Since they were Olympic teammates in 2000 — two of the team's brightest, hardest-hitting stars, in adjoining weight classes — St. Petersburg's Jeff Lacy and Jermain Taylor have been heading toward a fight.
They will finally collide Nov. 15 at a site to be determined, with HBO televising the super-middleweight bout.
"You can almost call this fight inevitable,'' Taylor's promoter, Lou DiBella, said. "This has been talked about since they were amateurs.''
Lacy's majority-decision win over Colombia's Epifanio Mendoza on Wednesday in Cabazon, Calif., paved the way for the matchup, which was all but signed and sealed a few hours before the fight. It will be a WBC eliminator. Carl Froch and Jean Pascal are expected to fight for the WBC title, possibly on the same card.
"This is going to be a great matchup,'' said Lacy, 31, who improved to 24-1 with Wednesday's win. He had to rally late to eke it out by 95-95, 96-94 and 97-93 scores but was pleased with the outing.
"He had a hard time. He made an easy fight look hard,'' Taylor, 29, said. "He's still strong as an ox, but I figure I'll just have to give him a good boxing lesson.''
At their peak, Lacy and Taylor were considered boxing's future. Lacy was the IBF super-middleweight champion from 2004-06; Taylor, from Little Rock, Ark., was middleweight champion from 2005-07.
But the matchup has lost some luster in recent years. Lacy is still trying to find his way back from his only loss, to Joe Calzaghe in 2006, and 2007 shoulder surgery, and Taylor (27-2, 17 KOs) is coming off consecutive losses to Kelly Pavlik.
"They're still two of the biggest names in the business,'' DiBella said. "But it's a crossroads fight for both. The winner makes a statement.
"If Jeff loses, it's a huge problem for him. He hasn't looked good lately. And Jermain, if he were to lose, that would be three fights in a row.
"This is hugely important.''
Lacy and Taylor are friends and often sparred together as Olympians. "We talk,'' Lacy said. "But when the bell rings, the friendship stays outside the ring. Maybe we can have dinner afterwards.''
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4612.