For a performance in which Jermain Taylor landed 48 percent of his punches to Jeff Lacy’s 17, this comeback win and super middleweight (168 lbs.) debut for Taylor was strangely underwhelming. He started off nervous before finding an incredible rhythm. He got decked legitimately in the one round he lost, even if the ref didn’t see it that way. Then he tied up a bunch, apparently worried about getting decked again, and by the end of the fight looked like he was beginning to tire.
It was the best and worst of Taylor, all wrapped up in one. There’s a ready excuse, for anyone feeling generous: “It’s all about getting your confidence back,” Taylor said afterward, answering questions about his back-to-back losses to Kelly Pavlik. “This fight was a confidence builder.” Whatever one’s generosity level, I do suspect it was enough to get him a major fight and try to re-establish himself as one of the top men in all of boxing, and from that standpoint, it counts as a success.
In all honesty, my generosity level is feeling a little low. Taylor had Lacy, himself a former star trying to reestablish his brand, in serious trouble in the 3rd. Coming in to this fight, I expected Taylor to score a fairly early knockout, and it looked like that was about to happen. Surely, that Taylor couldn’t finish off a wobbly Lacy is a tribute to the kind of toughness Lacy has, even the diminished version of Lacy who’s kind of like an undead version of his old self. But once again, Taylor had an opponent badly hurt and couldn’t finish him off, much as he couldn’t finish off Pavlik early in their first battle.
But Taylor was looking good enough that I was daydreaming about him fighting the likes of Mikkel Kessler, the division king, and thinking Taylor looked really comfy at super middleweight. Then two rounds later, he was coasting so much he slipped up mentally and got caught with the only remaining punch in Lacy’s arsenal, a big right hook to the head. That’s it — Lacy doesn’t punch to the body, he doesn’t throw uppercuts, his jab is virtually useless and the “Left Hook” that gave him his nickname hasn’t been seen for ages. Taylor tumbled to the ground after the punch. The ref didn’t score it a knockdown. Why not? Because the referee was Laurence Cole, the worst big-fight ref in the world of boxing, whose presence drew an audible “oh no” from me at the fighter introductions.
Taylor, who tried to play it off like it was just a little stumble, proceeded to tie up Lacy for the next several rounds, his former scintillating offensive performance — perfect jabs, beautiful combos — reduced to an ugly series of wrestling moves, betraying that he was back to being nervous. He still could hit Lacy at will, since defense was never the part of boxing he was good at, before or after his apparently ruinous beat down from Joe Calzaghe or the career-crippling shoulder injury in his very next fight. Lacy never quit, but he couldn’t connect on an opponent who only had to be on the lookout for one real punch and spent the rest of the fight holding him anyway. Final result: Comprehensive decision victory for Taylor.
As I said, maybe someone else is feeling more generous than I am and wants to see this as a brilliant performance by Taylor. There was much there to praise. Me? I don’t write it off to a “confidence-builder.” I think Taylor has established what he is with his repeated uneven performances: A fighter with excellent athleticism and fighting pride who shows flashes of putting it all together but rarely for more than the occasional stretches. That’ll be sufficient to get him a quality opponent and maybe even enough to beat any number of whatever quality opponents he faces. But I see too much of what’s wrong with Taylor to be much more than frustrated with the fact that he doesn’t put it together as often as he could or should.
Next for the winner: Taylor’s team wants Joe Calzaghe next, but I think his confidence, if it ever can be fully “restored,” would need to be all the way back up to the top of the gauge before he took on someone like that. I’d like to see him take the winner of Carl Froch-Jean Pascal for one of the alphabet title belts, which he’s entitled to as the mandatory challenger. And if he looks good there, I think Kessler-Taylor would still be a real peach of a donnybrook.
Next for the loser: One of the most frustrating lines of thought about Jeff Lacy is that he was “overrated” before he fought Calzaghe. Yeah? Who overrated him? Presumably a bunch of people who saw him tear through every top-10 super middleweight he could get his hands on, none exactly world class boxers but still the best he even had the option to fight. The Jeff Lacy who fought tonight is not the same Jeff Lacy before Calzaghe and the shoulder injury. His old bouts pop up on ESPN Classic from time to time, and I’ve watched a few recently, so this isn’t rose-colored lenses — he looks faster, hits harder and throws great combinations prior to 2006. Calzaghe was underrated, and as it turns out, Lacy’s style was made for him. But this is just some pet peeve I’m discussing. The fact is, Lacy’s not very good anymore. His power spurts, guts and name are enough to make him a credible-ish dreaded “opponent” to someone, if he wants another decent paycheck. The alternative, which is to fight his way back to the top by winning smaller fights and proving that he can get back to where he once was, just isn’t plausible to me. Taylor has a new beginning. Lacy’s career from here on out really only points down.