LAS VEGAS – It's a boxing show promoted by Bob Arum and, not surprisingly, someone trotted out the infamous "Yesterday, I was lying; today, I'm telling the truth," line that has haunted Arum throughout his 40-plus years in the business.
But this time, it's former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor's veracity that is being questioned, not Arum's.
That's because the key to his reversing the outcome in his rematch on Saturday with Kelly Pavlik at the MGM Grand Garden may hinge on his ability to explain why what he said on Tuesday, and not in September, is true.
Pavlik knocked Taylor out in the seventh round of a bout he was trailing on all three judges' cards on Sept. 29 in Atlantic City, N.J.
Five rounds earlier, it was Taylor who nearly scored the dramatic knockout, but he says now that he didn't have the stamina to finish the job. After what he says was a grueling training camp, he says he'll have the stamina to do what he needs to do this time around. "I feel great," Taylor said Tuesday after breezing through a light workout in a nearly deserted arena.
Only five months earlier, though, Taylor uttered the same three words under nearly identical circumstances. He sat in a ballroom at Caesars Atlantic City two days before the fight and went on and on about how good he felt.
It was a wonderful camp, Taylor said. He swore he felt good, despite only months earlier complaining about the rigors of making 160 pounds.
Losing the weight was no problem, he said, seemingly sincere. He said he had no regrets about turning down a potential bout with super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe, because he was in shape and ready to defend his belts against Pavlik.
"I feel great," Taylor said on that brilliant September afternoon, echoing words he'd repeat months later under dramatically different circumstances.
When he spoke those words in September, he was trying to explain why he'd win. When he repeated them on Tuesday, he was attempting to explain away his loss.
Unlike the scintillating first bout, the rematch will not be for a title and will be contested at weight limit of 166 pounds.
Who those extra six pounds will favor depends entirely upon which side the person you're asking is on.
Taylor promoter Lou DiBella said, "Obviously it favors us. No doubt about it. When Jermain took his shirt off at the weigh-in, the Pavliks were dancing because they saw how badly he looked. He had nothing."
That, however, was not the way that Cameron Dunkin, Pavlik's wily manager, saw it. He had no complaints when the Taylor camp insisted on the rematch being fought at 166 because he is convinced it favors Pavlik.
Pavlik's father, Mike, cooks for his son during training camp. Before the first fight, Mike Pavlik said, he had to be very careful of what he fed his son. Kelly Pavlik was frequently eating cabbage soup as he struggled to shed the pounds.
It broke the heart of his father, who admitted he likes nothing better than a good Italian meal.
"I used to have to go sneak to eat, because I felt so guilty eating in front of him," Mike Pavlik said.
But during camp for the rematch, Mike Pavlik said he cooked his son "anything he wants." The elder Pavlik said his son weighed only 163 pounds on Tuesday, when he went and stood in a line for 30 minutes for breakfast at an all-you-can-eat buffet at the MGM Grand, even though he could have had room service bring anything he wanted to his massive suite.
But because Pavlik is able to eat heartily, Dunkin believes it favors his man, one of the biggest punchers in the game.
"If I were them," Dunkin said of the Taylor camp, "I would want to be light and fast. The bigger he is, the slower he is and the easier he becomes for Kelly to hit."
Taylor insists he isn't worried about being knocked out again. His rationale for the loss – the first in his career after 27 wins and a fortunate draw – was that he got too used to the perks of being a champion and didn't train hard enough. When he had Pavlik down in the second, he wasn't able to land the punches he needed to end the fight because he was exhausted.
"I just got too comfortable," Taylor said. "Here it is, I'm world champ. Here comes a guy I'm supposed to beat and, who knows. I just got too comfortable."
He hit Pavlik with a thudding right above the ear in the second round, a punch that sent Pavlik staggering around the ring and then down to the mat. Pavlik's legs were so wobbly, and so much time remained in the round, that there seemed little chance he'd hear the bell for the third.
But he managed to hold Taylor off long enough to regain his equilibrium and somehow, through sheer force of will, got through the round on his feet.
Taylor says that was because he wasn't in good enough shape to do anything about it. "I think I was fighting a good fight, but I didn't have the endurance to keep it going," Taylor said.
This wasn't the first time Taylor has had difficulty with his conditioning. In his title-winning effort against 40-year-old Bernard Hopkins in 2005, Taylor built an early lead only to get tired and watch a man 14 years older than he come roaring back.
In September, he got the worst advice possible at the end of the sixth round when then trainer Emanuel Steward, erroneously, as it turns out, told him he was losing.
Steward made the comments in an attempt to motivate Taylor, but they turned out to dampen Taylor's motivation.
"Manny said I was losing the fight and I went, 'Damn,' " Taylor said. "I'm tired, I'm giving all I got and I don't know what to do. I went out and got caught with some good stuff that I never should have gotten caught with."
Taylor went on to discuss how what he said was his poor conditioning led to the closing sequence. If he gets Pavlik hurt this time, he said, he'll be able to finish the job. And if the fight reaches the second half, Taylor vows to continue to push the pace.
And he knows that his words in September came back to haunt him on this mid-February afternoon.
But, he said, evoking a certain Hall of Fame promoter, he was lying then. He's telling the truth now.
"I kind of feel ashamed to say, because I said the same thing last time, but believe it or not, that's what I'm saying," Taylor said. "I feel great."
- Jermain Taylor
- Kelly Pavlik