Mr. Kronk Moves On By Steve Kim
What was speculated about just seconds after Jermain Taylor's uneven run as the middleweight champion of the world was ended by Kelly Pavlik on September 29th, was made official a couple of weeks ago, as noted trainer Emanuel Steward - who was brought in to work with Taylor beginning with his bout with Winky Wright last June - would no longer be working with Taylor, who is preparing for his February 16th rematch with Pavlik.
Not getting the most out of Taylor's immense physical tools had been a frustrating experience for the trainer who helped create the assembly line of champions that came out of the fabled Kronk Gym in Detroit.
"Definitely, it is THE most frustrating experience, but it's not one thing you can put your finger on," he would tell Maxboxing last week. "I think the most important thing was a series of bad opponents, and even in that case it's hard to point your finger at any one person. It just happened because that's the way the business is."
During his run with Taylor, they faced Winky Wright, Kassim Ouma, Cory Spinks and Pavlik. That's three southpaws and one murderous puncher in consecutive bouts. In each subsequent fight, which came off two questionable decisions against Bernard Hopkins, Taylor’s stock would plummet, along with his marketability as one of the game's supposed stars.
Perhaps only Britney Spears has received worse career guidance as of late.
"Winky Wright was like a mandatory when that was made. The other fights, sometimes guys were just tied up with promoters, which made it difficult to make fights," Steward would point out. "But regardless of what the bottom line was, it was just a series of bad opponents, style-wise, that made it very difficult to balance him out and teach him and develop him as a fighter."
What frustrated Steward the most is that he never really got to work with Taylor on a full-time basis.
"Fighting two times a year is not good for any fighter, especially a developing fighter," says Steward. "But also in Jermain's case, he always trained and got in good shape and up until his last fight he kept his title by basically being able to fight good in the last rounds. In this case, it's not one thing. It just didn't work.
"But I can never point my finger and say he didn't train, he didn't do this, because he did. He trained and was in good shape. And that's why we decided to just leave in a nice, friendly way."
You can just hear the frustration in Steward’s voice. He still seems mystified as to why he couldn't bring about more improvement in Taylor. From a physical standpoint, Taylor seemed like the prototypical Kronk fighter, one that is big, strong, athletic and with a bit of a mean streak. But perhaps too many bad habits were ingrained in Little Rock - which doesn't have nearly the gym culture of Detroit. You can take Taylor out of Little Rock, but you can get the Little Rock out of Taylor, it seems.
In the aftermath of Taylor's knockout loss to Pavlik, it seemed everyone was in a rush to blame Steward for the loss, which is natural. In this game, when the fighter loses, it's usually the trainer that gets thrown under the bus. And Steward, who is prone to hyperbole and self-aggrandizement at times, can make himself an easy and convenient target. It didn't help that others who worked with Taylor, namely Lou DiBella, did everything they could to deflect blame from themselves and tried everything in their power to put it all on him. Survival was the name of the game here.
Who knows, but maybe if Taylor faces Edison Miranda in May - instead of the crafty Spinks - there would have been no public pressure or mandate to face Pavlik when they did. By giving Pavlik the opportunity to knock out Miranda, they opened the door for him to become the people's choice, the WBC's mandatory challenger and even more importantly, HBO's top choice as Taylor's next foe.
It says here that Steward not being able to improve and nurture a prizefighter is like Bill Polian not being able to rebuild a football team, Chef Gordon Ramsay failing to turn around a restaurant, Dr. Dre being unable to produce a platinum album for a slumping artist, and Ty Pennington and Co. not being able to renovate a house.
Don't believe me? Just look at the track record: Oliver McCall, Evander Holyfield, Kermit Cintron and Lennox Lewis, among others. No, he isn't batting a thousand, but he's far above 'the Mendoza Line'. Perhaps this failed union says more about the fighter than the trainer. Maybe, just maybe, he's not quite as good as HBO and the yokels in the Arkansas media wanted us to believe.
And whispers are that Taylor isn't exactly what you'd call a student of the game. He may like what boxing brings him, fame and fortune, but he doesn't exactly relish what goes into it.
"I don't want to get into that," said Steward when that topic is broached. "Everybody is different. Every fighter's different. And to some degree, even Tommy Hearns didn't really like to watch fights. We'd have a fight come up, Tommy would say, 'When do you start training?' and 'How much am I getting?' And that was it. And we'd start training. He liked to train. Tommy in his prime would only train 30 days, that's because he was fighting regularly. And he was very, very happy with that.
"And then you got some guys who like to just stay in the gym all year and train. Tommy was not that way. Tommy wouldn't even watch fights, much. He would occasionally go to a fight. He goes to more things now than he did when he was fighting. But that was just his style."
Now, Steward, focuses in on his four horsemen - IBF heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, middleweight prospect Andy Lee, cruiserweight Jonathan Banks and IBF welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron, who fights this Friday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles against Jesse Feliciano.
In many ways he's relieved to be moving on without Taylor.
"To some degree I am because there are a lot of other good fighters and I have more control over who they fight and the destiny of their careers," he says. "Things are a lot easier. So right now my full focus is on Kermit Cintron, Jonathan, Andy and that's where my focus will be."
Last week, both Lee and Banks scored early knockouts in non-televised bouts.
"And it's easier because they all like to train with Wladimir. So all four of those guys are like a team and they're all anxious to get back together to train, and in February it'll be easier for me because I have Kermit, Andy, Jonathan and Wladimir between the 2nd and 23rd all fighting. Jermain works more by himself, where the rest of the other four guys all like to train together."
Cintron, should he down Feliciano as expected, will face Paul Williams in a unification bout on February 2nd. Later that month, it's widely speculated that Klitschko will engage in his own unification tilt against Sultan Ibragimov. After Cintron's bout this Friday, Steward and his crew of fighters are headed down to Florida to begin another training camp.
While he loses one former middleweight champion, he believes that Lee is a future middleweight champion. The 23-year old Irishman moved to 13-0, by stopping Marcus Thomas in one round last week in Plymouth, Michigan.
"I thought this fight, I was told by everybody that we'd definitely be going at least four to ten rounds. I was just very amazed by the knockout," says Steward of Lee's latest performance. "We're trying to match him with guys who are going to stretch him out. So the next fight I think he's fighting Corey Johnson. He's a solid fighter and then we're hoping to have an HBO show or whatever, right after the first of the year, and one of the guys he wants to fight is Giovanni Lorenzo or even Joe Greene, one of those type guys."
According to Steward, Lee can be put on the fast track in 2008.
"It’s because of the amateur background he had, which is very extensive, and also the fact that he's boxing so much in training camp with the best boxers in the world: Cintron, Jonathan, Wladimir, and Jermain, so that means a lot when compared to some guys who are never near that type of situation," explains Steward. "Andy's been traveling with me all around the world, even when I'm doing HBO broadcasts. Whatever city I'm in, he usually goes to the gym and tries to box with the best boxers there, so I think that has made up for a lot of shortcomings. I feel compared to what's out there, it's not like you're talking about a Marvin Hagler or Ray Robinson or someone who's dominating the championship. Considering the fighters who are out there today, he can very easily win a championship at the end of 2008."
Who knows, maybe he could face a guy by the name of Jermain Taylor.
FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
It's been a while since a major pay-per-view show took place on a Friday night. The last one I can recall was in March of 2000 when Felix Trinidad battled David Reid. There used to be a time when many - if not most - of the biggest cards took place during the week.
"Now that they're on pay-per-view, they're on Saturday because that's the night most people are typically available," explained Kathy Duva, whose company, Main Events, is promoting Vargas-Mayorga, which is being distributed by Showtime. "Particularly on the west coast where it's three hours earlier when the fights start. You would be a little nervous in a normal situation about being on a Friday night and starting your show at six o'clock on the west coast because there's such strong interest on the west coast.
"But this is Thanksgiving Friday, everybody’s home, andmost people are off. It's like a Saturday."
Saturdays have become a pay-per-view staple.
"It's become the normal course of events," Duva would say. "Saturday night there really isn't that much on television. Back in those days we used to do them on Monday nights because that was the only night the arenas and the movie theaters where they showed closed-circuit were available."
This show begins at seven, and is helped locally by the fact that USC plays Arizona State on Thanksgiving and the Lakers are on a road trip. But according to Duva, ticket sales haven't been affected all that much by the postponement of the original September 8th date. At that point, they had around a million dollars in the box-office.
"It's interesting, we really didn't go backward," she says. "We're at where we were then. So we're hoping that the walk-up is going to be there as it would've been. What was really remarkable about this is that when the cancellation happened, very few people returned their tickets."
A flurry of press releases came out on Tuesday with some interesting news. Ricky Hatton and Co. will come to the States this Friday as he heads down the home stretch of his preparations for this December 8th hook-up with Floyd Mayweather. The British are coming!!!...Another press release announced that Kelly Pavlik has been cleared for full contact on both his hands. However, he has been advised to stay away from windows....The December 6th telecast on Versus will feature a pair of super welterweight bouts in Yuri Foreman-Andrey Tsurkan and Sergio Martinez-Ossie Duran....The December 20th edition will feature an IBF welterweight eliminator between Joshua Clottey and Shamone Alvarez.
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