A Matter of Style : Norris Is Spurred by an Intense Desire to Keep Taylor From Making Him Look Bad

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Abel Sanchez, the trainer of junior-middleweight boxing champion Terry Norris, was sitting in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium other day, talking about drive.

By drive, he meant all the vague sports cliches relating to "heart," "determination," "work ethic" and the like.

He watched as Norris wound up and threw the ceremonial first pitch of a game between the Padres and Montreal Expos. The pitch bounced in the dirt in front of home plate and the catcher had to short-hop it.

Some in the crowd, who had cheered at Norris' introduction, laughed.

"You know what? Terry isn't laughing about that," Sanchez said. "He's steamed. He's the kind of guy who hates to look bad at anything. I see this every day with him, in the gym."

When Norris took his seat in the stands, he was teased about the 55-foot pitch, but said nothing. But then, he hardly ever says anything.

Here tonight, though, the quiet man from Alpine, in eastern San Diego County, will become a million-dollar fighter in a title bout against Meldrick Taylor.

Taylor (29-1-1) will be trying to take Norris' 154-pound championship, but to do so, Sanchez said, Taylor first will have to break Norris' considerable heart.

"Some guys are just driven," Sanchez said. "There's no explaining it, and there's no understanding it. But this guy is special. If you could figure out what makes Terry work, if you could put it in a pill, there would be some great athletes out there walking around.

"A lot of people have no idea what kind of workload a world-class boxer goes through in training camp. Yet we literally have to padlock the gym on this guy. We scheduled a six-week training camp for the Taylor fight. But Terry wanted to get in the gym in March, six weeks before we wanted him in the gym.

"So we just told him: 'Terry, relax. Lighten up.' "

Norris has sparred nearly 200 rounds and done hundreds of miles of early morning roadwork over the bumpy roads of the 100-year-old cattle ranch owned by his manager, Joe Sayatovich, at Campo, east of Alpine and just north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The fight is at 150 1/2 pounds, exactly between the junior-middleweight and welterweight limits. Yet there was Norris, at that Padre game, having a double cheeseburger, fries and a Coke. He sat with his pregnant wife, Kelly, and wondered at what might have been.

In high school, at Lubbock, Tex., he was a baseball prospect, a center fielder who could run, throw and hit with power. Then one afternoon he hit a game-winning double and was met with racial slurs by the opposing team's white pitcher and two infielders.

There was a fight.

"I put all three of them in the hospital," Norris said. "But I got suspended from school, and that was the end of baseball for me."

Norris, his older brother Orlin, a heavyweight, and their father, also Orlin, moved to the San Diego area to box for Sayatovich, a wealthy drywall contractor.

Norris turned pro in 1986 and won his first 12 fights, then lost a 10-round decision to Derrick Kelly at the Forum in 1987. But only recently did Sanchez learn that Norris vowed that night to become more businesslike.

"Orlin told me just a couple of days ago that after that loss to Kelly, Terry told him: 'Things are going to change for me. I will never look bad like that again. I will never go in the ring again without being mentally and physically prepared.'

"Terry and Orlin are very close, and they talk about things they never share with me. But that doesn't surprise me. Like I said, he's driven. And he's also become a better fight since he's been a champion."

Norris (31-3) won his junior-middleweight title in 1990 by knocking out John Mugabi in Tampa. Norris has defended it six times, most notably against Sugar Ray Leonard at Madison Square Garden 15 months ago.

The decision over Leonard made Norris a big-timer. Forgiven was the early defeat by Kelly, a loss on a disqualification and a 1989 second-round knockout by Julian Jackson.

Since the victory over Leonard, for which he earned $600,000, Norris has defended against Donald Curry, Brett Lally, Jorge Castro and Carl Daniels.

Taylor was the opponent who would put Norris in the seven-digit payday class--he will earn $1.3 million against Taylor's $2 million tonight--yet talk of a Norris-Taylor fight had gone on for more than a year with no result. Norris beefed a bit about it last February. In a backhanded slap at Sayatovich, he said: "I'm getting tired of slow-moving people in my corner."

The last stumbling block was Norris' agreeing to fight Taylor at 150 1/2 instead of 154. He says now it was never a major problem for him. In his last fight, against Daniels, Norris weighed 152.

"Terry has weighed 151, 152 the last two weeks," Sayatovich said. "The weight was never a problem. He was ready to fight two weeks ago."

In the old bunkhouse he lives in at Sayatovich's ranch-training camp, Norris has posted a picture of Taylor above his bed and above his television. Everywhere he looks, there's Taylor.

He speaks quietly and confidently about how he plans to defeat the 1984 Olympic champion.

"Meldrick is a 140-pounder and does not belong in my weight class," he said. "I'm going to demonstrate this to him in the first round. I'll show him I'm stronger than he is. I'll show him a little power early, then pick up the tempo.

"I'm very excited about this fight. I love boxing. I love the one-on-one part, just the two of us in there. It gives me a rush, and it stays with me for hours after the fight."

And by all accounts, he will get a rush from Taylor during the fight.

Taylor, with his fast hands, is an aggressive, charging fighter.

Sanchez said: "Terry is at his best when a guy comes at him. When he sees Taylor come to him, he'll smile."

Sanchez said Norris fights now as if it's expected of him to fight like a champion.

"Now it's in his mind that he's an attraction, that people want to be excited by what he does," Sanchez said. "It was never that way when he was coming up. So now he has more confidence, and he's more comfortable at creating action."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°