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As a kid, there were a couple years when Santa Claus and his reindeer flew right by the ramshackle house that Jermain Taylor, his three sisters and his mother called home. For the Taylor family, there were times when December 25th rolled around on the calendar and there were no presents wrapped with care, no fat man in a red suit to spread holiday cheer and not even a Christmas tree in the family living room.

“Christmas time was hard,” says Taylor, who is currently locked away in a training camp in Scotrun, Pennsylvania, high in the Pocono Mountains, preparing to defend his world middleweight championship against Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik, on September 29th at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.

“There was a couple of times when we didn't have Christmas,” continues Taylor. When I look at where I come from, if there was a picture that I could show you, it would almost bring you to tears how poor we were,” says the soft-spoken 29 year-old champ.

His father left the family and walked out the door when Taylor was only five years old. Several years later, his grandmother, with whom he was especially close, was murdered by her own son, Taylor’s uncle, who then killed himself three days later. His bronze medal from the 1998 Goodwill Games was buried with her.

“Everytime I get into the ring, she's the first person that pops into my head,” explains Taylor who is undefeated as a pro with a record of 27-0-1 (17)KO. “Before a fight, I go to a neutral corner, kneel down and say a prayer to God and my grandmother.”

From an early age, it was clear to Taylor that he was going to have to step up and become the man of the house. He was left to looking after his three sisters while his mother was away at work trying to earn the meager paycheck that the Taylors were forced to scrape by on.

“I think about those days all the time,” says Jermain, who now earns purses in the millions of dollars whenever he steps in the ring to fight. These days he resides in a home befitting that of a young champion and he possesses all of the trappings of fame and fortune.

When he thinks back to those days growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas he does so with some sadness. He spent his time as a kid running a household, not playing outside with the other children and being carefree. He grew to be wary of every knock on the door and being cautious of his surroundings. “Why did I have to do that and why did I have to grow up so fast like that?” he asks out loud.

His has certainly been a life of sacrifice. Looking at him now you would never guess that he can compress his body down to 160 pounds. At 6’1” tall, with wide shoulders and thick arms, Jermain Taylor looks more like a 175 pound light heavyweight. But he has fought his entire professional career in the middleweight division, won a bronze medal in 2000 Sydney Olympics in that division too, and swears were it not for this challenge from a wrecking ball named Kelly Pavlik from Youngstown, Ohio (Ray Mancini’s old hometown) that he would have left the land of the middleweights forever.

The strain of trying to make his body fit into it’s 160 pound suit has been one that Taylor has been dealing with since before he won the title from the great Bernard Hopkins nearly two years ago.

His assistant trainer, Ozell Nelson, who has been with Taylor since he first laced on a pair of boxing gloves, is vocal about Taylor’s need to move up in weight. “We just can’t make this weight anymore,” he claims. “I don’t want him to kill himself to make 160. This weight has been a problem for a long time.”

Many people don’t know that Taylor, who struggled somewhat in defending his middleweight title for the fourth time in a split decision over Cory Spinks last May in Memphis, was 170 pounds only a day and half before the weigh-in. In the final hours before stepping on the scales, when most fighters are relaxing and conserving their energy, Taylor was forced to sweat off the additional ten pounds or risk losing his championship on the scale.

Taylor would likely have moved up eight pounds to the super middleweight division after the close win over Spinks, but then Pavlik crushed Colombian slugger Edison Miranda on the undercard to become the # 1 contender and raise his record to 31-0 (28) KO’s. It was after that fight that the public clamor for a fight between the two men reached a fever pitch. Had Taylor moved up without fighting Pavlik many people would have perceived him as running away from one of his most significant challenges.

Whatever the case, Taylor says bring Pavlik on and he says he’ll be ready for whichever version of Pavlik shows up. “I hope he chooses to fight me the same way he fought Miranda, but whatever he does, I know I'm going to win,” says a confident Taylor. “Slug, box - it don't make no difference. The outcome will be the same. Miranda didn't have all the talent people thought he had and I knew he was just all mouth. I know Pavlik is strong, but I know I am stronger than him.”

The fight with Pavlik is one of the most looked forward to matches of a busy fall boxing season and Taylor is under no illusions as to what the challenger brings to the table. “Kelly Pavlik is a fighter, just like me,” says the champion. “He comes to fight, no running, no holding. People are going to be surprised by what they see on September 29th. I'm expecting a lot of fireworks in the ring with Kelly Pavlik. This is my kind of fight.”

A victory over Pavlik would be one of the best presents that Jermain Taylor could ever receive. He knows too well that December 25th only comes around once a year, and he has already missed more Christmas mornings than one man ever should.
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