Jermain Taylor returns to ring
By Dan Rafael
They were both U.S. Olympic bronze medal winners, Taylor in 2000 and Dirrell in 2004. They were both original participants in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic. And they both dropped out of the tournament and were forced into long layoffs after suffering head injuries in Super Six bouts against Germany's Arthur Abraham.
Now they have something else in common -- they've been given clean bills of health and return to the ring in scheduled 10-round bouts on the same "ShoBox: The New Generation" card Friday night (Showtime, 11 ET/PT) at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon, Calif.
Taylor (28-4-1, 17 KOs), the former undisputed middleweight champion, headlines against Baltimore's Jessie Nicklow (22-2-3, 8 KOs) while Dirrell (19-1, 13 KOs) boxes Darryl Cunningham (24-2, 10 KOs) of Detroit.
In the opener of the tripleheader, former Cuban amateur standout Luis Garcia (11-0, 9 KOs), who lives in Ireland, faces Alexander Johnson (12-0, 5 KOs) of Oxon Hill, Md., in a scheduled eight-rounder.
In the first stage of the round robin Super Six tournament, Abraham severely knocked out Taylor out in the 12th round in October 2009 in Berlin.
Taylor, of Little Rock, Ark., suffered a minor brain bleed and, with encouragement from his family and handlers, eventually stepped away from boxing. When he was considering continuing to fight, Lou DiBella, his career-long promoter, parted ways with him because he didn't want him fighting and walked away from significant money he stood to earn had Taylor remained in the tournament.
In the second stage, Dirrell, of Flint, Mich., was dominating Abraham in their March 2010 bout in Detroit. But when Dirrell, 28, slipped to the canvas in the 11th round, Abraham slammed him with an illegal punch while he was on one knee, knocking him unconscious. Abraham was disqualified. Shortly before he was supposed to face eventual Super Six champion Andre Ward in the third stage, Dirrell withdrew because of lingering neurological problems from the blow.
The 33-year-old Taylor went through numerous medical exams from some of the best doctors in the world, including at the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, and was cleared to fight.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission, which has some of the most rigorous licensing standards in the world, insisted he go through additional testing, which he passed, and it licensed him when he applied in September. After reading Taylor's medical reports and speaking with one of his doctors, even DiBella was convinced and they've reunited.
"I had a conversation with one of the top neurologists in the world where he was asked if Jermain were his own kid, would he let him get in the ring," DiBella said. "His response was, no, he would not let his own kid fight under any circumstance, but if you're asking if Jermain Taylor is any different than any other fighter or if there is any risk then I can't tell you that. Based on that, I believe that Jermain is a fighter and that's what fighters do, they fight. I am comfortable that he is OK and that we are doing this for the right reasons. We're not getting rich by fighting Friday night."
Taylor is moving back to middleweight and has also reunited with Pat Burns, the trainer who led him to a 25-0 record, two wins against Bernard Hopkins and the middleweight championship.
"It's great to be back in boxing," Taylor said on a teleconference with boxing reporters Wednesday in his first public remarks since deciding to fight again. "I took a few years off but now I've got my focus back. I've been boxing for 22 years and I've never taken a break from boxing. This (injury) just woke me up. I'm just really looking forward to getting back in the ring and I'm happy. It's just a blessing to be back in boxing.
"All my life I've been boxing. I just missed boxing so much. I'm working hard and I want to be world champion. It's not about the money now or any of that. It's about being on top. I want to be No. 1 again. That's the only goal now: to be No. 1 again."
Taylor said he's back at 160 pounds because he didn't belong in the 168-pound super middleweight division. He said he had just gotten lackadaisical when it came to his weight and conditioning.
He said he missed boxing and wanted to return, so he went through all the testing that was asked of him.
"I was never worried about what was wrong with me," he said. "I know my family was concerned, but this is what I love. This is what I've done my whole life. It's who I am."
After firing Burns, Taylor worked with longtime assistant trainer Ozell Nelson and later Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward. He never had remotely the success with them as he had with Burns, who welcomed Taylor back -- but only if he was medically fit and promised to fight at middleweight.
"Working with Pat, it's like I never left," Taylor said. "The man is the same man that he always was. And I'm the same person. It's just that I lost my focus. And now I've got him back and I have to get back on top. Everybody loves a comeback and everybody loves a comeback story."
Dirrell's injury was less severe than Taylor's. He said he was medically cleared to fight about eight months ago, but it took time to line up a television date, leading to a longer layoff.
Now he is also back, pumped about it and not thinking about what happened against Abraham.
"I've thought about it in my workout sessions, but for the most part I've put it out of my mind," Dirrell said. "But once I really started to work out hard and spar it really left my mind. My only concern now is putting on a good showing for the fans. I'm not too concerned about any of the problems I had after the Arthur Abraham fight.
"I've really enjoyed my career up until the injury and I'm just looking forward to getting in there and showing what I can do. I'm glad the tournament is over and that I can get back in there in 2012. I want to start the rest of my career off with a bang and finish it with a bang. I don't plan on having any more mishaps for the rest of my career."
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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