nelson, when he asked the pair to speak at a Major Sports Association luncheon.

The Connection

In 2000, Taylor was preparing for his bronze-medal performance at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, when he spoke to the local sports group.

Meadors found it extremely unfair that Nelson, who had groomed Taylor from a scrawny teenager to a legitimate contender; was not invited to follow Taylor to the Summer Games because Team USA had its own coaching staff.

"So I went on the radio show and told the state about it and started getting donations," Meadors said. "There was nothing in it for me. I just thought it was a great injustice that the kid's coach wasn't invited to watch him fight at the Olympics."

Perhaps it was that heartfelt move that won Taylor's approval for Meadors to take over as his business adviser when Stephens Sports Management disbanded in the spring of 2001.

"When I was hired, we at Team Taylor decided we were going to help J.T. become a world champion but also that we were going to do it the right way," said Meadors, sounding distinctly Jerry Maguire-ish. "We're not going to screw people, we're not going to stomp on people and we're going to do it all the right way. We've remained true to that and that's why this past month or so has been so rewarding."

Business Intentions

Boxing stars are nearly as infamous as musicians when it comes to managing the piles of cash that come along with their fame.

Team Taylor has chosen to manage the boxer a little more leanly than most.

Aside from Taylor himself, there are basically two entities in charge of the middleweight's fate. Team Taylor is Taylor, trainers Ozell Nelson and Patrick Burns, Meadors, "cut man" Ray Rodgers, and Cliffton "Nuk" Owens, who is Taylor's best friend and adviser.

Team Taylor is basically the boxer's nucleus, handling things closer to home and overseeing travel and training schedules, promotional deals, meals, finances, local media requests--generally serving as Taylor's immediate support system.

Then there's DiBella Entertainment, the New York City promoting firm that handles the negotiations of fight fees, the control of tickets, Pay-Per-View deals--generally anything dealing with the logistics of a large fight with international appeal.

Lou DiBella ran the boxing division of HBO for more than a decade before being chosen by Stephens Sports Management in 2000 to handle Taylor's professional career after the Olympics.

"Lou has never rushed J.T. into a match over his head for personal gain. Lou really cares about Jermain," Meadors said.

Big Time

There are few boxers who have been able to make the crossover into popular culture, but Meadors believes Taylor is on the verge of making as big of a mark outside the ring as inside it.

"A lot of people have smirked at me in the past few years when I pitch to them that we have the next middleweight champion of the world right here from Little Rock," he said. "Well, nobody is laughing now. Instead of me out pounding the streets and hitting the phones, we're able to sit back and choose a little bit more."

Meadors says Taylor is "inching closer" to signing endorsement deals with a beverage company, a shoe company and a major telecommunications company, though he wouldn't specify which ones or how much they are worth. In today's market, endorsement deals with top-tier athletes range from $250,000 to $10 million, though Taylor is expected to be more toward the lower end simply because boxers aren't as mainstream as, say, Shaquille O'Neal, Derek Jeter or Brett Favre.

Though Meadors was hesitant to elaborate since negotiations are still under way, he did say that Taylor won't be representing a plethora of companies but rather a "few quality deals," much like the path Tiger Woods has taken in choosing quality over quantity.

Taylor is already appearing in national ads for Everlast clothing and earned a 15-page modeling spread in Vogue magazine last spring. He is also the statewide spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Health's Stamp Out Smoking campaign.

"I think he has very good representation across the board," DiBella said from his New York office. "Meadors does a good job with him locally and with his business stuff. I think Jermain is going to become much more of a national figure. At age 26, he hasn't even scratched the surface of his business potential. He's looking at huge things in the future."

The payday for the July 16 fight was the largest of Taylor's career; pulling in more than $1 million, Meadors said. The rematch, he added, has the potential to pull in at least triple that amount.

And though there's no denying Taylor's recent victory has changed Ray Rodgers, things for good, Meadors insists Team Taylor will try not to stray too far from the normal routine it has grown familiar with over the years, since a boxer's comfort level heading into a big fight is key.

Keeping up the norm also means that Meadors' commitment to the family insurance business is still strong, while the second half of Taylor's career promises to be one that keeps him just as busy on the boxing end of things.

"At Team Taylor there are no secrets, all doors are open and everybody has their role to perform," Meadors said. "I liken it to Jermain being the captain of the ship and we're all rowing. As long as we row in unison and together; the ship is going to cruise."
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Title Annotation:Andrew Meadors helps Jermain Taylor
Author:Hinkel, Nate
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Aug 8, 2005
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Next Article:Education made to order: public universities tailor training specifically for business, industry.

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