Jermain Taylor’s challenge of Sam Soliman for the IBF Middleweight Championship on Wednesday night in Biloxi, Mississippi, shows us just how serious the powers that be are about cleaning up the sport and protecting the fighters.
And the answer is: They aren’t.
Taylor, a former undisputed middleweight champion, has absolutely no business being in the ring at all, much less competing for a share of the 160-pound crown.
And all those who have put him into this position—through their action or inaction—should well and truly be ashamed of themselves.
Taylor’s recent medical history, his recent trouble with the law—per Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, he was recently arrested for allegedly shooting his cousin—and his ludicrous designation by the IBF as an acceptable challenger for the title all contribute to a fight that never should see the light of day.
Maybe. But that doesn’t make it a shred less true.
To say that Taylor’s best days are behind him is an understatement. The only reason he’s in this position is because he remains a name and works with Al Haymon.
He hasn’t even fought at middleweight—where the IBF has sanctioned him at No. 15 in their rankings—since dropping a championship rematch to Kelly Pavlik in 2007.
That’s a gap exceeding seven years, and it isn’t even the most ridiculous thing about this sordid affair.
At the height of his career, Bad Intentions was a fierce competitor who convinced many in the boxing world that he was the logical heir apparent to Bernard Hopkins’ reign of middleweight dominance.
A young, well-spoken kid from Little Rock, Arkansas, Taylor raced through the professional ranks after capturing a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, taking the middleweight title from Hopkins in 2005.
The decision was questionable—many felt Hopkins didn’t receive due credit for his technical mastery—and was repeated—also with a ton of controversy—five months later.
To this day, those remain the last significant and impressive wins of Taylor’s career.
His championship reign was marred by serious questions over scoring—earning him the less-than-endearing moniker “Bad Decisions”—and he was thumped by Kelly Pavlik in his last middleweight fight, dropping the title.
It all spiraled downhill from there.
Taylor decided to campaign full time at super middleweight, taking a decision from the remnants of Jeff Lacy—there wasn’t much left of him after Joe Calzaghe took his pound of flesh—before dropping a stunning final-round knockout to Carl Froch.
Froch, who was behind at the time, came on in the closing minutes, dropping Taylor to the mat and closing the show when he just barely beat the count.
It was the second but unfortunately not the last brutal knockout of Taylor’s career.
He participated in Showtime’s Super Six tournament just six months later, being knocked out by Arthur Abraham—again in the final round. The loss seemed to signal the end of his career.
Taylor’s speech began to slur, and post-fight tests after losing to Abraham revealed bleeding on his brain.
People close to him, including his promoter Lou DiBella, begged Taylor to call it a career. They were worried about the risks of him resuming his career after a cerebral hemorrhage.
Taylor took a bit more than two years off from the sport and underwent a battery of tests at the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, receiving clearance from doctors to resume his career.
Nobody is claiming that Taylor doesn't have the right to resume fighting. It’s his life, his health and his decision.
But at some point, doesn’t the sport have an obligation to protect its competitors?
Taylor appeared before the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 2011 to reapply for a license to fight, and it was granted by a unanimous vote.
Dr. Margaret Goodman, for years a ringside physician for the NSAC, condemned the ruling shortly after it was announced to Norm Frauenheim of The Ring Magazine. "I think it is unconscionable that Jermain [Taylor] was relicensed," she said. "It is not about whether his brain has healed or how he looked in the gym. Jermain has shown a predisposition to cerebral hemorrhage, and irrespective of whether or not he bled, he has shown he cannot adequately handle a punch."
Goodman went on to accuse the commission of playing "Russian roulette" with Taylor’s life.
He’s beaten four non-contenders since being relicensed, but none of those wins proved a thing.
The sentiment was also recently echoed by Larry Hazzard, the chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, who emphasized the brain bleed as reason enough to not sanction a Taylor fight.
Hazzard told Keith Idec of BoxingScene.com:
When I see tests where there’s bleeding on the brain, I have a problem with that. I don’t care how many tests are done because, to me, if he had it once it could happen again and the kid could die. I just have a serious problem with that and I think that my medical people would have a problem with it. I’m not a doctor, but I have a problem with that, as well Jermain Taylor’s level of skill at this point. That’s something I’d have to evaluate. But the criminal charge would have a great impact on him being able to fight in New Jersey.
And the criminal charge forms the final piece of the puzzle.
Taylor was arrested in late August at his Arkansas home, accused of shooting his cousin after an altercation. He’s out of jail on bond and faces two felony counts—first-degree domestic battery and aggravated assault.
He pleaded not guilty and was given a special dispensation to allow him to travel out of state in order to prepare for and take part in the fight with Soliman.
While the circumstances of events remain unclear, the IBF now looks even more the fool for sanctioning this farce.
Taylor hasn’t fought at middleweight in years, hasn’t beaten anything close to a world-class opponent in some time, has a documented history of dangerous brain injuries and is facing felony charges stemming from a shooting.
Could we possibly pile anything more onto that list?
This is a colossal failure from everyone involved.
And they all deserve to be called out for it.