Taylor uses self-doubt as motivator in ring

June 02, 1991|By Robert Seltzer | Robert Seltzer,Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- Like spit buckets and left hooks to the liver dishonesty is part of boxing.

And it is not confined to the managers, promoters and other suits who count -- and take -- the money.

No, sometimes the boxers themselves are less than honest, as when they claim that they have never gone 12 tough rounds with self-doubt.

And then there is Meldrick Taylor, a boxer who has become confident enough to talk about those rare moments when his confidence fails him.

"Sometimes, you doubt yourself, because you never know what's going to happen in the ring, no matter who the opponent is," said Taylor, 24, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist from Philadelphia.

"I don't have those thoughts very often, but there's two sides to every situation, a positive and a negative," he said. "If all you have is the negative, you'll lose for sure. But you need a little negative, because it provides a challenge for you to overcome."

Taylor, the World Boxing Association welterweight champion, will put his title on the line against the top contender, Luis Garcia, Saturday night in Palm Springs, Calif.

Which Taylor will show up, the one with a twinge of anxiety and self-doubt or the one whose belief in himself can appear almost mystical?

Not to worry, Taylor says, he will enter the ring accompanied by a confidence so palpable that it could serve as an extra member of his entourage.

"I use any negative thoughts to keep pushing myself," Taylor said. "After every victory, I feel more motivated for the next challenge. It's like an addiction. I need more and more obstacles."

Early in his professional career, desperate to climb the ladder that would lead him to a world title, Taylor denied, to himself and others, any fear or nervousness about his future.

But it was there -- a mild anxiety, perhaps, but a real one nonetheless.

Yes, the young man with the sweet smile and the killer instinct always knew he would make it, but there were moments when he wondered whether he would make it.

"There's a part of yourself that people don't want to see," the champion said. "But it's a reality. When you're an up-and-coming fighter, all people see is the promise."

Today, Taylor no longer has to worry about making it. He is regarded by most experts as one of the greatest fighters in the world, a luminary whose talent is matched only by his heart. And his desire to keep improving.

"When I'm in the ring, I want to see what I'm made of," he said. "I want to see how far I can push myself. And, when I hear the crowd cheering, I push myself even more."

Taylor no longer has to worry, but he still does -- sometimes.

"When you reach a certain level, people expect you to win, but they don't necessarily expect you to be sensational," he said. "I don't expect it myself. If I did, I wouldn't work as hard as I do."

While Taylor has become more open about his inner thoughts, he does not point to any single factor to explain his new-found candor, certainly not to his traumatic bout with Julio Cesar Chavez on March 18, 1990, in which he lost his junior-welterweight title with only two seconds left in the fight.

"I think it just came with maturity and experience," he said. "You learn that you have to admit your self-doubt, and then try to overcome it."

Taylor, who was brandishing his fists in the gym when other youngsters were brandishing baseball bats on the playground, began to box when he was 8 years old.

He was only 17 when he won the gold medal, and he was only 21 when he won his first professional title.

A prodigy, he now realizes that he needed time for his mental and emotional strength to catch up with his physical talent.

"You've got to remember, Meldrick was just a kid when he won the gold medal," said Lou Duva, who co-trains Taylor. "He was always the baby of that Olympic team, but he's grown up since then. He's very honest with himself. He thinks he still has a lot to learn about boxing, and he's willing to work hard to learn it."

If Garcia and other future opponents see this honesty as a crack in the Taylor armor, they are wrong, the welterweight champion said.

"I know I'm going to beat Garcia," he said.

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