Taylor, Lacy face Olympian challenge to career if a boxing loser

Nov 11, 2008 5:08 PM

Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz |

They were roommates at the 2000 Olympics, but that doesn’t make them close friends. There will be little amity when Jermain Taylor and Jeff Lacy meet in closer proximity next Saturday night on HBO.

Cohabitation does not necessarily mean lasting affection – look at the divorce rate. Besides, there is no way we can judge those fierce arguments about who left the cap off the tube of toothpaste.

Crossroads fight? You bet, especially since one road leads to boxing limbo. A loss here would be career-shattering.

It’s hard to believe, perhaps, for us close observers, but somewhere both Taylor and Lacy lost their way – and their youth. Taylor, the former middleweight champion who is coming off consecutive losses to Kelly Pavlik, is now 30. Lacy, who lost his slice of the supermiddleweight title to Joe Calzaghe in March 2006, is now 31.

The odds favor Taylor, rather too generously. He is somewhere around 5-1 or 6-1 with Lacy at the appropriate 7-2 or 9-2 buyback rate. There is great hesitancy to pile the money on Taylor, even though he has by far the glitzier resume.

First, the scheduled 12-round fight, set for 168 pounds, is at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. I knew a guy who went to Vanderbilt. He was such a low-life scab that I always root for Tennessee in their traditional rivalry game.

It is a division that Lacy has inhabited since turning pro. He is the naturally bigger, and I suspect, stronger man. Lacy obviously is the harder puncher, too.

Taylor moved to 168 for his contractually ordered rematch with Pavlik and did look a lot stronger than he had when he succumbed by seventh-round knockout by his rival at 160. But again, his punching power was suspect.

In fact, except for the knockdown of Pavlik in their first fight – when Kelly dropped his hands to taunt Taylor – he has been more Judy than Punch. Never mind his two gift victories over Bernard Hopkins – nobody hurts B-Hop. Or his lucky draw with Winky Wright. Ditto.

But in defending the 160-pound title against a couple of junior middleweights, Cory Spinks (Taylor was lucky to get that decision, too) and Kassim Ouma, he showed an alarming lack of power.

Now he is coming off a nine-month layoff, the longest of his career, and for the second straight fight, will be led into the ring by Ozell Nelson, his surrogate father and amateur trainer. Taylor accomplished a lot under the aegis of Pat Burns, but Nelson forced a split and the team hired Emanuel Steward, a Hall of Fame trainer who apparently did not quite fit.

The edge in corners has to go to Lacy, who is still with his longtime trainer, Dan Birmingham – twice elected Trainer of the Year – and notably linked to Wright.

But Lacy has no grip on my affections in this meeting. He looked like an animal coming up, but then he was rather brutally tamed by Joe Calzaghe 3½ years ago.

Lacy took a beating that would shatter the confidence of most fighters and in his three starts since, he has not looked brilliant in barely outpointing Vitali Tsypko, Peter Manfredo Jr. and Epifanio Mendoza.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone can win this fight. Resisting the temptation to look for a line on a draw, I lean towards the bigger puncher, which I believe is Lacy. Nelson and Pavlik said they spent quite a bit of time studying Jermain’s losses to Pavlik and concluded he was too easy to hit with right hands.

I am troubled, of course, by Lacy’s inability to handle Calzaghe’s fast hands and boxing skills. But Taylor, while more formidable a puncher than the Welshman, is not exactly Willie Pep when it comes to the Sweet Science.

I think it’s going the distance – the odds are about 8-5 it goes over the 10½ round "go" limit – and it will be a close decision. It probably would be better to keep your wallet in your pocket on this one, but hey, I’m paid big bucks to make picks, so at the current odds, the pick is Lacy.

Meanwhile, in London next week, David Haye, the former cruiserweight king with great power and much less of a chin, is like a 7-1 favorite over old warhorse Monte Barrett. That is just silly. Barrett can punch, especially against a questionable catcher.