After a little worry among promoters and a little pleading from some sectors of the media to support Jermain Taylor, Central Arkansas showed up nicely for Taylor’s middleweight title defense against Kassim Ouma on Saturday at Alltel Arena. The 10,119 folks, who spent anywhere from $25 for the cheapest tickets to $600 for the ringside seats, accounted for more than a $1 million gate, and the third-largest-grossing event in Alltel Arena’s seven years, general manager Michael Marion told us. The Taylor-Ouma fight ranks right behind this year’s Rolling Stones concert and the Eagles show of a couple of years back.
Taylor and Ouma put on quite a show, though Taylor held a significant size advantage and for overall boxing skills was much the better for the 12 rounds.
The most fun came afterward, when the media room overflowed with Ouma’s and Taylor’s entourages and dozens of other hangers-on who didn’t need to be there with the working press.
The first interesting tit-for-tat was between HBO analyst Howard Lederman and a woman of New Yorkish persuasion who discussed the merits of the boxers. Lederman, if you’ve seen the HBO coverage of Taylor, obviously likes the Arkansan; the woman, we could sense, disliked him, and even tried to convince Lederman in her loud voice that Taylor fights dirty.
Lederman told her he scored the fight 12 rounds to zero, Taylor, at which she scoffed (the official judges’ scoring ranged from a low of 7-5 for Taylor from an Italian judge to 10-2 and 11-1 from the other two). The bickering between Lederman and the woman continued over whether Taylor had been head-butted (he was) or if Ouma had gotten in quality shots (rarely). The debate finally ended before I suggested they take it to the microphones and entertain the entire room while we waited for the fighters.
Ouma’s crowd came in happy at their man’s showing, and they later yelled at Taylor to take off the sunglasses he donned in the press conference, no doubt hiding a badly cut left eye. The biggest news from the challenger’s side: Not only was Ouma not KO’d as Taylor had predicted, he wasn’t knocked down. Apparently, that was as good as victory, or at least enough to merit a rematch with the champ, they thought. And, if he got that rematch, Ouma promised, he’d be knocking out the champ.
When the Ouma crowd couldn’t get in a question to Taylor (including Ouma himself taking a seat on the floor in front of the assembled media and raising his hand), a few of his Ugandan fans asked me to ask the question, and I obliged: Would Taylor and promoter Lou DiBella consider a rematch, and what was next for Taylor?
No to the rematch (“He headbutted Jermain, then whined all night, Jermain clearly won the fight, and there’s not going to be a rematch,” DiBella said) and “not sure” on what happens next. Taylor wants one more fight in the middleweight classification, but he’s having trouble making the 160-pound weight (and he clearly wasn’t 160 at the bell Saturday).
Ouma’s manager was proclaiming his fighter as the next great thing. Last we looked, Ouma didn’t knock down Taylor either. For 12 rounds, we mostly saw a lot of sweat flying off Ouma’s head after Taylor punches. Taylor bled most of the night from a head butt at the corner of his left eye, and Ouma was willing to chase Taylor around the ring.
If we didn’t know the opponent was Ouma, we’d have thought Taylor was going after Bernard Hopkins again, because his first five rounds looked identical to Taylor-Hopkins I. Taylor came out aggressive and got in some nice scoring punches, but he also swung wildly looking for a knockout. He would apologize for this afterward, but this marks three fights out of four he’s apologized for trying to do too much too early.
By round 6, Taylor had scaled back his attack, while Ouma had finally put the crowd out of his head, and was charging the champ with this jump-into-him style. By round 9, with his manager Emmanuel Steward’s advice, Taylor had an answer for the jump-in tactics — unleashing an uppercut, then another a few seconds later. That pretty well cinched it, and with the judges’ scores being announced after rounds 4 and 8 it let everyone know Taylor was in control. He coasted through the final three rounds, getting with it in the final seconds of each, but Ouma still kept coming back from Taylor combinations that would hurt most of us.
If there was a downside to Saturday, Taylor probably left more doubt among the national boxing elite (except for Howard Lederman) that he’s a great champion. He’s a good boxer, for sure, but without the power element and the ability to finish fights convincingly with a knockout against the top competition, he’s not going to be considered great. Still, we learned later that Taylor took home $3 million from the purse, with Ouma getting $500,000. Not a bad day’s work.
For the most part, fans got their money’s worth too with 12 rounds from Taylor, maybe the last time we’ll see him fight here with a title in hand, though the 3,000 people who walked up to the ticket window on Friday and Saturday kept Alltel Arena and the home crowd enticing to Taylor’s promotion team.