- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When Jermain Taylor and Jeff Lacy posed for the ritual faceoff following Thursday's final news conference in advance of their fight, there were no mean scowls, harsh words or intimidating threats.
Instead, the 2000 U.S. Olympic teammates and friends nearly broke up laughing while staring at each other.
They might have been all smiles but it will be an entirely different story when they meet Saturday (HBO, 10:15 p.m. ET) at Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of Vanderbilt University in a super middleweight elimination fight.
"Jermain and I are friends, but when the bell rings, it's a fight," Lacy said.
The winner will earn a shot at the winner of the Dec. 6 match between Carl Froch and Jean Pascal, who will meet for one of the belts Joe Calzaghe vacated when he moved up to light heavyweight earlier this year.
Taylor and Lacy, both of whom are trying to reignite their careers after some tough times, are hungry for victory and say friendship won't get in the way of their mission on Saturday night.
"We are pretty good friends, but it comes down to business between the two of us on Saturday," Lacy said. "We are both very competitive people. We both love what we do but it is the business that put us together. So it comes down to business and bragging rights. We can still be friends after the fight."
"We are friends, but when the bell rings I'm going to try and hurt him, nothing but business," Taylor said. "I'm looking at this fight to jumpstart my career and get back on top. I'm focused, determined and motivated to come away with the victory."
Taylor and Lacy will become the first U.S. Olympic teammates to fight each other since Todd Foster outpointed his 1988 teammate Kelcie Banks in a 1992 lightweight bout; a much-discussed junior middleweight fight between 1996 teammates Fernando Vargas and gold medalist David Reid never materialized.
But Taylor (27-2-1, 17 KOs) and Lacy (24-1, 17 KOs) weren't just on the same team. They were also roommates for several months during the pre-Olympic training camp. They had already known each other for years as amateurs fighting in the same tournaments, but they got to know each much better living with each other. They also sparred dozens of rounds with each other as amateurs, although Lacy was always a weight class heavier than Taylor.
They both recall their time living together before the Olympics, how they would cut weight together, go to the mall and just hang out with each other, day in and day out.
"There's a lot of crazy stuff I could tell you, but I can't put it out there. And he could tell you crazy stuff, too," Taylor said with a laugh, recalling those days.
Said Lacy: "Jermain is a class clown. That's what I love about him. We can fool around with each other and it's a bunch of fun."
While rooming together they also talked about someday having to fight each other as professionals.
"We would talk about fighting," Taylor said. "We knew one day me and him would have to face off. We talked smack about it and said that someday it would happen."
Said Lacy: "We talked about it as amateur fighters. In the Olympic camp together, we would say, 'They're going to want you and me to fight.' We laughed it off, but it was a fight we knew could happen in the future."
Although HBO will televise only Taylor-Lacy and a replay of last week's Calzaghe-Roy Jones Jr. light heavyweight championship fight, the undercard features some notable fights. Former welterweight titlist Kermit Cintron (29-2, 27 KOs) fights for the first time since being knocked out for the second time by Antonio Margarito in April. He faces former junior welterweight titlist Lovemore N'Dou (46-10-1, 31 KOs), who is moving up in weight.
Also, 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder, the only boxing medalist for the United States in Beijing, makes his professional debut; heavyweight prospects Chazz Witherspoon (23-1, 15 KOs) and Adam "The Swamp Donkey" Richards (21-1, 14 KOs) square off; and super middleweight contender Allan Green (26-1, 18 KOs), out of action since January because of promotional issues and a suspension, returns to face long-faded Carl Daniels (50-15-1, 32 KOs).
When Taylor and Lacy came out of the Sydney Olympics, they turned professional with great fanfare. Taylor, bronze medal in tow, made his professional debut on HBO and would go on to meet the massive expectations when he became the undisputed middleweight champion by dethroning Bernard Hopkins in 2005, then outpointed him again in a rematch later that year.
Lacy didn't win a medal, but he made his professional debut on Showtime and put together an impressive string of highlight-reel knockouts before capturing a super middleweight belt in late 2004. Lacy made four defenses before he was dominated in brutal fashion by Calzaghe and lost a lopsided decision in a March 2006 unification bout.
Taylor also made four title defenses before he was knocked out by Kelly Pavlik in October 2007. Then he lost a decision in the nontitle rematch in February.
Lacy has actually won three bouts in a row, but has had very shaky performances. He suffered a terrible shoulder injury in a victory against Vitali Tsypko in his first fight after losing to Calzaghe and was out for a year. In his two fights since the injury, Lacy struggled badly in tight-decision wins against Peter Manfredo Jr. last December and Epifanio Mendoza in July.
Taylor and Lacy are both in dire need of a strong performance.
"Me and Jeff, we have both had successful careers," Taylor said. "But we've also had some hard times. Now it's time to see if we've still got it. I'm not saying the guy who loses the fight that it's the end of their career, but we can let the world know that whoever wins the fight has a chance to be back on top."
"Knowing him so well is going to bring out the best in me," Lacy said.
Promoter Lou DiBella, who is putting on the show and has promoted Taylor for his entire career, views the fight in terms that are a little more black and white.
"This fight could not be more important for these two fighters," he said. "One of these guys is probably going to get knocked out, and the one who gets knocked out is probably going to have a really difficult time coming back to do anything significant in this sport. This fight really is all-or-nothing."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Eight years ago, Jermain Taylor shared a room with fellow Olympian Jeff Lacy. Taylor will share the ring with his old foe when they meet in a crossroads battle on Saturday.