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It's Business, Not Personal

Jermain Taylor remembers a day during the Olympics when he and Lacy were in their room joking about things to ease the pressure of the Games. When Taylor brought up the possibility of having to fight each other one day, their mood turned more serious. Amateurs though they were, they already understood that in the professional world there are no friends inside a boxing ring.

"Sometimes we would sit up in our room and talk about the day when we would have to fight each other," Taylor said. "We both knew this day would come."

It has not the way Taylor and Lacy imagined it, as two reigning champions facing each other for big money and bragging rights. The reality is that both fighters are at a crucial juncture in their careers. Taylor has lost two straight, and Lacy has not won a bout of any significance since Joe Calzaghe dismantled him in 2006. It's why they have dubbed this fight, "All or Nothing." They could just have easily named it "Thunderdome."

"Everything is on the line for me with this fight," Taylor said. "We have always been friends with each other, even today. When I got married, Jeff was at my wedding. After we both turned pro we did not see each other a lot, but we have followed each other's career, and our friendship is still good. But come fight night we will both be trying to knock each other's head off."

They were trying to do the same thing in the Olympics, only not against each other. The roommates had a little contest going that their Olympics coach Tom Mustin wasn't too thrilled about.

"They had this rivalry thing which I didn't much like to see, a competition to see who could knock out more of their opponents, instead of staying with the game plan and using the skills we taught them. They were always trying to outdo one another," Mustin said.

But when it came to raw power, Lacy had the edge hands down. During one workout Mustin hooked up a special heavy bag that could measure hitting power per square inch. Lacy won that competition easily, hitting harder than all the other fighters on the team. Ricardo Williams came in second, Rocky Juarez was third, and pint-sized Brian Viloria fourth. Taylor, much bigger than the flyweight Viloria, finished fifth.

In the ring, however, Taylor's slick and superior boxing challenged Lacy's, coming away with a bronze medal, while Lacy was eliminated in the quarterfinals after winning his two first-round bouts. As for the knockout competition, it was a draw. Both knocked out just one opponent. Even their sparring was a contest, one apparently blurred by memory or pride.

Lacy was once asked who got the better of whom in Olympic training sessions. Lacy said naturally he did. When Taylor heard that, he said, "What? I whipped his butt."

Mustin, who has been head trainer at the Tacoma Boxing Club in Washington for 41 years, wonders if the rivalry forged at the Olympics might affect the outcome of this fight. "Their old [knockout] competition could carry over into this fight," Mustin said. "If Lacy could get under Taylor's skin and get him to fight his style, he could win. But if Taylor boxes he should win."

Taylor apparently understands that and says that the old contest is the furthest thing from his mind and that of his trainer Ozell Nelson. "We don't need to knock Lacy out," Nelson said, and Taylor concurs. "I just want to win," Taylor said. "I would be happy with a knockout, but what's important is to dictate the fight and come away with the victory. I'm going to fight my fight."

That means exploiting the biggest weakness in Lacy's game, one recognized in a scouting report after the Olympics. The appraisal predicted Lacy would do very well as a pro -- unless he was matched up with "a slick fighter who won't stand in front of him."

Lacy's former promoter, Gary Shaw, knew that and was careful to keep matching him up with fighters who didn't move around a lot. The formula worked well for the first five title fights Lacy had and won, but then a deal came down the pike that Shaw couldn't turn down. "It wasn't the best matchup for Jeff, but you couldn't ignore the money," Shaw said. The fighter was Calzaghe, and he is one of the slickest in the game. Calzaghe won all 12 rounds, and Lacy has not looked the same since.

The Taylor camp has done its homework, and Nelson has no intention of playing into the heavy-handed Lacy's game. "I want Jermain to dictate the pace. We don't want to let Lacy plant his feet and get comfortable. I want him to box Jeff, move and pivot and frustrate him," Nelson said.

The one disadvantage Taylor might have is that he is coming off a nine-month layoff, the longest of his career. The last time he fought was in the rematch with Kelly Pavlik in which he boxed very well but lost a relatively close unanimous decision. The back-to-back losses were devastating to Taylor, who had never tasted defeat before as a pro. But he didn't waste time moping around and feeling sorry for himself. He used the interim to take stock of himself and his career. "The nine-month layoff was good for me," Taylor said. "It allowed me to set some new goals for myself and to take a good look at where I am in my career and where I want to go."

Where Taylor finds himself is at super middleweight, eight pounds removed from the division in which he won his championship. Mustin believes Taylor has the size to do well at 168. "When he fought in the Olympics, I always thought he was a light heavyweight who could make middleweight," Mustin said.

With Calzaghe having moved to 175 pounds - where he will fight Roy Jones Jr. a week before Taylor and Lacy - the super middleweight division does not have the kind of dominant champion the Brit was. A win by either Taylor or Lacy would put them in line for a title fight, and a chance at redemption.

Shaw, who was at the Olympics scouting for Main Events back then, and would sign Lacy, remembers a conversation he had with them. "I was friendly with both, and I asked them once, would you ever fight each other and they said, 'If the money was right we would.' And then they laughed."

It is no joking matter now. But regardless of what happens, Taylor said nothing would change between him and Lacy. "Once that bell rings, we will go at each other. When the fight is over, we will be friends like we have always been.

Sometimes we would sit up in our room and talk about the day when we would have to fight each other," Taylor said. "We both knew this day would come.

Posted 12:00 AM | Nov 6, 2008

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