Burns surprised that Taylor chooses Nelson as trainer
One week after parting ways with Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward following a disappointing four-fight run that ended in a brutal seventh-round knockout loss to Kelly Pavlik, former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor turned the head trainer job over to Ozell Nelson on Tuesday.
Initially, it appeared as though Taylor intended to reunite with Pat Burns, who trained him from his pro debut to a 25-0 record, two wins against Bernard Hopkins and the undisputed middleweight championship. But instead of Burns, it will be Nelson who will assume control of Taylor's corner and training camp as he prepares to meet Pavlik in a rematch on Feb. 16 (HBO PPV) in Las Vegas.
Taylor's career as a top-tier fighter, however, could be, which is what makes going with Nelson as the lead trainer such a risk.
Nelson, who was instrumental in the decision to fire Burns in the spring of 2006 and the subsequent hiring and firing of Steward, is Taylor's father figure. He taught Taylor how to box as a boy, coached him through an amateur career that culminated with an Olympic bronze medal in 2000 and has been his assistant trainer since Taylor turned pro. However, Nelson has never been a head trainer for a professional.
Taylor said he is comfortable with Nelson being in charge.
"I'm going back to what made me a champion," Taylor told a small media gathering at his gym in Little Rock, Ark. "This fight will bring everything out. I know Coach [Nelson], he knows me, let's go back to work, how we used to do it. We'd come into this gym, right here, and beat the snot out of each other. Then we'd come back and do it again.
"I feel good about it, me and Coach. He listens to me. It's not 'It's going to be this way or no way.' I'm the one in there. It's important he listens to me, too. He realizes I'm the one in there, and when I tell him in the later rounds of a fight that I'm tired, he listens. In the past fights it hasn't been like that."
Nelson said they would train for the Pavlik rematch at the U.S. Olympic facility in Colorado Springs, and he's confident he will be able to handle the duties.
"Me and Jermain made the decision," Nelson said. "We like Emanuel Steward. He's a great trainer and we're still friends. But I just felt like it's time for me to take over because I learned a lot from Emanuel and Patrick Burns, things to do and things not to do. I've also been there when Jermain has lost [in the amateurs]. I know the ups and downs. I'm the one who built Jermain. I'm the one who built the motor.
"I think Jermain respects me an awful lot. He doesn't have to look around anymore to find me. He's comfortable with me there in his face. Manny did a good job, but when it came down to the night of the fight, there might have been a communication problem."
There appears to also have been a communication problem between Taylor and Burns, who was surprised to hear from a reporter that Nelson was taking over the corner.
When reached by phone in Miami, Burns told ESPN.com that he thought he was going to train Taylor for the Pavlik rematch. He was quite stunned to hear that he wasn't.
"Jermain called me about 12 days ago and it looked like we were gonna get back together, so I really don't know what happened," Burns said. "I guess you will have to talk to Jermain. I wish him luck. He's gonna need it. What can I say? I could sit there and give you 15 different reasons why he shouldn't [go with Nelson], but he made his choice. You make certain decisions and you live with it."
Burns recounted his talk with Taylor.
"The conversation started with that he was sorry how everything went down and that they needed me back," Burns said. "He didn't need to apologize. I just said, 'Let's get back to work.' We were excited. I guess things have changed. He spoke with Ozell and I guess they changed their mind."
Said Nelson, "I don't know anything about that [phone conversation between Taylor and Burns]. I have no knowledge that him and Jermain had made an agreement. Right now, Pat won't be working with us. Maybe if things was different, maybe Pat could come in. For now, it's going to be me and Jermain. But I am looking to bring in a second, which I am still working on."
Burns said he and Taylor had discussed a 10-day mini-camp beginning around Dec. 2 to work on conditioning. Burns said he probably would have gone to Little Rock because Taylor's wife, Erica, is due with their third child any day.
"I would have loved to train Jermain," Burns said. "I believe had I continued to train Jermain after the [second] Hopkins fight, he would have been better off. He chose to go elsewhere and it was a quick deterioration. It was obvious. It was very disappointing because it hurt me to see him go from a premier fighter and then all of a sudden, because of a poor decision to go with Emanuel, go downhill."
After Steward was let go, the Taylor camp reached out to Burns to gauge his interest in returning to the corner through Mark Vaz.
Vaz, one of Taylor's original managers, is still involved with Taylor, helping set up sparring and putting together his nutrition program. Vaz has also remained friendly with Burns through boxing as well as other business interests.
When Burns told Vaz he was interested in returning, that's when Taylor made the call, a move supported by others in Taylor's inner circle but not Nelson.
Burns blames Nelson for his firing as well as for torpedoing the reunion.
"I took Jermain from zero fights, won two title fights and beat Hopkins twice and we were preparing for Winky Wright, but Ozell wanted to bring in Emanuel Steward," Burns said. "It was Ozell's decision. Jermain went quickly downhill to the point where he got knocked out by Kelly Pavlik. There comes a point in every young man's life, whether it's a boxer or a son, where sooner or later you have to stand on your own two feet and evaluate decisions being made for you. If they've been great decisions, you continue to listen. But ultimately you have to make your own decision. It sounds like Jermain is letting people make decisions for him that he needs to evaluate. Some of the decisions that were made were not so good. In this case, Jermain has decided to listen to Ozell. Whether it was good or bad remains to be seen.
"I'm not mad at Jermain. I wish him the best. I think it's a terrible mistake but I wish him luck. I hope Ozell, who has never trained a professional fighter, has learned enough from me and Emanuel."
During his session with the Little Rock media, Taylor did not address the discussion with Burns but said he was confident in Nelson's ability to take on added responsibility.
"I know something about Coach," he said. "When it's time to step up, he steps up. He's always been like that. I know other tournaments I lost, we came back and adjusted, and I went back and beat them down."
Taylor also addressed for the first time the split with Steward, with whom he went 2-1-1, a controversial draw with Wright, lackluster decision wins against junior middleweights Cory Spinks and Kassim Ouma and the loss to Pavlik.
"To be honest with you, this was a big decision. I felt like I wasn't trained hard the last fight," Taylor said. "I felt like it was all about conditioning. I did my part. I did what I was supposed to do. When it came to sparring in that ring, I felt like I needed a lot more sparring, and they didn't give it to me. I always felt like I needed more, more rounds sparring. Sparring is like fighting. If you can't spar 12 rounds, you for damn sure can't go in and fight for 12 rounds."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.