- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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As Showtime's much-anticipated Super Six World Boxing Classic begins, none of the six elite super middleweights involved has more to lose -- or gain -- than former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor.
Taylor, who has lost three of his past four fights but is the biggest name among the half-dozen entrants, is certainly the longest shot to win the tournament, and the Little Rock, Ark., native is getting no help from the schedule.
He opens the modified round-robin tournament -- each man fights three times before the field is cut to four for the semifinals, based on a points system -- on the road in Germany. Taylor will face big-punching 29-year-old former middleweight titleholder Arthur Abraham (30-0, 24 KOs), an Armenian-German who gave up his 160-pound title after 10 defenses to move up to 168 and fill a spot in the field.
They'll square off before an expected sold-out crowd of more than 12,000 at the O2 World Arena in Berlin on Saturday night (Showtime, 8 ET/PT) in the first bout of the 12-fight tournament that will take approximately 18 months to complete.
"Jermain is going to come out and shock the people of Germany when he beats their hometown hero," said Ozell Nelson, Taylor's trainer. "I know most people in the boxing world have written Jermain off. We're going back to the basics that got us here. It would be a huge mistake to think Jermain doesn't have anything left in the tank."
Showtime will televise Abraham-Taylor on a few hours' tape delay. Following coverage of the bout, the scene will shift to live coverage of the second half of the doubleheader from the Trent FM Arena in Carl Froch's hometown of Nottingham, England, where Froch (25-0, 20 KOs) will make the second defense of his version of the title against Andre Dirrell (18-0, 13 KOs), a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist from Flint, Mich.
Taylor (28-3-1, 17 KOs), of course, is coming off a stunning 12th-round knockout, when he challenged for Froch's title in April. Taylor had dropped Froch in the third round -- the first time the Englishman had been knocked down in his career -- and was well on his way to victory until running out of gas.
Froch, who was in superb shape, exploited Taylor's poor conditioning and finally stopped him with just 14 seconds left in the fight to pull out a dramatic victory.
"It's on my mind. It's on my mind all the time," said Taylor, who can't meet Froch for a rematch in the tournament unless they both advance to at least the semifinals. "If I would have been a little more in shape, I would have won that fight. It's on my mind. Hopefully, we'll meet again in the tournament and I can prove to everyone I should have won that fight. I think about it all the time. I think about if I would have trained a little harder, lost that weight a little sooner. I think about it."
Those 14 seconds very well might haunt Taylor, 31, for the rest of his life. However, if there is a silver lining, it's that the disaster against Froch taught Taylor in the starkest terms the importance of taking his training more seriously.
"The only reason I lost to Carl Froch was because I got tired. I wasn't prepared," Taylor said. "The best fighter lost because he didn't train right."
That has been rectified, Nelson says.
"Jermain's in excellent shape and had his weight down for the first time in years," Nelson said. "It's not like his last fight [against Froch], where he was losing 20 pounds in a couple of weeks. Jermain has been on weight and was sparring on weight.
"His head is on right. He's had his fun. It's time to get down to business. This man loves to eat. He'd eat a Big Mac any day, but this kid right here, [now] he won't have a Big Mac."
Instead of training at home, where there are distractions, or in the hustle and bustle of Miami, where he has regularly trained, Taylor moved his camp to a remote part of Houston. He was welcomed to the gym owned by former two-time heavyweight champion George Foreman, who would come by from time to time, and offer Taylor support and advice.
Besides maintaining his weight, Taylor said improving his stamina for late in the fight was a key focus in his training.
"A lot of focus on the 10th, 11th, 12th round -- if the fight should go that far," he said. "Those are the rounds I usually get tired. I will be prepared to make sure I have the last few rounds under control."
Because of the loss to Froch, preceded by a decision win against the faded Jeff Lacy and two consecutive losses to Kelly Pavlik (who took the middleweight title from Taylor on a brutal seventh-round knockout and then beat him in a nontitle rematch), few are giving Taylor much of a chance to defeat Abraham, much less win the tournament.
That's just fine by Taylor, who doesn't seem to mind his underdog status.
"If anyone thinks I'm lacking in confidence or feeling any pressure, they're dead wrong," Taylor said. "Just because I've lost a few fights, I'm not ready to be written off. Sometimes a fighter can lose and get beat up with that loss. That has not happened to me. I beat myself in every fight I lost, but I have learned from my mistakes. I'm a better fighter because of the losses."
He said he's determined to give everything he has in the tournament. No more beating himself.
"I've fought the best of the best in boxing. I've won some and lost some," Taylor said. "I just want to win this tournament. There ain't nothing else to it. It's not about the money or anything but that I want to win. I plan to just leave it all in there. That's all I got. That's my state of mind right now. No excuses. Just go in there and fight.
"I feel like I'm going to win the fight. I've done everything there is to do in boxing. I'm not ready to go yet. I feel like there is more to accomplish."
Promoter Lou DiBella has been with Taylor since he turned pro after claiming a bronze medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He is encouraged by Taylor's attitude going into the fight.
"Jermain is, I think, more focused on this fight than I've ever seen him focused on any fight," DiBella said. "It's been all business. He's lean and mean. We have a great amount of respect for Arthur Abraham. Anybody that can sustain a broken jaw early in a fight [as Abraham did in his first fight with Edison Miranda] and fight through that and win the fight and retain his title has to get a tremendous amount of respect.
"But we don't think that Arthur's ever been with anybody who's as athletically gifted or as big or fast as Jermain. We feel Arthur has the home crowd behind him but we have the better horse, the better fighter in the ring. We feel like we're going to shock some people in Berlin when Jermain Taylor re-establishes himself."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.
Former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor might be the longest shot at the Super Six World Boxing Classic, but he claims he's finally in the kind of shape he needs to be in. Arthur Abraham will put Taylor to the test Saturday in Berlin.