By Scott Ploof
Photography by Chris Cozzone
At just 30 years of age, former undisputed middleweight world champion Jermain Taylor (28-2-1, 17 KOs) has accomplished more in his eight plus years as a professional boxer than most fighters would dared to dream. Now he is back in the ring with a renewed strength, not only due to the eight pound weight increase from middleweight to super middleweight, but also because he has been working with his longtime trainer Ozell Nelson. Taylor is rejuvenated with a new sense of focus and determination. He is training for another shot at championship gold against undefeated WBC super middleweight champion Carl Froch (24-0, 19 KOs) on April 25th at the MGM Grand Theatre inside of the MGM Grand at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, CT.
Froch is defending his title for the first time since winning a unanimous decision for the vacant title over Jean Pascal in December 2008. The fight will also mark just his second appearance fighting on U.S. soil for Froch.
FightNews had an opportunity to speak with the Taylor about his career, his accomplishments, and his upcoming championship battle with Froch:
Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas as a youngster, what prompted you to think about or begin a career in boxing?
I had some friends and cousins that where always going to the gym. I went with them one day and put on some gloves and starting boxing. I got beat up, but I fell in love with the sport. After that I was hooked on boxing.
Even at that age, had you always dreamed of one day becoming a professional fighter?
Not really, I was just a kid doing what my cousins where doing. I was just following the crowd at the time. I had no idea that this would be my profession.
Since the age of 13 you have been fighting in the amateur ranks under Ozell Nelson. What were some of the important lessons that Nelson taught you as a fighter and as a young person at such an early age?
Ozell has been like a father to me. If it where not for him, I would not be here today. He taught me a lot of values about life and fighting. What I felt was most important were the values of hard work and making the commitment. He planted the seed that I had the skills to become world champion and he helped me to set goals for myself, not just in the ring, but outside of the ring as well.
You then worked throughout most of your professional career with Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward working your corner. How did you meet up with Emanuel Steward?
I met Emanuel during the HBO fighters meetings. He’s a Hall of Fame trainer and I had watched him work with other fighters over the years on TV.
How was your relationship working with Steward in your corner?
Emanuel and I are good friends and I have a lot of respect for him. When it came fight time, we just did not connect in the corner. We could not put the game plan together on what we wanted to do.
What lessons were you able to take away from his teachings?
With Manny it was very technical. Movement, footwork, and defense. Staying off the line of a punch. His teachings were very helpful.
After your two historic battles with the legendary Bernard Hopkins in which you captured and retained the undisputed middleweight championship, how do you feel that these battles enabled you to improve your abilities?
I was fighting a true world champion with a lot of experience. Fighting for my first world title against Bernard Hopkins taught me how to be prepared and stay focused on the big stage. There are a lot of distractions that can come up in a big fight and you have to stay with your game plan. Probably the most important thing I got from Bernard was improving by defense. Bernard is a very clever fighter as he knows all of the tricks in the book.
By 2007 you had two exciting battles against Kelly Pavlik in which you unfortunately were defeated. Had you or your team considered looking for a third fight against Pavlik after your rematch was unsuccessful?
Well at that point is was about going back to the drawing board. Fighting Kelly Pavlik for a third fight was something that was not discussed at the time.
Was it during these two encounters that you realized making the middleweight limit was becoming more difficult and that you didn’t have the strength that you were accustomed to having?
Actually before the Pavlik fight it was becoming more and more difficult for me to make 160 pounds. Remember the second fight against Kelly was at a catch weight. I’m a super middleweight and I’m comfortable at this weight.
Now you have come full circle and began working again with Nelson. What prompted the change in trainers?
As I mentioned before, when it came to fight time with Emanuel we were not clicking in the corner. In reality Ozell has always been with me, so it’s not like he’s new in my corner.
Late last year you won your first fight at 168 with a convincing unanimous decision over Jeff Lacy. How did you feel in your first outing against Lacy at the increased weight?
I felt very strong and comfortable at 168. That’s my weight, I have the size and body frame to carry 168 very easily and be effective.
You now have a chance to win a world title in a different weight class when you take on Carl Froch for the WBC super middleweight title. How has your training camp been going under Nelson?
We are on schedule with my training; I’m peaking at just the right time. I’m training in Miami where I started as a professional. I’m in a familiar environment which helps in my preparation. I’m very comfortable here.
What do you know about Froch?
I really did not know who he was, but he is a world champion and you have to respect that and he has something that I want.
Froch has been vocal in the media saying that you would not have taken the fight if it were to have taken place in England. Would you have fought Froch in England?
It’s not about fighting in England, it is about economics. It was about business. We will both make more money fighting here in the US.
Froch has also been quoted as saying, “I’ve had my fair share of difficult fights. But, honestly, I’ve never been in a hard fight. What I mean is, I’ve never been in a fight where I didn’t feel that I was in control, I wasn’t dominating and didn’t think I was going to win.” What is your response?
I’m not a trash talker or one that likes to make predictions. My plans are to become super middleweight champion on Saturday night.
Froch boxes in and out and is fast. Knowing that styles make fights, how will you combat his style?
I’m not going to give away my game plan, but I’m prepared to make any adjustments if needed. I disagree with you though because I don’t think he’s that fast and he has not fought anyone with my skill set.
Do you see any weaknesses in his boxing abilities?
Carl has a few weaknesses in his boxing abilities which I will expose during the fight. Carl has not yet lost a fight and I am ready to teach him how to lose.
Your opponent also says that you don’t present him with too many problems. He said, “I will say he’s experienced against top level opposition. He hasn’t been dominant at the world level. He’s had a couple of split decisions, he’s had a draw. I’m not worried. I’m really not.” Do you think Froch should be worried?
Yes, I think Carl should be very worried.
Do you have any other words for your fans at FightNews?
I appreciate all the support I have gotten from FightNews fans and hope that they continue to support me.
Do you have any final thoughts for Carl Froch?
The party is over.
The SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecast will air live from MGM Grand Theater at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods this Saturday night.
The fight card is being co-promoted by DiBella Entertainment and Hennessy Sports.
Tickets are on sale now and priced at $200, $100, $75 and $50.
Tickets are available at http://www.mgmatfoxwoods.com, your local Ticket Master and MGM Grand Box Office 866-646-0609.