Mora refuses to fight world champ Taylor in Memphis

Updated: March 14, 2007, 11:36 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Middleweight world champion Jermain Taylor's May 19 title defense against Sergio Mora of "The Contender" fame blew up Wednesday night because Mora refuses to fight in Memphis, handlers of both fighters told ESPN.com.

"We're not going to fight Jermain in May. We don't want to fight in Memphis," said Contender promoter Jeff Wald. "For a big championship fight like Taylor-Mora, we didn't want to be in a place like Memphis, no offense to Memphis. We would rather do something more interesting."

Memphis' FedEx Forum, which has hosted several high-profile bouts, emerged this week as the venue for the fight because availability at other major arenas around the country on May 19 -- the date specified for the fight by HBO -- was slim because of so many commitments to NBA and NHL playoff games.

Other places organizers explored included Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Atlantic City, N.J., and San Francisco.

"Too bad for Mora," Taylor promoter Lou DiBella said. "We tried every alternative site, but the date HBO gave us was a problem with all the hockey and basketball holds, and we couldn't go in Las Vegas on the date because it was too close to the Oscar [De La Hoya] fight [on May 5]. Sergio Mora thinks he has this kind of leverage to dictate where the fight is? Let him go pound sand."

DiBella said Taylor will still fight May 19 in Memphis and that he has reached out to promoter Don King to ask about the availability of junior middleweight titlist Cory Spinks, who would move up from 154 pounds to 160 without risking his title.

Based on their resumes, Spinks would be a major upgrade in opponent from Mora, who has never beaten a top fighter. What he had going for himself was popularity from winning the first season of the reality TV series.

"I already offered the fight to Cory Spinks," DiBella said. "Cory has called out Jermain before and with Jermain being from Little Rock [Ark.] and Cory being from St. Louis, the fight would be very, very big in Memphis, even bigger than a Mora fight I think. So I've offered the fight to Don, but if Don prices himself out, he prices himself out."

King is in Paris this week promoting cruiserweight champion O'Neil Bell's Saturday rematch with Jean-Marc Mormeck, but Spinks trainer and manager Kevin Cunningham said he and Cory want the fight.

"As long as they let us know in a timely manner," Cunningham said. "We would have to be in camp by March 19 or we wouldn't do it. I need him in camp eight weeks. If they got back to us in the next 48 hours we would take it. Don is in Paris, but they got phones in Paris and we'll be talking. If they make the money right, Cory will fight Godzilla. That's his attitude."

Spinks would earn considerably more than the $100,000 he made last month for a mandatory defense against Rodney Jones, a match deemed so poor that it went untelevised while Showtime aired two other title bouts on the card.

DiBella said he didn't blame Wald for the fight with Mora falling through.

"The Contender guys operated in good faith," he said. "They understood we tried to make a deal elsewhere. For Mora to act like he's the champion and that he can determine where the fight goes, he proved what he is. He's not the 'Latin Snake,' he's the 'Latin Pollo' [chicken in Spanish]. This is on Sergio. The Contender people did everything in their power to keep this fight together. I would do business with them any time. It's not their fault. It's their fighter's fault. He gives snakes a bad name."

By passing on the bout, Mora will lose out on a seven-figure payday.

"The Contender guys negotiated a great deal for him, certainly more than he deserved considering he is barely a top 10 fighter," DiBella said.

Mora could not be reached for comment.

DiBella and Wald preferred to put the fight on June 2, when finding a site would be much easier, but HBO refused. Instead, the network is holding that date for a fight that doesn't even exist yet -- a proposed heavyweight title bout between beltholder Oleg Maskaev and Vitali Klitschko in Moscow.

Memphis is perceived as Taylor country because his home in Little Rock is only a little more than two hours away by car. He has also trained for fights in Memphis, where he received an unpopular title-retaining draw against Winky Wright last summer.

"It was never our agreement to fight in Memphis," Wald said. "We want to go to a place where there is a large Hispanic community. We wanted to do this fight in Los Angeles or in Las Vegas. At the end of the day, Memphis didn't make sense. It became Memphis because that's where the offer was. We didn't want to do that. But I don't blame Lou or [Taylor adviser] Al Haymon. They have been gentlemen. We just had no choice on the date because of HBO."

Mora has been idle since August, but Wald said, "We'll set up a fight real quick for him, but this fight [with Taylor] will not take place May 19 in Memphis."

Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.

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