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Taylor embraces changes

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
Published June 15, 2006

MEMPHIS - Emanuel Steward runs boxing's most famous gym (Kronk) and has trained more world champions than anyone (33), but he cannot completely change a fighter in six weeks.

Can he?

That seems to be the biggest question leading up to Saturday's showdown between his fighter, Jermain Taylor, and St. Petersburg's Winky Wright.

Wright's camp thinks the task is impossible. But those in Taylor's camp had big smiles after his public workout Tuesday night.

"It's like night and day," said Ozell Nelson, who has been with Taylor, 27, since he began boxing. "Jermain is more relaxed. He's slicker. We had a guy come in from Kentucky to spar with him, and he said that didn't even look like the same guy that beat Bernard Hopkins. He wouldn't get in the ring with him, so we had to send him back."

Everyone seems to agree the mental changes in Taylor will benefit him more than any stylistic adjustments by Steward.

"I do think that Jermain Taylor reaps a significant benefit from the hiring of Emmanuel Steward," HBO's Jim Lampley said. "At the moment, I don't know if Manny has had any effect on Jermain's technique, but I do think the experience of being in Kronk, going through the rough spots and getting over and becoming king of the gym where Tommy Hearns once trained has to be huge for him."

Former trainer and current ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas said six weeks is enough time for minor changes, but agrees mental tweaks will be more significant.

"I don't think six weeks is enough time to make any monumental changes, but 95 percent of the game is mental," Atlas said. "If you believe that Emmanuel is helping, then there's some benefit there."

Promoter Lou DiBella was one who pushed for former trainer Pat Burns' exit and Steward's entrance, believing his fighter needed to make that next step.

"Emanuel is going to help," he said. "What's going to help more is the confidence this kid has. This kid knows, "I am bigger, I am stronger, I am faster.' It's just the way he carries himself. He's a different guy. This is a kid who has never been this comfortable in his own skin."

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