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Friday, December 23, 2011
Jermain Taylor takes first step in comeback

By Michael Woods

Jermain Taylor
Jermain Taylor at the height of his powers, in December 2005, after beating Bernard Hopkins in a rematch.

Death, taxes and boxers who make comebacks. These are some of life's certainties, though many fight fans and pundits believed that Jermain Taylor might be one of the rare exceptions to the rule.

They thought the Arkansas native might stay away from the ring when he announced at the end of 2009 that he was taking a break from boxing, after learning that he had sustained bleeding in his brain from punishment absorbed during his 12th-round knockout loss to Arthur Abraham in October 2009.

(Here is Dan Rafael's Dec. 11, 2009, piece discussing Taylor's decision to step away and the decision of his promoter, Lou DiBella, to sever ties with the fighter.)

Instead, Taylor, 33, who won bronze at the 2000 Olympic Games, is returning to the ring, and after a two-year layoff will meet Maryland's Jessie Nicklow (22-2-3 with just 8 KOs; age 24) on Dec. 30 at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, Calif. Showtime will televise.

Taylor, the ex-middleweight champion who reached his professional apex in 2005 with a split decision over undisputed middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins and a unanimous-decision victory in a rematch with Hopkins six months later, didn't get back to ESPN.com about a request for an interview. But DiBella, who is satisfied that the fighter is medically fit to fight and working with Taylor again, chatted with us about his return and what Taylor -- who has been KO'd in three of his past four defeats -- hopes to accomplish in his ring return.

"Jermain had significant time off and was put through a battery of tests at the best hospitals, with the best neurologists in the world and multiple athletic commissions, and was cleared unanimously," DiBella told ESPN.com. "I personally spoke to doctors at the Cleveland and Mayo clinics, and they told me his risk does not exceed that of any other boxer."

DiBella said Taylor (28-4-1) in recent years didn't have the same focus he had earlier in his career, when he held the middleweight crown, which he dropped to Kelly Pavlik in September 2007.

"He was not giving himself the best chance to win, at the tail end of 2008 and 2009," he said. "His lifestyle was a bit unhealthy, his weight was fluctuating. He's got a rededicated attitude, he's a different guy."

Will DiBella be looking at Taylor with extra scrutiny, making sure he responds to punches properly, and was there any hesitance at working with him again?

"I am going to take a hard look, sure," he said. "I've known him since he was a kid, done every fight of his as a pro, and I think [he should work with me]. And I think Jermain will take a hard look at himself."

DiBella spoke of that jones that sometimes makes fighters contemplate comebacks -- and no one yet knows whether this is the case here -- long past the point of sensibility. "He hasn't got this out of his system," the promoter said.

Taylor will campaign at 160, DiBella said, after fighting his most recent three bouts, against Jeff Lacy, Carl Froch and Abraham, at super middleweight.

DiBella believes that Taylor working with old coach Pat Burns -- who was dumped after the Hopkins fight and replaced with Manny Steward and then longtime Taylor cohort Ozell Nelson, who brought him into boxing in Little Rock -- will pay dividends.

"He's back with Burns and his conditioning is superb and sparring been great," DiBella said, "but we do not know what we have until he's in the ring."

And is Nicklow a soft touch or a true test?

"Jessie is a tough guy but the kind of guy Jermain should beat if he's the old Jermain Taylor. He's a good opponent for a guy out of the ring for a couple years, but you don't go from Jessie to the top of the division immediately after."

DiBella can foresee, if Taylor looks solid, a bout against current IBF middleweight champ Daniel Geale or current WBA middleweight champ Felix Sturm taking place by the middle of 2012. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the WBC middleweight champ, is a fight to be considered as well.

"I'm not rushing to make a Sergio Martinez-Jermain Taylor fight, not in near future," DiBella said. "Jermain needs activity. We'll learn a lot Dec. 30."