JR and Henry: JT has his work cut out for him
HBO recognized it very early. Jermain Taylor has Oscar De La Hoya potential. A young, good looking Olympian. A good person who comes across in a humble, non-assuming way. An athlete with unlimited potential. Rest assured, HBO very much wants Jermain Taylor to win and win convincingly on Saturday when he takes on Florida’s Ronald “Winky” Wright across the river in Memphis.
Before we talk about the fight though, big props to Lou DiBella and Team Taylor for taking on a challenge they didn't have to take. Taylor had every opportunity to do what Bernard Hopkins did early on and fight nobodies on HBO for good money for years and years. Or at least for the first few title defenses. Winky is on most boxing scribes' top 10 pound-for-pound list. Jermain didn't have to take this fight and he did anyway.
But there’s a reason this fight is not on pay-per-view. After two less than exciting 12-round boxing matches against the legendary middleweight champion Hopkins, a Taylor-Wright match-up probably looks to most like it’s setting up to be another technical, slow-paced affair. In other words, boring to those without a strong rooting interest like us.
The left-handed Wright (actually, he is naturally right-handed and only fights lefty) is known as much for his right jab as Jermain is for his left, and Winky’s defensive prowess is world class. HBO’s advertisement for the fight has commentator Jim Lamptley exclaiming in a past fight about Wright, “Who wants to take on the best defensive fighter in the sport?” And while defense may win championships, it doesn’t sell pay-per-view.
But count us among the ones who think this fight will have more punching than ducking, and will turn out to be a crowd-pleaser for those who are fans of boxing and not just of the boxers involved. There are several reasons why this is true.
First, Emanuel Steward has joined Team Taylor as his trainer, and Steward brings with him unparalleled experience in the corner of legendary fighters in legendary fights. He is regarded by some as the best trainer in the sport’s history, and by all among its best. Taylor’s previous trainer Pat Burns took Jermain to the mountaintop, but Steward may elevate him to the stars.
Add to the new influence the fact that Wright has never been known to have knock-out power, even in his most dominating performances. Steward knows that Winky hasn’t knocked anybody out since 1999. And now Wright takes on a fighter who has never been knocked down. Expect Steward to ask Jermain to be more aggressive and take chances that he might not be willing to take against a more powerful opponent, including using his left for more than just a jab. Taylor’s left hook could be a major weapon against the southpaw if it is unleashed without fear.
On the other side of the ring, Wright knows that he is just simply not marketable on a grand scale right now, and, unlike his opponent, his days as a prize fighter are fast dwindling. Winky has already fought 53 times, many coming overseas and far away from the limelight, and at 34, he probably has only a few big fights left. All those fights over all those years start to take their toll; just ask Erik Morales. Even if Winky won another slow, grinding affair, there would be little public interest in a rematch or in any other match he might take. His chance at big money is Saturday, and he knows that he must not only win but win in exciting fashion.
Plus, the first time Winky got a chance with a big-name opponent was when he fought a then rising star in Fernando Vargas. Wright lost a controversial 12-round decision in a fight where he was unexpectedly the aggressor from the opening bell. Expect Wright to come out on Saturday in a similar brawling mood.
All this helps Taylor. He will not out-technical Winky Wright. Taylor needs to use his strength and size to punish Wright and push him around the ring. While the Vargas fight was controversial, Vargas is a big, strong guy and was able to push Winky around at Winky’s natural weight of 154. Bear in mind that this will only be the third fight Wright has fought as a 160-pound middleweight. Taylor has known no other class and is the naturally bigger man, and he is in fact is one of the strongest middleweights in recent memory.
We only have one request. We know nobody’s going to listen, but we’re going to make it anyway. Please, please no hog calls. Or at least only during introductions or when Jermain wins. Sure, anytime you get 10 Razorback fans in the same room and add a little beer, odds are a hog call is going to break out. And we love to call the hogs at games where they’re actually playing, and we know that Jermain loves the hogs and we love that about him. But not every round for heaven’s sake.
So, without further adieu, it’s prediction time. On Saturday, we expect an entertaining fight involving the champion Taylor and the hungry Wright. However, in the end, Taylor’s power will be too much for an aggressive Wright fighting a style he does not favor. Our prediction is Taylor in a ninth-round knockout. And HBO couldn’t be happier.
J.R. and Henry blog this sports column twice a week on Little Rocking.