Before we begin, let's remove the names from the following equation to protect the innocent (or guilty). A young fighter comes up the ranks in the conventional way -- slowly, surely, and with the right injection of quality journeymen, former champions on the downside of their careers, and fellow prospects tossed in the mix from time to time.
Four years into this process, a championship fight is secured. Now the fun begins. This young fighter wins the title over a certified future Hall of Famer. He defends it successfully for the first time against this same fighter, and then does the same via a 12-round draw against a former world champion who also has a pretty good case for a slot in Canastota. His next two defenses are over former world titleholders who are also southpaws.
Yet there is no love for Jermain Taylor, a man who won the undisputed middleweight championship from Bernard Hopkins in 2005, defended it against Hopkins again in a rematch, fought to a disputed draw with Winky Wright, and then won 12-round decisions over former super welterweight titleholder Kassim Ouma, and former 147- and 154-pound champ Cory Spinks.
In 20 years, when you look back at that résumé, you will mutter to yourself "Damn, that was pretty impressive." But for now, Taylor is crucified from coast to coast for not decisively turning back the ageless Hopkins and the smaller Wright, Ouma and Spinks.
And while there should be criticism for the amateurish mistakes Taylor still makes in the ring, when it comes down to it, if he's still so green, how come experienced former world champions can't make him pay? Surely veteran tricksters like Hopkins and Wright had something in their substantial tool boxes to beat Taylor with ease. And where was Ouma's 100-punches-per-round output against a supposedly robotic Taylor or the brilliance Spinks had shown against the likes of Ricardo Mayorga and Zab Judah in their first bout when he faced the Little Rock native?
I'm still waiting for the answer.
So when the above questions are greeted with silence, maybe there is something to be said for the 29-year-old former Olympian, who, ironically, will be given more credit if he clearly beats or stops unbeaten Kelly Pavlik this weekend in Atlantic City than for his previous five fights combined.
And Pavlik, while talented and a rising star in the game, certainly doesn't have a résumé that compares with that of those Taylor has already turned back in defense of his title. Pavlik's first 22 foes are nondescript, with the exception of "The Contender" Season 2 winner Grady Brewer. Since then, he has beaten fighters who were at their best at 154 pounds (a common criticism of Taylor): Ross Thompson and Bronco McKart, tough but limited Jose Luis Zertuche; and two fighters who quickly jumped to super middleweight after fighting Pavlik, as making 160 pounds was not an option any longer: Fulgencio Zuniga and Edison Miranda.
He is an exciting knockout artist, though, and a conventional one at that. You won't see Taylor looking perplexed at having to figure out the wily Hopkins or the southpaw stylings of Wright and Spinks while wondering why the frenetic Ouma suddenly became relatively docile when the bell rang against him when he faces Pavlik, who will come right at him and look to knock him out.
It's the perfect style matchup for Taylor, and to many, this fight will determine whether the champion has been a well-promoted, well-marketed and well-protected bust, or if he is the real deal. It's mind-boggling to be honest, especially when you look at the mythical pound-for-pound rankings and compare Taylor's reign since 2005 to the early reigns of those currently taking up space there (and no, in the current pound-for-pound rankings of The Ring magazine, Taylor is not among the top 10).
The current boss at the top of the pound-for-pound ranks is Floyd Mayweather Jr., who won his first title in 1998 at 130 pounds by beating a legitimate champion in Genaro Hernandez. His first defense was against a solid contender in Angel Manfredy, and was then followed by defenses over average Carlos Rios, Justin Juuko and Carlos Gerena. Pretty Boy Floyd's next prolonged reign was at lightweight, where he beat a good champion in Jose Luis Castillo, defended it against the Mexican in a rematch, and then beat average contenders Victoriano Sosa and Phillip Ndou.
Philippine icon Manny Pacquaio sits atop many pound-for-pound lists, but his early reigns at flyweight, super bantamweight and super featherweight didn't set the world on fire either. He lost his flyweight crown in his second defense, fought decent but not earth-shattering competition at 122 pounds (Lehlo Ledwaba, Agapito Sanchez, Jorge Julio, Fahprakorb Rakkiatgym and Emmanuel Lucero) and while he hasn't won the world title at 130 pounds, if you look at his résumé since beating Erik Morales in their 2006 rematch, he has beaten a faded Morales in their rubber match, a faded Oscar Larios, and unbeaten but untested Jorge Solis. He will fight another former foe with a short shelf life in previous victim Marco Antonio Barrera on Oct. 6.
Two men Taylor has gone 36 rounds with, beating one twice and drawing with the other, are also on the list: Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright. When Hopkins won his middleweight title by beating Segundo Mercado in 1995 and then began a decade-long reign of terror that was ended by Taylor, his first four defenses were against nondescript names Steve Frank and Bo James, unbeaten but raw Joe Lipsey (who retired after the fight) and former world champion John David Jackson (who entered the fight having lost two of his previous five fights and was coming off a loss to 9-6 Abdullah Ramadan five months earlier). As for Wright, who garnered no sympathy for his draw with Taylor after sitting on a supposed lead in the final round, his first reign at 154 pounds held the man he won the title from Bronco McKart, along with Ensley Bingham, Steve Foster and Adrian Dodson, before he lost the title to the most talented name of the bunch, unbeaten Harry Simon. His second reign wasn't any more distinguished as he beat Robert Frazier for the vacant title and followed that up with wins over Jason Papillion, Bronco McKart, JC Candelo and Angel Hernandez. Yet Wright, whose only win in his last three fights is over an over-the-hill Ike Quartey, still makes the pound-for-pound list.
In fact, going down the rest of the list, where Israel Vazquez's first 122-pound run as champion and Rafael Marquez 118-pound run were hit-and-miss in terms of top-notch, world-class opposition, and Joe Calzaghe's initial defense list (like much of his reign) is laughable at best, only Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto compare in quality to Taylor. Once Hatton took the IBF junior welterweight title from Kostya Tszyu, he defended it against current or former world champions Carlos Maussa and Jose Luis Castillo, unbeaten up-and-comer Juan Urango, and is next fighting future Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather Jr. And that's not including a win in between over welterweight titlist Luis Collazo. As for Cotto, after beating unproven Kelson Pinto to win the 140-pound crown, he defended his title against former or future champions Randall Bailey, DeMarcus Corley and Ricardo Torres, as well as former Olympic gold medalist Mohammad Abdullaev. Sure, Corley and Bailey were past their primes, but they were still quality foes. At welterweight, the Boricua Bomber hasn't missed a beat, winning the vacant crown against Carlos Quintana, and beating perennial contender Oktay Urkal and former two-division champ Zab Judah. Next up for him is superstar Shane Mosley.
Taylor's name is nowhere to be found, though. And who knows the reasoning behind such a decision. Maybe it's because that jarring left jab and follow-up right cross have replaced any sort of combination punching. Maybe it's because he didn't convincingly beat a 40-year-old man over 24 rounds or knock out smaller fighters Wright, Ouma or Spinks. Maybe people just don't like his promoter, Lou DiBella, his trainer, Emmanuel Steward, the fact that he isn't as accessible as some of the other big names in the sport, or that he has been allowed to grow up on HBO.
Who knows the real reason, but when personal feelings go out the door and everything is spelled out and revealed in black-and-white terms, there's no doubt that Taylor's reign hasn't been the disaster most deem it to be. In fact, even though his 27-0-1 record has its share of question marks in terms of fighting carefully picked opposition, the wins (and the one draw) he has over world-class competition in his last five fights can't be dismissed, especially when you compare him to his peers at the top of the game.
Has he won ugly? Sure. But when the 1980 Cleveland Browns made a habit of winning (and losing) the close ones, they were immortalized as The Kardiac Kids. Taylor, on the other hand, is ridiculed for razor-thin verdicts with Hopkins, Wright and Spinks. When it comes down to it, if Taylor knocks out Pavlik on Saturday, he will be a hero on Sunday, despite Pavlik being the least accomplished name on his championship ledger.
Funny game, boxing.