An abundance of flaws — a bounty, a horn of plenty, a bumper crop — will be on display Saturday night on Showtime when Jermain Taylor fights Carl Froch, and I could care less. I quote myself once again: “Flaws are overrated.” In their last two fights, despite their multitudinous flaws, Froch and Taylor demonstrated they were super middleweights to be reckoned with. Froch’s last win, over Jean Pascal, also was a Fight of the Year finalist. Taylor made his successful super middleweight debut against Jeff Lacy in 2008, but the year before, Taylor was in his own Fight of the Year candidate when he lost the middleweight championship to Kelly Pavlik. So they can bring the mirth, too.
Because it’s such a good match-up — in my view, it has potential to be a quality, evenly-matched scrap — It’s kinda weird that HBO didn’t want this fight, after the way they nurtured Taylor and stuck by him even as he got so frustrating that his hometown of Little Rock, Ark. turned on him for a while. The British Froch, who is capable of frustrating the piss out of people, too — ask Joe Calzaghe, whom Froch has been loudly calling out for a long time in a way that clearly irritates the former great from Wales — just wasn’t well-known enough in America for HBO’s tastes, apparently. No big deal. Showtime always picks up the slack in fights like this, where the hardcore fans definitely know the fighter or fighters in question. Flaw corrected.
(Quick explanation of the headline: It’s a reference to one of the more amusingly dumb lyrics of the otherwise underestimated Mr. Justin Timberlake, as if uncut diamonds are flawless. Thus, it’s meant ironically. And if you’re judging me for knowing Justin Timberlake lyrics and liking him, you just don’t get pop music.)
I wasn’t convinced of Froch until the Pascal fight. I saw a boxer who held his hands too low not to get tagged and clobbered by a world class guy when he stopped beating up substandard or over the hill local fare. Pascal is a notch short of world class, but he’s borderline top-10 material in a very deep division. Sure enough, Pascal tagged him plenty. But Froch stood up to it, and did a bunch of his own tagging, too. Behind this mouthy, unproven Brit who behaved like he thought he was the successor to Roy Jones, Jr. was a real fighter. He’s not as talented as he thinks, Froch, and that’s still kind of annoying, but he won me over with his will to win against Pascal.
Froch’s heart makes up for many of his flaws, but it’s not the only tool he has. A little more on those flaws: His defense is terrible — he must think his reflexes are good enough that he can leave his chin exposed like that, but he’s wrong, he’s been proven wrong time and again, and there’s something comical, dangerous and admirable all at once about his stubborn refusal to recognize that he is no Jones-like specimen who can dodge punches with uncanny timing. His punches don’t look right, although perhaps it’s because they come from long arms that dangle below his waist at all times. And he makes strategic mistakes. He let the smaller Pascal get inside on him far too easily. On the plus side, he is fast, surprisingly so, and he hits hard, working his jab, left hook and straight right to stinging effect, sometimes doing in his opposition with one punch, albeit limited opposition. He is highly mobile and works angles well, too.
Taylor’s flaw is primarily one of concentration. Like Froch, he’s a real fighter. He wants to fight the best, and he’s always shown great heart in the ring. The problem is that mentally, something’s off. Against Lacy, he was having an easy go of it and began to coast a little, then Lacy landed a big shot and Taylor went down, even if the referee didn’t recognize it as a true knockdown. There’s also the fact that he lost two fights against Pavlik, which I don’t hold against him much considering that Pavlik’s really good, but Taylor said the losses affected his confidence. His confidence didn’t look all that good starting from 2005 on, though, the year of his rematch with Bernard Hopkins, when he seemed uncertain of himself at times. He has fought in an uncertain manner in practically every fight since. That uncertainty kept him from finishing off a wobbly Lacy, and kept him from finishing off a badly hurt Pavlik in their first fight, too.
Taylor remains an athletic specimen, and that, with his heart, helps him overcome said flaws. He’s fast and strong. He hasn’t scored a knockout since 2005, but look at the dudes he’s fought and you’ve got a whole array of men who don’t get knocked out, with only Cory Spinks having been knocked out in any of their own individual fights since 2005, and none of them ever really getting knocked out in their primes prior to that. Taylor hurt several of those men, no easy task. When Taylor is on his jab, he’s a very good fighter. Very good. I have him in my top-20 pound-for-pound. Love or hate how he did it, he’s beaten a ton of top-notch fighters. You don’t do that if you can’t fight some. If his confidence has been rebuilt — which he says it has, although you could make a fortune betting against fighters’ proclamations coming true — then he’s got the chance to be even better. He’s as comfortable with his current trainer as anyone he’s been with for a while, and he’s getting some stability with three straight bouts under his long-ago/once-again coach.
The variables that matter in this fight, to me, are: Who’s faster? I say Taylor, but not by much. Who hits harder? Tough to say since Taylor’s so unestablished at super middleweight, but as reliable as Taylor’s chin has been for the most part, he got wobbled by a faded Lacy, so I’m going to say that if anyone feels the punches the most, it’s going to be Taylor who feels what Froch hits him with. Less easy to answer is, what’s Taylor’s mental state like the night of the fight? There’s no way of knowing for sure. Hell, it can change midfight. If Taylor wavers, Froch is very much in the ballgame.
But it’s Froch’s biggest flaw that I think will be decisive, because it plays into Taylor’s strengths. Taylor is bigger than him, and fast, and has that shotgun, accurate jab. Froch’s response to getting hit is to hit back right away, and both men have that instinct; it’s why I think it’s going to be a good fight. At stake is the continued rebuilding of Taylor The Star, or the international recognition Froch craves, not to mention perhaps the #2 or #3 slot in a crowded division, so that will help make it a good fight, too. (Chance-that-it-sucks caveat: Both men are a little awkward, so there’s a chance their styles don’t mesh.) But Taylor’s slightly better speed, height and reach — and Froch’s terrible defense — will make it so Taylor will be able to land that jab a lot and not get hit back quite as often. What I envision is a fight that features stretches of Taylor controlling the action with his jab, bordered by stretches of wild brawling when one man gets ticked off that the other had the nerve to hit him. Flaws are overrated, but sometimes, as with Froch’s junk D, they can’t be overcome so easily. Taylor matches Froch in most ways and exceeds him in others, so heart isn’t good enough this time, especially because Taylor has major heart, too. I say Taylor pulls out the decision, but I won’t wager a guess on how close it is.