By Derek Bonnett: There are so many labels in the boxing game. We have champions and belt holders. There are contenders and fringe contenders. Then there are prospects and gatekeepers. Eventually, we get down journeymen and trialhorses. Where a boxer is categorized is often a fine line and sometimes the labels are obscured. On April 20, Jermain Taylor, a former world champion, 29-4-1 (18), continues his comeback against unbeaten prospect Caleb Truax. Just 1-0 (1) after a two-year layoff following back to back KO defeats, Jermain Taylor is the favored fighter.
The question I am surprised more people aren’t asking is, why? Truax, 28, is unbeaten 18-0-1 (10). He’s been the distance plenty of times and holds victories over Andy Kolle and Kerry Hope. Hope recently went on to defeat unbeaten middleweight contender Grzegorz Proksa by decision. It’s not my intention to market Truax as some beast incapable of defeat, but remind everyone that Taylor, 33, left the sport because his health was a primary concern after losing late round KOs to Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham. Does a two year layoff and a TKO victory over Jessie Nicklow erase all of this?
Minnesota’s Truax will be the man across the ring from Taylor at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi on April 20. The crossroads bout will either put the final nail in the coffin of Taylor or prove Truax was just another middle of the road boxer from the second or third tier of the sport. However, this was not the first time Truax’s name came up from the Taylor camp.
"I was offered the Taylor’s first comeback fight in December, but passed on it because there was no telling what fighter would show up after a two-year layoff," Truax stated. "After his fight with Nicklow, they offered me the fight again and this time, with his previous fight to study, we decided it was a good fight this time around."
During his prime, Taylor was arguably one of boxing’s bravest champions, taking on Bernard Hopkins (twice), Winky Wright, Kassim Ouma, Cory Spinks, and Kelly Pavlik (twice) in successive bouts. Then, after a decision over Jeff Lacy, the Froch and Abraham losses called for Taylor’s retirement. Truax has the utmost respect for Taylor’s ledger.
"I’ll be the first to tell you I’ve never fought anyone in the class of Taylor," Truax admitted. "He’s a former world champ and I respect that. That being said, I have fought some quality opponents that have given me different looks and I have many hard rounds under my belt. At this stage in my career, I’m up to the challenge of this step up."
When Taylor’s name comes up, it’s hard not to conjure images of him sprawled and twitching on the canvas against Froch and Abraham once his gas tank and chin failed him.
"I’m well aware of his previous defeats, but I can’t dwell on any of them," Truax cautioned. "I have to prepare for the Jermain Taylor that was the undisputed middleweight champ, and be ready to face the man that defeated B-Hop twice."
A wise move from the rising contender. Too often the circumstances surrounding one fighter impedes the preparations of another. In truth, this is by far Truax’s biggest fight and without a victory, it could be his last of this caliber.
"This camp went very well," Truax stated. "I have had plenty of time to prepare and I am feeling sharp and well-conditioned. I have been getting quality sparring from guys who are stylistically similar to Taylor so I can be ready for what he has to offer up on fight night. In my view, it is the ultimate resume builder because I get the opportunity to knock off a former world champ. I do realize that it is being billed as Taylor’s next comeback fight on the way back to a title. It’s just up to me to spoil that plan."
One would be remiss when discussing Truax-Taylor if only Taylor’s previous layoff became a topic of discussion. While Taylor may have only just broken a two-year layoff in December, Truax himself has not fought since his May 2011 decision over Kolle.
"The layoff has been driving me insane. I have had a few fights fall through and nothing seemed to pan out over the last year," Truax explained. "I will show no rust though because I have stayed in the gym on the regular, and have continued to improve. Now, all that’s left to do is put everything together and come away with a big win on April 20."
Although less experienced, Truax is a fresh twenty-eight year old without heavy mileage over rough terrain on his chassis. He has shown progression throughout his most significant bouts and appears ready for his big opportunity. Taylor, on the other hand, is an old thirty-three. If Truax can initiate his game-plan and find his way on the inside, he can produce his best work. Taylor’s range will be his biggest obstacle, but can Taylor employ his plan with the same fervor he did four or five years ago?
I’m not betting the house, but expect to see Truax end the chapter on Jermain Taylor and begin penning his own in a very open second tier of the middleweight division.
April 10, 2012