- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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After 26 months out of action, former undisputed middleweight champ Jermain Taylor made a successful ring return by stopping Jesse Nicklow in the eighth round on Dec. 30. After such a long layoff, Taylor plans to waste no time before his next fight, promoter Lou DiBella said.
"Jermain likely will come back in April," DiBella said. "He bruised up his right hand in the fight with Nicklow, but he is feeling great now. We've talked about him keeping active. When you take a couple of years off, you need to get back in there, and fighting twice a year is not sufficient if you want to work into a big fight, which is what Jermain wants to do."
Taylor's lengthy layoff, of course, wasn't just a matter of his taking a nice vacation. Taylor had been brutally knocked out in the 12th round by Arthur Abraham in the opening stage of the Super Six World Boxing Classic super middleweight tournament, a loss that came on the heels of a rough 12th-round knockout loss to Carl Froch in a world title bout.
Taylor (29-4-1, 18 KOs) suffered a brain bleed and short-term memory loss against Abraham and was strongly encouraged by his team and his family to step away from boxing. He eventually dropped out of the Super Six and took the long sabbatical, although he never announced his retirement.
Then he began to prepare for a comeback. He reunited with trainer Pat Burns, who had led him to the middleweight title before their breakup. He reunited with DiBella, who had resigned as his promoter when Taylor, 33, was considering fighting on in the wake of the Abraham defeat. And he returned to the middleweight division rather than stay at super middleweight, where he probably never belonged in the first place.
Taylor also went through rigorous medical testing by multiple experts and was eventually licensed in Nevada after going through additional testing, the results of which all came back clean, according to Taylor and the Nevada State Athletic Commission's medical experts.
Still, DiBella said he doesn't plan to rush Taylor.
"I think he needs a couple of steps up in competition before fighting again at the highest level," DiBella said. "If he can handle it, we'd like to get him to the point where by the fall he is ready for a big fight. I think he needs at least two more fights before that point."
The working schedule for Taylor, according to DiBella, would be for him to fight in April and August.
"Then, if all goes well -- and remember, this whole comeback is on a fight-by-fight basis -- hopefully, he's ready for something big in the November or December time frame," DiBella said.
DiBella said Showtime, which put on the Super Six and televised Taylor's comeback last month, is interested in continued involvement in his career.
Taylor's comeback took place at the Morongo Casino in Cabazon, Calif., but DiBella said the spring fight in the works would probably take place in Little Rock, Ark., Taylor's hometown.
"I know it's important to him to go back and fight at home, so that's where the next fight likely will be," he said.
As for a possible opponent, DiBella said none has been picked yet, but "I'd like a guy with a name and world-class pedigree -- not the tip-top of the middleweight division, but someone who is a world-class fighter."
DiBella said that opponent could be somebody like former junior middleweight titlist Joachim Alcine, whom DiBella promotes. Alcine is coming off a big upset decision win against middleweight David Lemieux on Dec. 10.
"Whoever Jermain fights, he is ready for whatever we can work out for him," DiBella said. "I spoke to Jermain the other day and he is excited. He's feeling good and he has a real hunger right now, which is good."
Mares return eyed for April
Bantamweight titlist Abner Mares (23-0-1, 13 KOs), who won a clean, lopsided decision in his rematch with former titleholder Joseph Agbeko on Dec. 3 after their controversial first fight in August, is being penciled in to return to Showtime on April 21, Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com.
Schaefer said he met with Mares and his team on Tuesday to talk about the fighter's next bout, which the promoter said could come against former flyweight titlist Eric Morel (46-2, 23 KOs), who is also with Golden Boy and won on the Mares-Agbeko II undercard.
Schaefer said the card could take place in Mexico City or Cancun. Although Mares lives in Southern California, he was born in Mexico and represented the country in the 2004 Olympics.
"I think it is important that he fights at least once a year in Mexico," Schaefer said.
Schaefer said he would like to make the proposed card a tripleheader and also include Anselmo Moreno (32-1-1, 11 KOs), another bantamweight titleholder, who dominated Vic Darchinyan in a title defense on the Mares-Agbeko II undercard, and former junior lightweight titlist Jorge Linares (31-2, 20 KOs), who would be returning from his 12th-round knockout loss to Antonio DeMarco in October in a fight for a vacant lightweight title.
Chisora keeps on talking
British heavyweight contender Dereck Chisora (15-2, 9 KOs) has talked an awful lot since getting the opportunity to challenge Vitali Klitschko (43-2, 40 KOs) for his world title on Feb. 18 (Epix and EpixHD.com) at Olympiahalle in Munich, and he isn't about to stop.
Chisora is not only predicting that he will knock out Klitschko, but the brash Brit is also calling the round in which he will do it.
"I'm in tiptop shape, the best I've been in for my entire career, and I'm going to smash Mr. Vitali Klitschko to bits," Chisora said during media day at his gym this week. "People are saying that Klitschko is the hardest fight of my career, but this is going to be the hardest fight of his career. I'm going to war with him. He won't get to use that big height and reach against me with the way I'm going to fight him, and I've got the eighth round in my head that I'm going to stop him in.
"Everyone that has fought the Klitschko brothers have been scared. This is one cat that isn't scared of him or anyone, and I'll throw him off of that throne he's been sitting on for the last few years."
Don Charles, Chisora's trainer, obviously is on his man's side.
"This is the best shape he's been in since we started working together seven years ago," he said. "He's physically and mentally right for the fight and is going out there to beat Klitschko and become the world champion. [The] 15,000 fans didn't faze him in Finland against Robert Helenius, and even though he was robbed of the [European] title, his confidence is sky-high and he knows what he can achieve. The height won't be an advantage to Klitschko if he can't use it, and Dereck is not going to let him use it, just like he did against Helenius. Dereck is going to give Klitschko an absolute nightmare."
Klitschko is 6-foot-7 and Chisora is 6-1, but Helenius is 6-6 and Chisora appeared to have a relatively easy time getting inside against him when they met Dec. 3. Helenius won a controversial split decision, but Chisora performed so well that Klitschko, who will be making his eighth defense, offered him the title shot.
• With time running out and opponents not finalized, Top Rank and HBO are moving a planned March 3 doubleheader featuring former lightweight titlist Brandon Rios (29-0-1, 22 KOs) and former featherweight titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa, who is moving up in weight, to April 14. Originally, the card was set to take place at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., but with a new date it is headed to Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. And instead of Rios and Gamboa fighting in separate bouts, there is now a chance they could meet each other at lightweight. HBO, Top Rank and Rios' team are on board with that plan, but Gamboa's camp still needs some convincing. Although Rios is coming off an 11th-round knockout of John Murray on Dec. 3 on the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito II undercard, he was stripped of his belt for failing to make the 135-pound limit. But he is now working with a nutritionist and hopes to remain at lightweight. Gamboa (21-0, 16 KOs) has held two versions of the featherweight title but has been stripped of both belts.
• After coming to terms on the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson light heavyweight championship rematch on Wednesday, co-promoters Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy and Gary Shaw said they hoped to match lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco with Michael Katsidis on the undercard of the April 28 fight. However, Schaefer told ESPN.com on Thursday that he didn't think DeMarco-Katsidis would come off. "Katsidis wants to fight at 140," Schaefer said. He also said they offered to do a DeMarco rematch with Jorge Linares, but "DeMarco does not want to do that next, but rather take an interim fight first." Trailing badly on all three scorecards, DeMarco made a huge late-rounds surge and stopped Linares in the 12th round of a dramatic fight in October on the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson undercard. The sanctioning organization ordered a rematch, but one of the stipulations was that DeMarco could take an optional defense first. So now Schaefer said he is in talks with HBO to add heavyweight prospect Seth Mitchell (24-0-1, 18 KOs) to the Hopkins-Dawson II card, which will take place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
• Now that Hopkins-Dawson II has been scheduled, the representatives for former champ Jean Pascal (26-2-1, 16 KOs) and rising contender Ismayl Sillakh (17-0, 14 KOs) are discussing a match that would serve as a final elimination bout, giving the winner a mandatory shot at the winner of Hopkins-Dawson II. Square Ring promoter John Wirt, Sillakh's promoter, told ESPN.com that he is in talks with Pascal promoter Yvon Michel about the fight. "We're very hopeful that this fight will take place between Sillakh and Pascal, and Yvon and I are talking about potentially doing it in May, but nothing is done yet." Stylistically, both fighters are aggressive and it would seem to shape up as a fan-friendly fight. "I think it's a great fight; I think a lot of people think it's a fantastic fight and will showcase both fighters' skills," Wirt said. "Obviously, I think Sillakh has the skills to win. People have been avoiding him for a long time now and we're very appreciative that the WBC ordered this fight. This is the role sanctioning organizations are meant to play, giving opportunities to deserving fighters that otherwise wouldn't get one without the situation being forced." Showtime has interest in Pascal-Sillakh, although it may not fit in the network's budget or schedule. Pascal hasn't fought since losing the title to Hopkins in May.
• Featherweight contender Miguel Angel "Mikey" Garcia (27-0, 23 KOs) will face former title challenger Bernabe Concepcion (29-5-1, 15 KOs), a protégé of Manny Pacquiao who is also from the Philippines. Showtime said on Friday that Garcia and Concepcion will hook up in a scheduled 10-rounder on March 10 in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the opening television bout on the card headlined by the rematch between featherweight titlist Orlando Salido and former titleholder Juan Manuel Lopez. While Garcia is closing in on a title opportunity, Concepcion has lost two shots at a 126-pound belt. Steven Luevano defeated him via seventh-round disqualification in 2009 (Concepcion knocked out Luevano after the bell ending the round) and Lopez knocked him out in the second round of a wild slugfest in Puerto Rico in July 2010.
• Golden Boy formally announced the two 10-round bouts that will round out a Showtime-televised tripleheader on Feb. 11 (9 p.m. ET/PT) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. On the undercard of the rematch between former welterweight titleholders Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto, junior middleweight contender Erislandy Lara (15-1-1, 10 KOs), in his first bout since a highly controversial majority-decision loss to Paul Williams in July, will face Ronald Hearns (26-2, 20 KOs), a former middleweight title challenger and the son of newly elected Hall of Famer Thomas Hearns. In the televised opener, featherweight Gary Russell Jr. (19-0, 11 KOs), the 2011 ESPN.com prospect of the year, will face Dat Nguyen (17-2, 6 KOs), whom Russell was supposed to face in November before Nguyen withdrew because of a leg injury.
• Union Boxing Promotions, which promotes welterweight titlist Vyacheslav Senchenko (32-0, 21 KOs) of Ukraine, blew away Golden Boy Promotions in a purse bid held Thursday for the right to stage Senchenko's mandatory WBA defense against former junior welterweight titlist Paulie Malignaggi. Union Boxing Promotions bid a whopping $1,000,010 and said it planned to put on Senchenko's fourth title defense in late April in Donetsk, Ukraine -- Senchenko's hometown -- where he has fought regularly. Senchenko is entitled to 75 percent of the winning bid ($750,007.50) and Malignaggi 25 percent ($250,002.50), although Malignaggi hasn't yet accepted the terms. He has previously said that he didn't want to fight in Ukraine, even after Union Boxing Promotions made an offer in excess of $300,000 (which was rejected) before the purse bid. Golden Boy, the only other bidder, offered $250,000 and planned to put on the fight April 21 in New York or Italy had it won. Malignaggi (30-4, 6 KOs) has won three fights in a row since Amir Khan knocked him out in the 11th round of a May 2010 junior welterweight title bout, after which Malignaggi moved up in weight. The WBA also called for a purse bid for the mandatory fight between middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin and interim titlist Hassan N'Dam. It is scheduled for Feb. 2.
• Lineal lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KOs) hasn't defended his title since a November 2010 knockout of Michael Katsidis. Since then, he fought once at junior welterweight, then challenged welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao, losing a majority decision in November in their third fight. With Marquez's inactivity at 135 pounds, the WBA had already relieved him of his belt, and the WBO has now followed suit, stripping him of his second alphabet title. Scotland's Ricky Burns (33-2, 9 KOs), the interim beltholder, has been elevated to full titleholder. He claimed the vacant interim belt by outpointing Katsidis in November. "When I beat Katsidis, I felt like a world champion anyway, but this makes it all real and I'm thrilled with the news that I'm now the official full [WBO] world champion," Burns said. "It's a great feeling, but now it's back to reality and training hard for what will be a tough title defense." Burns will make his first defense against former titleholder Paulus Moses (28-1, 19 KOs) of Namibia on March 10 at the Braehead Arena in Glasgow, Scotland. Marquez could wind up challenging junior welterweight titlist Lamont Peterson next.
• When Sauerland Event announced that heavyweight titlist Alexander Povetkin would make his second defense against cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck, who is moving up for the opportunity, on Feb. 25 (Epix and EpixHD.com) in Stuttgart, Germany, former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman (50-7-2, 41 KOs), who was made the WBA's mandatory challenger despite not having faced a rated fighter in more than three years, asserted his rights and tried to prevent Povetkin-Huck from happening. But Sauerland Event's Chris Meyer and Rahman's promoter, Greg Cohen, reached an agreement this week that will allow Povetkin-Huck to take place as scheduled, with the winner obligated to defend against Rahman within 120 days.
• Both Martin Murray (23-0-1, 10 KOs) and Darren Barker (23-1, 14 KOs), two of England's top middleweights, are coming off unsuccessful shots at world titles. (Murray fought to a draw with Felix Sturm in December and Barker was drilled in the 11th round of an October title fight after giving lineal champion Sergio Martinez problems in the early going.) Their camps have been bickering over a potential fight between them. Ricky Hatton's Hatton Promotions, which handles Murray, claims that Eddie Hearn, Barker's promoter, turned down a "big offer" for the fight. "I am not privy to what Darren earned when he fought Sergio Martinez last year, but I think our offer may have topped it or, at worst, been very close," Hatton said. "Put it this way: It was a huge amount for somebody challenging for British and Commonwealth championship crowns. Eddie Hearn initially made an offer for Matchroom Boxing to stage the fight, which we bettered by a considerable amount. Eddie responded and only matched what we put on the table, which was strange, and added [that] it was his final offer. But we again countered and bettered it by a fair amount. Eddie said he 'thinks' that he has got Darren a world title fight in May. If Darren has got a world title fight for the sort of money Hatton Promotions are offering, fair play to him, but this is a concrete offer and not a contest his promoter can 'think' will happen." Hatton didn't reveal the terms of his offer.
• Welterweight Thomas Dulorme (13-0, 10 KOs) and junior middleweight Jonathan Gonzalez (14-0, 13 KOs), two of Puerto Rico's top prospects, have opponents for their Feb. 17 "ShoBox: The New Generation" doubleheader on Showtime. Dulorme will face Jose Reynoso (15-3-1, 2 KOs) of Riverside, Calif., and Gonzalez will face former middleweight title challenger Billy Lyell (24-10, 5 KOs) at the Chumash resort in Santa Ynez, Calif., promoter Gary Shaw announced. ... Featherweight titlist Billy Dib (33-1, 20 KOs) of Australia will make his second title defense, a mandatory, against Mexico's Eduardo Escobedo (32-3, 23 KOs) on March 7 in Hobart, Tasmania, an Australian island. The fight has been added to the card that will be headlined by middleweight titlist Daniel Geale (26-1, 15 KOs) of Australia. He makes his mandatory defense against Osumanu Adama (20-2, 15 KOs) of Ghana. ... Representatives for bantamweight titlist Koki Kameda (27-1, 17 KOs) of Japan and interim titleholder Hugo Ruiz (29-1, 26 KOs) of Mexico have worked out an agreement under which each man will defend his belt before they fight each other in a mandatory bout later in the year. Ruiz is slated to fight March 17 against an opponent to be determined, while Kameda's bout will come sometime in April. ... Junior lightweight Vicente Escobedo (24-3, 14 KOs), a 2004 U.S. Olympian, will return home to Woodland, Calif., to headline Telefutura's March 3 "Solo Boxeo Tecate" card against Lonnie Smith (14-2-2, 10 KOs) of Las Vegas in a scheduled 10-rounder.
"He's a dangerous fighter, but I don't fear him. I have no respect for him, I'm not scared of him, nothing like that. At the end of the day, I will win this once again.
" -- Welterweight Victor Ortiz, on his much-anticipated rematch with fellow former titleholder Andre Berto on Feb. 11 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas
"I lost the fight and came back and won a world title. I could have gone a different route, but I wanted to take this one. Ortiz lost to [Floyd] Mayweather. Either way you look at it, you're putting together two young guys that love to fight and put on an exciting show." -- Berto, on the rematch with Ortiz
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at danrafaelespn.
After making a victorious ring return to close out 2011, former middleweight champ Jermain Taylor hopes to maintain his momentum and will most likely fight again in April.