Tired of punching air and a speed bag, Jermain Taylor soon will be begging trainer Pat Burns for a live target.
Taylor will make the plea next week or the week after and Burns will slow-play his fighter.
If it’s a Monday, he’ll tell Taylor maybe on Tuesday. The next day, when Taylor pesters his trainer for a sparring partner, Burns will remind him there was a maybe. By the third day, Taylor will be on edge.
Reading his fighter is part of Burns’ job. “When he comes into the gym, Jermain never knows what to expect,” Burns said.
Such an approach is supposed to avoid staleness during the two months Taylor will spend preparing for a world middleweight championship fight against Bernard Hopkins. Like a thoroughbred trainer trying to get a 3-year-old to fire his best shot on the first Saturday in May at the Kentucky Derby, Burns wants Taylor on top of his game on July 16 in Las Vegas.
Taylor did some conditioning work almost two weeks ago, promoted the fight at news conferences in New York and Los Angeles and slipped into Little Rock long enough to watch his 4-year-old son play his first T-ball game. He was back in the Miami Beach area at mid-week last week to begin the countdown with an easy run.
In the middle of the day, he’ll be in the gym, doing extensive shadow boxing, pounding the speed bag, working on his abdominal muscles. In the evening, he’ll review film of Hopkins — unbeaten since losing to Roy Jones on May 22, 1993. Down the line, there will be walk-throughs with sparring partners doing their best Hopkins, who has a career record of 46 wins, 2 losses and 1 draw.
Each day, there will be a bit more conditioning as Burns’ Marine Corps training kicks in. Burns was 17 when he went Semper Fi and 19 when he got out. In between, he spent almost a year in a hospital, recuperating from wounds in Vietnam.
Fighter and trainer live five minutes apart and Taylor never needs an alarm clock for morning runs that soon will include some hills. Eventually, his route will take him over a quarter-mile bridge with a steep incline that rises about 120 feet. He’ll head for Key Biscayne and turn around after a couple of miles. Back at the bridge, he’ll sprint the incline, rest a minute — emulating the break between rounds — and do it again, time after time. Burns would prefer that Taylor walk back to the bottom, but he’ll probably jog.
“Holding him back is the hardest thing with Jermain,” Burns said.
Only collegiate wrestlers go through a conditioning process as demanding, Burns said.
Once the sparring begins, there will be a point where Taylor (23-0) will return to his corner and Burns will tell him he just broke his right hand. “What I’m trying to do to a young fighter is get him prepared for anything that might happen,” Burns said.
In fact, in the fourth or fifth fight of Taylor’s career, he sat on a stool and told Burns he had broken a bone in his right hand. Face to face, Burns told Taylor there was nothing wrong with his other hand and Taylor took out his opponent with a left.
About two weeks out from the fight, Taylor will be sharp. “Like a fine stone, I’ll come in with a whetstone and make it razor sharp,” Burns said. “Take that blade out if you will, take all the little burrs out, just kinda groove it nice and easy.”
Trainer and fighter will go to Las Vegas about a week before the fight and there are some mandatory appearances during the first couple of days. Near the end of the week, it’s all about focus.
“A lot of trainers get caught up in all that hype,” he said. “It’s a wonderful time and you’re in Las Vegas. There are 1 million people in the city, beautiful girls, no clocks in the buildings.”
But, he said, Taylor is all business. “He doesn’t take any shortcuts,” he said. “For a good-looking, 26-year-old guy, he’s very unusual.”