Taylor-Wright: A young champion ventures past Hopkins’ era
Jermain Taylor’s stock has risen tremendously in the run-up to his defense of his middleweight championship against Ronald “Winky” Wright and not for anything he’s done lately.
You see, Taylor’s two close struggles with the ancient wonder Bernard Hopkins has to be viewed through the prism of Hopkins’ crushing win over the consensus number one fighter in light-heavyweight division Antonio Tarver.
So comprehensive was Hopkins’ win that he captured all but one round and the outcome of the bout was never in doubt. The vaunted punch of Tarver did not slow Hopkins or even make him go into a defense mindset.
Such a defensive posture was ever-present against the young bull Taylor. Whatever one thinks of the decisions (and there are plenty of arguments about the outcome of both bouts) it is clear that Hopkins did everything he could to avoid the sharp punching of Taylor and he took almost none of the chances necessary to pull away the judges’ collective eyes.
Against Tarver, Hopkins risked it all on numerous occasions, often leading with right hands and leaving himself open for counters – if only briefly.
Yes, there must be something different about the way young Jermain hits that led the crafty veteran Hopkins to decide on a largely survival strategy. If Tarver has a big punch, Taylor must have something much greater in order to have forced Hopkins into a cocoon.
It may very well be the case that Taylor already hits harder and faster than the either Hopkins or Tarver. Winky Wright is sure to find out.
Since the two wins over Hopkins, Taylor seems more inclined to build on his gains than rest on them.
He added Emanuel Steward and the Kronk family to his team. Multiple blistering sparring encounters in the halls that spawned Thomas Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, the McCrory brothers and many others, ensure focus and discipline that may close the gaps that remained in the young champion’s game.
Taylor has 24 rounds under his belt in his two championship bouts against the best fighter in the division for the last 12 years.
Combined with his new preparation regime this may provide a hurdle that is too high for any potential contender to clear. Any contender that is, who is unable to take the champion out of his zone. Any contender who fights conventionally and attempts to out-speed or out-punch him.
The one person who just may have the right ingredients to take him out of his zone and will not worry about trading quick punches or scoring a big knockout is his opponent Saturday night, Winky Wright.
Wright has made a career of confounding stronger opponents with a high guard from his southpaw stance. He adds to the mix a willingness to move closely to his opponent and land punches consistently while not getting pounded in return. He is not a runner.
While Taylor shoots a sharp jab and a hard, though sometimes looping, right hand, Wright may prove able to make only slight movements, block those big shots, and counter with his pesky right jab and straight lefts.
That remains the unknown variable coming in. Sure, Wright smoked past Felix Trinidad, a reputed puncher, but Trinidad was not a proven hitter at middleweight – he made his mark as a welterweight. Likewise, his twin wins over Shane Mosely represented victories over a very hard punching lightweight, turned hard punching welterweight, turned average punching junior middleweight. Chances are that Mosely would not strike fear in any of the top middleweights.
No one can expect that Wright will puncture Taylor’s grill (he hasn’t scored a knockout win in four years). To be victorious, however, he must have enough pop to keep Taylor from setting and throwing with abandon.
Power, then, is what makes this encounter interesting. Taylor has it. Wright doesn’t. How both fighters can apply their considerable talents will dictate the course of the bout.
PREDICTION: Taylor will press the bout early. While Wright will not shrink from the fight (and he will likely once again prove the sturdiness of his chin), the sting and volume of the younger champion (Taylor is 27, Wright is 34) will lead to one of two scenarios. Either Winky is overwhelmed and stays behind his high hands, or the proud former undisputed junior middleweight king attempts to outfight the young king. Either way, Wright loses. This won’t be a repeat of the master Winky teaching a lesson to the strong, though one-dimensional Trinidad. Not even close. Taylor has boxing ability and can adapt. Not that it will be easy --- and we can be glad for that. A fighter who for any reason goes to sleep against Winky will get outworked and confused. A fighter who falls behind against Winky will see desperate attempts to get back into the fight thwarted by one of the smartest ringmasters in the game today. It is possible for both or either circumstance to befall Taylor. It will be a tough fight and probably more entertaining than most of Wright’s boxing clinics. This time, however, it will be the champion dictating the fight and the tempo. Look for his jab to be the difference. Winky will very likely learn why Bernard Hopkins didn’t go into the pit with Taylor.
Taylor by decision.