By Jake Donovan
Given the betting odds, it’s tough to envision any scenario where Ivan Baranchyk would be favored to successfully defend his super lightweight title versus Josh Taylor this weekend.
The fact that their World Boxing Super Series tournament semifinals clash takes place in Taylor’s hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, coupled with the defending champ entering with a new trainer in town has the challenger all the more brimming with confidence.
“I believe I’ve got an answer for everything that he does,” Taylor (14-0, 12KOs) told Sky Sports ahead of his first career title challenge, which comes as part of the WBSS 140-pound tournament Saturday evening at SSE Hydro in Glasgow.
The winner of this weekend’s title fight will meet recently crowned 140-pound title claimant and tournament top seed Regis Prograis in the WBSS super lightweight finals later this year.
Taylor—whom boxed for Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics—enters as more than a 7-1 betting favorite to become Scotland’s first major titlist since Ricky Burns became a three-division title claimant. His celebrated countryman also won a 140-pound title in this very venue three years ago almost to the day come fight night.
A major title being at stake is the only new wrinkle for the unbeaten challenger this weekend. He comes in with the same team he’s carried since turning pro in 2015—trained by 2016 Trainer of the Year Shane McGuigan and managed by Hall of Fame former featherweight champ Barry McGuigan—and fights in the friendly confines of the SSE Hydro for the fourth straight time.
In stark contrast, Baranchyk (19-0, 12KOs) enters with plenty of baggage in tow. The unbeaten Belarusian threatened—through manager David McWater—to withdraw from the tournament altogether, until an undisclosed but lucrative settlement softened their stance on the issue.
Heading into his first title defense, Baranchyk leaves behind longtime trainer Pedro Diaz in favor of Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach with whom he joined forces in early April.
“Seven weeks with Freddie Roach is not enough time – if anything it’s a bit of a disadvantage,” claims Taylor of the late pairing. “It’s not enough time to link up with a new trainer and to get to know him, and for him to know your strengths and weaknesses.”
There have been few weaknesses exhibited by either boxer to this point in their respective careers. Both stormed into the semifinals with dominant stoppage wins in the opening leg of the super lightweight tournament. Barancyhk won a vacant title with a gruesome 9th round injury stoppage of Anthony Yigit last October, just one week before Taylor humbled unbeaten but miserably outclassed Ryan Martin in seven rounds.
“He’s very dangerous,” acknowledges Taylor of the defending titlist. “He comes forward, every punch has got intent behind it. He’s strong, fit and is in good shape. He’s going to come and have a good go but I’m more than prepared for anything he brings to the table.”
That confidence comes with being in lock step with your team, which is precisely the case with Taylor and the McGuigans.
Then of course, there’s the overwhelming support he will receive from the hometown crowd.
“It’s the moment I’ve dreamed for, becoming world champion. This is by far the biggest night of my life,” Taylor insists. “It’s huge.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox