- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- They were friends before the fight and they claim they'll be friends again now that it's over, but Jermain Taylor and Jeff Lacy spent 12 rounds battling as if their careers depended on winning.
To an extent they did, as the 2000 Olympics teammates were both trying to reinvigorate their careers after some tough times. But in the end, it was Taylor -- busier, more accurate and with a solid jab -- who took a dominant unanimous decision in a super middleweight title eliminator Saturday night at Vanderbilt University's Memorial Gymnasium.
Friends or not, Taylor never let up on Lacy. Taylor swelled Lacy's eye, rocked his head back and forth with hard uppercuts and generally beat him up.
Taylor landed hits with frightening accuracy while Lacy could do little more than eat punches. According to CompuBox, Taylor landed 213 of 442 blows (48 percent) while Lacy (24-2, 17 KOs) was limited to landing just 75 of 443 punches (17 percent).
Taylor, whose left jab has always been his best punch, used it and used it well, landing 107 of 257 (42 percent). Lacy landed only 29 jabs.
The victory earned Taylor (28-2-1, 17 KOs) a mandatory shot against the winner of a Dec. 6 fight between Carl Froch and Jean Pascal, who will tangle for one of the belts Joe Calzaghe vacated when he moved up to light heavyweight earlier this year.
However, there's no guarantee Taylor will pursue the fight. Promoter Lou DiBella believes that with the dominance Taylor showed, he should be on the short list of opponents to face light heavyweight champ Calzaghe, should Calzaghe opt to fight again in the wake of his victory last week against Roy Jones.
"If they want us, we will be happy to go to Wales," DiBella said. "Joe's the man. If we had the opportunity to fight the man, Jermain has never walked away from a challenge and there is no bigger challenge than Joe. There's not a lot of choices for Joe if he continues campaigning. If he's not going to retire, there are not a lot of choices for him. Jermain is athletic enough to give Joe a good go, and Joe is a great champion who is not going to fight stooges."
Taylor echoed DiBella's thoughts after his victory.
"It's about business. This was my comeback fight and I love that [idea]," Taylor said.
Then he added, with a laugh, "But I don't know about going to Wales. Maybe [Calzaghe] should come back here."
Taylor, the former undisputed middleweight champion, sure showed he was in top form despite coming off back-to-back losses to Kelly Pavlik -- by knockout in September 2007 and by decision in their February nontitle rematch.
"This is the best I ever felt after a fight," Taylor said. "I am so proud of myself -- not like in the Kelly fights, where I half-assed it. A couple of times I had [Lacy] hurt, but I couldn't get him out of there. He's a tough kid and friend."
It was the first time U.S. Olympic teammates faced each other since Todd Foster outpointed his 1988 teammate Kelcie Banks in a 1992 lightweight bout.
Although Lacy, a former super middleweight titleholder, entered the fight on a three-bout winning streak, he hadn't looked the same since he was destroyed over 12 lopsided rounds by Calzaghe in 2006.
Lacy had another rough night with Taylor, who hurt him in the third round with a left hand, forcing Lacy to grab onto him.
Taylor continued to pound on Lacy in the fourth as Lacy's left eye began to swell. Taylor buckled Lacy's legs and stopped him in his tracks with a four-punch combination. It was a dominant round for Taylor, who landed 20 of 29 blows, according to CompuBox statistics.
In the fifth, Lacy looked like he might get back into the fight when Taylor went down, but referee Laurence Cole ruled it a slip.
"It was a knockdown; he went down when I hit him," Lacy said. "He's a good friend outside of the ring. I thought it was a close fight, especially if they counted the knockdown."
Judges Gale Van Hoy and Oren Schellenberger each had it 119-109 for Taylor while Joe Pasquale had it 118-110. ESPN.com also had it 118-110 for Taylor.
During the 2000 Olympic training camp, Taylor and Lacy were not only teammates but also roommates. They developed a friendship and treated each other with great respect during the fight buildup.
Afterward, Lacy, of course, knew he had lost.
"I am not a sore loser and I have a lot of respect for JT," Lacy said.
Taylor, not gloating about the victory, said he told Lacy, "Great fight" when it was over.
"Now," Taylor said, "I think we can go out and have a good time."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
1dKevin Van Valkenburg