It All Comes Down to the 12th Round

Jermain Taylor
Despite having his left eye swollen shut, Jermain Taylor remains undefeated and retains his middleweight title after a draw against Winky Wright. (Alan Spearman - Associated Press)
By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 18, 2006

MEMPHIS, June 17 -- Winky Wright knew the odds were stacked against him in his bout with middleweight champion Jermain Taylor at FedEx Forum on Saturday night. Taylor is nearly seven years younger, three inches taller and has a longer reach. And, perhaps most important, Taylor was fighting in front of several thousand of his fans, many of whom made the two-hour drive from his home town of Little Rock.

After 12 furious rounds in a bout that mostly lived up to its lofty billing, Wright beat Taylor on one of the three judges' scorecards, lost on another and the third judge scored the bout a draw, much to the chagrin of many in the announced crowd of about 9,678.

Taylor, a bronze medal winner at the 2000 Summer Olympics who beat Bernard Hopkins twice last year to become the unanimous middleweight champion of the world, retained his title belts and remained undefeated in 26 professional bouts.

"I felt good," Taylor said. "But it was a close fight and could have gone either way. Yes, I would fight him again. I'm a fighter."

But Wright (50-3-1, 25 knockouts), who was born in the District and lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., said he wasn't interested in a rematch. Another bout between the fighters would probably draw millions of dollars in pay-per-view purchases, but Wright said he won't fight the champion again so close to his native state.

Even a $3.5 million purse for Saturday night's night -- the largest of the challenger's career -- didn't seem like much solace.

"I don't want no rematch," Wright said. "If I have to come here and get that kind of decision, there's no point."

Wright was winning the bout going into the 12th round on two of the judges' scorecards. He landed 63 more punches and 72 more jabs than Taylor (25-0-1, 17 KOs) in the fight. But in the last round, Wright was passive and danced around without throwing punches. Two of the three judges gave the round to Taylor, which resulted in the draw.

"I felt if he wanted the title so bad, he should have fought all 12 rounds," Taylor said. "I fought all 12 rounds."

Said Wright: "If I didn't win the 12th, then who did? He certainly didn't. This is his home town, what do you expect? They gave him what he wanted. The fans know who won the fight."

The bout was fairly even through 10 rounds, with Wright winning most of the early rounds before Taylor rallied. By the ninth, Wright had swelling above both his eyes, then he nearly swelled Taylor's left eye shut with a vicious left-handed punch near the end of the ninth.

"Winky had a great jab," Taylor said. "He worked the jab. I didn't think the jab was going to be that fast. In the last round, I couldn't see out of my left eye."

Both fighters were very aggressive throughout the fight. Taylor is still considered a somewhat raw pugilist with tremendous strength and athleticism. He sometimes overpowered Wright, who is known more for his defensive style and superior jabs. Taylor pushed down Wright in the 10th round, drawing a warning from referee Frank Garza.

Wright peppered Taylor with jabs and blocked many of his opponent's punches by keeping his gloves high to shield his face.

"I landed a couple of good punches, but I didn't think I really hurt him," Taylor said. "But he didn't have much power, either."

The fight, expected to be one of the better bouts of the year by most boxing observers, wasn't very well received in Memphis. Many in the crowd, which barely half-filled the arena, were cheering for Taylor.

When four members of Taylor's camp carried his championship belts above their heads and into the ring, hundreds of his fans raised their arms above their heads, wiggled their fingers and yelled the cheer for the University of Arkansas sports teams: "Woo pig sooey."

Taylor wore red trunks with his native state's name across the back, and Razorbacks football coach Houston Nutt was sitting ringside cheering for Arkansas' favorite son.

Local promoters expected to lose close to $2 million after staging the fight in a city that had 15,000 in attendance when Lennox Lewis knocked out Mike Tyson at the Pyramid in June 2002. Nearly that many people watched Glen Johnson stun Roy Jones Jr. in September 2004 here. But with tickets for Saturday night's middleweight bout costing $75 to $1,250 and the fight being televised by HBO, many fans stayed away.

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