Taylor hoping for another breakthrough

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) " For a few years, Jermain Taylor had Arkansas buzzing about boxing. After beating Bernard Hopkins in 2005 for the middleweight title, Taylor's home state greeted him with the type of adulation often reserved for its college football and basketball teams.

Now, Taylor's no longer a champion, and it's been a while since his hometown of Little Rock had a chance to celebrate one of his big victories. The 30-year-old hopes to change that when he fights Britain's Carl Froch on April 25 in Mashantucket, Conn., for Froch's WBC super middleweight belt.

"It brings back a lot of memories," Taylor said. "I know how to take the belts from somebody."

Taylor's first championship was memorable " he ended Hopkins' streak of 20 consecutive title defenses with a split decision. Taylor was then welcomed back to Little Rock with a parade, an appropriate honor for an athlete who has gone out of his way to show appreciation for Arkansas.

After beating Hopkins in a rematch, Taylor fought to a draw with Winky Wright and beat Kassim Ouma and Cory Spinks. None of those fights were all that noteworthy " Taylor did enough to hold on to his title but was having a hard time putting opponents away.

When a slugfest finally materialized in September 2007, Taylor was on the wrong end of it. Kelly Pavlik stopped the champion in the seventh round to take the middleweight (160-pound) title.

That was it for Taylor as a middleweight. He fought Pavlik again at a catch weight of 166 pounds and lost a unanimous decision. He then took a nine-month break before moving up to the 168-pound (super middleweight) division and beating Jeff Lacy in an eliminator fight last November.

Next up is Froch, the champion from overseas who is trying to enhance his own career with a big win in the United States.

"I want to establish myself on American soil," Froch said. "That's what this fight is for. I'll be coming over there and defending my title in style."

Froch (24-0) has a belt and is seeking more recognition. Taylor's had plenty of recognition, but he wants this belt. Taylor's camp feels he can resurface as one of boxing's stars if he wins this fight.

"I think Jermain has always reached out for a challenge and always wanted to fight someone who meant something to him," said Lou DiBella, Taylor's promoter. "He wasn't familiar with Carl's name, but I think Jermain ... views the WBC belt as the biggest prize and he wanted to get that belt back. That's why this fight is happening."

Taylor (28-2-1) admits he was at a crossroads after the two losses to Pavlik.

"I wanted to see if I still wanted to do this," he said.

He decided to press on, and now he's earned a shot at another title. Taylor has been training in Miami for this fight, his third in a row with Ozell Nelson as his trainer. After the second fight with Hopkins, Taylor began training under Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, but the results weren't all that impressive. After losing to Pavlik the first time, Taylor switched to Nelson, his amateur coach and mentor.

Taylor went the distance with Pavlik in their rematch and was impressive in the win over Lacy.

"I'm back where it all started," Taylor said. "With Ozell Nelson, who's been there all my life."

This month, Taylor has a chance to look back on that moment when his career took off " and see if he can repeat it. With a win, Taylor can establish himself again as one of boxing's top fighters in any division.

"Those few fights I lost, I not only let myself down, I let my fans down, I let my hometown down," Taylor said. "I just want to get these belts back and all of it will be erased. Now, I have a chance to do that."

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