Friday April 24th, 2009

At a press conference to promote Saturday's WBC super middleweight title fight, a table at the front of the room was tightly packed with promoters, trainers, managers and various network and hotel executives. And, of course, there were the fighters. Well, at least one fighter for sure.

With his expensive suit and 1,000-watt smile, Jermain Taylor was easily identifiable. He joked with reporters and photographers, and shouted in the direction of his five-man entourage -- all of whom were sporting Team Taylor jackets. It was clear Taylor was as comfortable in this setting as he is in the ring.

The same couldn't be said for his opponent and the WBC titleholder, Carl Froch, who sat a few seats away. Dressed in a white track jacket and baggy blue jeans, the British champ could have easily been mistaken for one of Taylor's sparring partners. He sat quietly for nearly 30 minutes as the rest of the table was introduced, and even more quietly -- though quite confidently -- as he answered a slew questions reporters threw his way.

Despite their superficial differences, Froch and Taylor share a common goal, and it has little the do with the title on the line Saturday night at the MGM Grand at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino (Showtime, 9 p.m.). It's bigger than that. It's a quest for boxing relevancy. Froch wants to prove he is relevant. Taylor is desperate to show he still can be.

Taylor's fall from grace has been as swift as it has been stunning. After back-to-back victories over Bernard Hopkins in 2005 -- wins that established Taylor as the undisputed middleweight champion -- Taylor was yanked back to earth in 2007 after absorbing a savage beating from Kelly Pavlik. A subsequent decision loss to Pavlik booted Taylor out of the pound-for-pound rankings and pushed him to the brink of boxing irrelevancy.

Interestingly enough, Taylor agrees with his critics.

"I lost my hunger," said Taylor. "After the Hopkins fights, I had reached all of my goals. I had nothing to look forward to."

As a 168-pound super middleweight, however, Taylor finds himself in a more comfortable position as a challenger trying to scrap his way to the top. He says he regained a measure of his confidence in his November decision win over Jeff Lacy ("That was a 'win' fight," said Taylor. "I just badly needed to win") and has found the motivation he needs to reclaim his past success.

"I'm motivated to get the belts in this division," he said. "That's what it took to get my hunger back. It took me losing my belts to realize that, but I do. I want [Froch's] belt. That's what I have to look forward to."

He's even found a little bit of cockiness, too. When asked what he knew about Froch before the fight was set, Taylor response was succinct.

"Nothing," he said. "The first I heard of him was when I was going to fight him. When my friends asked me who I was fighting, and I said Carl Froch, they asked 'Carl who?' I hate to sound like I'm underestimating him, but nobody knows him. Most people think he is a nobody. That's the way it is."

The current boxing landscape is littered with reclamation projects (see Roy Jones and Felix Trinidad), so it's not a stretch to see Taylor re-emerge as a bankable star. Showtime thought enough of Taylor's appeal to buy this fight, and with a win over Froch, Taylor could position himself for more high-profile bouts against the likes of Mikkel Kessler or Lucian Bute. There could also be a third fight with Pavlik in his future.

"I'm not necessarily done at middleweight," said Taylor. "It would take a big fight to bring me back. But I think my nutrition and conditioning are good enough that I could go back to 160. I was having a little bit of trouble making that weight for a while, but another fight with Pavlik is definitely something I would be interested in."

But before he was able to get too far ahead of himself, Taylor paused and gazed around the room.

"This is what I want," he said. "My last fight with Lacy, there was only a couple of reporters, and the only cameras there were disposable. I like this. I like the attention. And after I whoop Froch, I want my next fight to be even bigger. Keep it coming."

1. Why Foxwoods?

I, too, thought the locale for Saturday's title fight seemed a bit off at first. Afterall, Foxwoods hasn't held many high-profile fights; Taylor-Froch will be its biggest. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.

By putting the fight in Connecticut, which is equidistant from Boston and New York, two major markets are tapped, while fight fans in Hartford and Providence are also included. Ticket sales at the 4,000-seat MGM Grand Arena have been strong (most of the expensive seats have sold out) and Taylor's promoter Lou DiBella is expecting a strong walk-up crowd to gobble up the remaining seats.

And why not hold the fight at Foxwoods? Tickets are reasonably priced (the ones still available are in the $75 range) in a gorgeous new arena for a fight that should be action-packed.

2. Are we really going to be subjected to another Paulie Malignaggi fight?

Ugh. Yes. Malignaggi hasn't fought since Ricky Hatton blasted him in an 11th-round knockout loss last November. If you'll recall, after the fight, Malignaggi ripped trainer Buddy McGirt for throwing in the towel, even though McGirt's only motivation was to save Malignaggi from brain damage. DiBella added Malignaggi to the undercard Saturday (mainly because Malignaggi took the fight for peanuts) and matched him with Christopher Fernandez, who was last seen getting annihilated by top prospect Devon Alexander in December.

The only guarantees in this fight are Malignaggi a) will box circles around Fernandez, and b) has no shot of knocking him out. If you're watching at home, don't worry, Showtime isn't airing it. If you're headed to Foxwoods, well, you know when to take your bathroom break.

3. Isn't Felix Sturm fighting this weekend?

Yes indeed! Sturm, the WBA middleweight champion and unofficial winner of the Roy Jones "I-only-take-mandatory-fights-because-I'm-afraid-to-lose-my-paper-title" award, will fight Koji Sato in Germany on Saturday.

But Sturm makes me sick. He has fattened his record by taking on a parade of nobodies, and he continues to duck Pavlik and Arthur Abraham because his promoter wants him to retain his title. The worst part is, we know Sturm can fight. Remember his 2004 clash with Oscar De La Hoya? Sturm completely out-boxed De La Hoya but was robbed of his belt after the judges handed the "Golden Boy" a unanimous-decision win. With all these tomato cans, Sturm's promoter might have extended the fighter's reign as middleweight champ, but he has torched Sturm's reputation and made him a joke in the eyes of international media.

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