The only thing missing from Jermain Taylor's convincing victory over Jeff Lacy on Saturday was a proper exclamation point.
Coming off the longest layoff of his career (217 days) following back-to-back losses to Kelly Pavlik -- a full 18 months since his most recent win -- Taylor responded with perhaps the best technical performance of his career. Using a precise left jab as the foundation, the former middleweight champion exhibited superior work rate, footwork, stamina and hand speed throughout the evening.
But despite throwing and landing more punches -- and wobbling Lacy on several occasions -- Taylor was unable to put his overmatched opponent on the floor.
"I was a little rusty in there, but I feel like I fought my fight," said Taylor, who improved to 28-2-1 with 17 knockouts. "This fight was a confidence-builder."
Making his debut at 168 pounds, Taylor harassed and bullied his former Olympic team roommate throughout the unanimous decision victory. Joseph Pasquale had it 118-110, while Oren Schellenberger and Gale Van Hoy scored it 119-109, as did SI.com.
Taylor and Lacy were the first U.S. Olympic teammates to fight one another as pros since Todd Foster and Kelcie Banks fought as lightweights in 1992.
After a cautious opening, Taylor broke Lacy down in the middle rounds with steady jabbing and a series of measured combinations. By the ninth round, having opened a comfortable advantage in points, the 30-year-old from Little Rock, Ark., assumed total command. At one point, Taylor landed five quick jabs in a three-second span.
But Taylor's failure to finish off Lacy revealed some of the holes which proved fatal in his losses to Pavlik. Taylor still throws his punches from wide angles, telegraphing his intentions in a way quicker opponents can exploit. And as accurate as Taylor was -- landing 213 of 442 (48 percent) of his punches -- his inability to put a teetering Lacy away in the late rounds stands out.
With Saturday's triumph, Taylor kept his name in the championship discussion, earning a shot at the winner of the Dec. 6 bout between Carl Froch and Jean Pascal, who are fighting for the super middleweight title vacated by Joe Calzaghe earlier this year.
But if Calzaghe opts against retirement -- a decision that's still up in the air -- Taylor may have emerged as one of the most attractive opponents for the undefeated Welshman.
For Taylor, the rust is finally gone. Can a belt take its place?