The Champion vs. Contender: Talks heat up

Originally Published: June 30, 2006
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

The promotion is simply a natural: The Champion vs. The Contender.

That is why negotiations opened this week that could lead to a fall showdown between middleweight world champion Jermain Taylor and Sergio "The Latin Snake" Mora, the popular winner of the first season of "The Contender" reality boxing series.

Sergio Mora
Mora

Jermain Taylor
Taylor

Lou DiBella, who promotes Taylor, has been in discussions with Jeff Wald, one of "The Contender" promotional group's top executives, and both sides say they are serious about making a deal.

"Sergio was a terrific amateur, and now he is a ranked, very competent and very popular professional middleweight, and he had exposure that no other fighter in the country can match because he won 'The Contender' when it was on network television," DiBella told ESPN.com. "No one can question that Mora is a credible opponent. This is a huge fight, a legitimate fight."

Wald and DiBella have known each other since the late 1990s when Wald promoted a George Foreman fight on HBO. DiBella was running the network's boxing department at the time. Wald agreed with him that this fight is the obvious match for both fighters.

"We have two good-looking guys who can fight, both have a lot of fans and are pretty well known," Wald told ESPN.com. "Both of them are articulate and represent what is good about boxing. I have been talking to Lou about the fight. Our feeling is Sergio can win. In any event, it's a compelling event for fans. I think the odds are very good it will happen."

Mora, however, will have to win an interim bout. He is scheduled to fight Eric Regan (26-2, 17 KOs) Aug. 25 at Sacramento's Arco Arena on an ESPN "Contender" special. That fight has not been formally announced yet.

Jermain Taylor, left, and Winky Wright
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJermain Taylor, left, retained his title with a draw vs. Winky Wright on June 17.

In 2005, Taylor defeated Bernard Hopkins to win the undisputed middleweight championship. Then Taylor beat him again in another close fight, and he is coming off a June 17 title-retaining draw against Winky Wright.

After three extraordinarily tough fights in a row for Taylor, DiBella's plan was to take him home to Little Rock, Ark., for a fight that would be a little bit of a breather.

Although Mora, of Los Angeles, is a step down in competition from Hopkins and Wright -- they are two of the top three fighters in the world, pound-for-pound -- DiBella said Mora is a serious opponent.

"Mora is a very confident fighter now, and he wants to fight the best and see what he can do," DiBella said. "Whether you love 'The Contender' or not, they have built him into a big enough name that he is in position to negotiate to fight for the middleweight title. We do not view this as a goof. We view this as a serious fight."

Taylor's homecoming will have to wait, however, if the fight with Mora is made.

"There is no rematch with Winky Wright right now, so I have to look at things that make sense for Jermain and things that are marketable and salable," DiBella said. "A fight against the guy who won 'The Contender' will gather attention. This is a match that will attract a lot of fans on the West Coast. We think there would be huge site interest there. We have no problem going to Las Vegas or the Staples Center [in Los Angeles] if we can get a date."

Mora (18-0, 4 KOs), who lost a 12-3 decision to Taylor in the 156-pound division at the 2000 Olympic trials, won "The Contender" competition against Peter Manfredo Jr. in the May 2005 season finale. In their October 2005 rematch, Mora won an eight-round split decision at a packed Staples Center.

In his next fight, Mora was matched outside "The Contender" stable of fighters when he faced hard-punching Archak TerMeliksetian on May 4 in Las Vegas. Many viewed Mora as the underdog, but he survived a knockdown and rallied to dominate en route to a seventh-round TKO.

Sergio Mora
Al Bello/Getty Images Sergio Mora celebrating his Oct. 15, 2005, victory over Peter Manfredo in Los Angeles.

"I think part of the reason 'The Contender' guys are doing this is because they have helped build Sergio Mora into a real contender," DiBella said. "At middleweight, Jermain is the champion. Mora is a contender, and every contender's ultimate goal is to take a shot at the champ. Every promoter's goal is to get their guy an opportunity to fight for the championship."

Said Wald: "We proved we can get sponsors and networks into boxing. The main thing now is to prove our guys can fight."

DiBella said that he has informed HBO, which has an exclusive contract with Taylor, about the negotiations but that he hasn't had a formal meeting with network executives about the fight. He said that will happen soon. First, however, he is going to Los Angeles next week to meet with "The Contender" group.

Although the fight could be a high-profile HBO event like Taylor-Wright, DiBella and Wald believe the fight is big enough to be on HBO PPV.

"I haven't talked to HBO yet, so it's not cast in stone, but certainly it has the legs to be a pay-per-view event," DiBella said.

Added Wald: "I see pay-per-view all the way. Sergio's recent fights have all had huge audiences. More people have seen his fights than have seen Oscar De La Hoya's recent fights. The fact is these guys [Mora and Taylor] have huge fame and they can fight."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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