MEMPHIS - Jermain Taylor outpointed Cory Spinks in a split decision last night for his fourth straight defense of his middleweight championship - but this one did little to satisfy his critics.

Taylor had winning scores of 117-111 and 115-113 from two of the judges, and the third had it 117-111 for Spinks.

Spinks and Taylor spent most of the early rounds sizing up each other. Spinks is 21/2 inches shorter than the 6-foot Taylor, but he did a good job staying out of the champion's reach.

The two combined to throw 211 punches in the first three rounds and drew scattered boos from the crowd. By contrast, Kelly Pavlik and Edison Miranda combined for 191 punches in the first round of the last undercard bout.

Taylor came alive a bit during the middle rounds and knocked Spinks off balance with a left hand to the head in the seventh. But Taylor (27-0-1) hasn't knocked anyone down during his nearly two-year reign atop the middleweight division.

Spinks, the IBF junior middleweight champion, moved up to fight for Taylor's middleweight title. Spinks (36-4) was Taylor's second straight opponent from a lower weight class. Taylor beat Kassim Ouma - also from the junior middleweight ranks - in December.

Taylor outpointed Bernard Hopkins in July 2005 to become middleweight champion. He beat Hopkins in a second decision later that year, then escaped with a draw against Winky Wright in Memphis in 2006. Taylor then beat Ouma in another decision.

Now Pavlik is the middleweight calling for a fight with Taylor. Pavlik stopped Miranda with a blistering combination in the seventh round, highlighting the undercard.

Miranda (28-2) drew Taylor's ire earlier in the week when he taunted the champion and asked for a chance to fight him - but he was soundly beaten by Pavlik.

"Jermain Taylor is a great champion," Pavlik (31-0) said. "I definitely want to fight him."