"King" Arthur Abraham
Birthplace: Yerevan, Armenia
Resides: Berlin, Germany
Height: 5' 10"
Current Titles Held: None
Former Titles Held: IBF Middleweight (160 lbs.)
Professional Record: 30-0, 24 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 8-0
Record at 168 lbs.: 6-0
Notable Wins: TKO4 Edison Miranda II, UD12 Edison Miranda I, KO5 Kingsley Ikeke
Jermain "Bad Intentions" Taylor
Birthplace: Little Rock, Arkansas
Resides: Little Rock, Arkansas
Height: 5' 11"
Reach: 74 1/2"
Current Titles Held: None
Former Titles Held: WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO, Ring Magazine Middleweight (160 lbs.)
Professional Record: 28-3-1, 17 KOs
Record in Fights Going 12 Rounds: 7-2-1
Record at 168 lbs.: 1-1
Notable Wins: UD12 Bernard Hopkins II, SD12 Bernard Hopkins I, TKO9 Raul Marquez
Notable Losses: TKO12 Carl Froch, UD12 Kelly Pavlik II, TKO7 Kelly Pavlik I
The first bout in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic features a battle between the two men in the field who have the most accomplishments to their names, though those honors came one weight class south of super middleweight. Taylor is a former undisputed middleweight champion with two victories over Bernard Hopkins under his belt, while Abraham gave up his IBF 160-pound title to enter the tournament after making 10 successful defenses.
Those similarities aside, the two men couldn't be more different when it comes to styles and career paths. King Arthur may not have truly elite power or speed, but he's been able to turn back all challengers to this point by taking several rounds to study them, then dishing out punishment once he sees openings.
Taylor, meanwhile, limps into the Super Six off of a dramatic TKO loss at the hands of fellow participant Carl Froch that punctuated a 1-3 record in his last four fights. Despite his middleweight reign, he's never quite seemed to get his boxing savvy to the same high level of his physical gifts, and he's had a worrisome tendency to fade after looking good early.
While those factors would seem to dovetail into an easy night for Abraham, there's still intrigue thanks to the fact that he's physically smaller than every man he'll face in the tournament. He'll be giving away height, reach and overall bulk to Taylor, and he'll have to prove he can retain his effectiveness against top contenders at this higher weight.
The format of the Classic ensures the loser won't be out of contention to win it all, but of all the first round matches, this one stands to do the most psychological damage to the boxer who ends up in that position. Abraham would have to quickly show that he can deal with tasting his initial defeat, while Taylor would undoubtedly hear the whispers that he's finished - or even worse, that he shouldn't have been in the field at all.
Abraham's Winning Strategy: Patience is a Virtue
King Arthur's usual M.O. is to cover up on defense until he's comfortable with what he's seeing, unleashing accurate jabs and power shots once he thinks he's got his foe figured out. It's worked for him so far, and there's no reason to think he'll do anything radically different.
But Taylor could test his commitment to the game plan in a couple of ways. Jermain often looks impressive or even scores knockdowns in the first few rounds, earning a lead on the scorecards. The American can also be awkward and doesn't throw a ton of punches, leading to fewer opportunities for counter-punching than Abraham usually sees.
Though Taylor's chin is now rightly suspect, Abraham could still find his power punches don't do as much damage at 168. There are also the pressures of earning the extra points for a KO and fighting in front of thousands of adoring fans in his adopted homeland of Germany that could tempt him into extra aggression.
Abraham can't worry about any of that. He needs to dance with what got him here because it's his best chance to stay undefeated.
Taylor's Winning Strategy: Attack Early, Defend Late
Several media outlets have reported that Taylor has been working with doctors and coaches specifically to solve his problem of running out of gas in the late rounds. He'd better hope they come up with something, because Abraham will make him pay if he reverts to his old form.
That doesn't mean Taylor should sit back for the first few frames. On the contrary, he'd probably be better served by dialing up the aggression even more than usual in the hopes of building a lead - a task that may be tougher in Germany.
Since he's naturally bigger than Abraham, Taylor should be able to muscle him in the early rounds. King Arthur covers up well, so Jermain would be well served to mix things up to the head and body and throw combinations with the knowledge that not all of the punches will get through.
Assuming he feels like he's ahead after the halfway point, Taylor can ease off a bit and use the fact that he's taller and rangier to pick off a foe who will have to push the pace to catch up. And while it may not be pretty, getting on his bike may be called for as well, the better to avoid more final round drama going against him.