Taylor Made: ‘The Tartan Tornado’ is a product of destiny and determination

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Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Ring Magazine.

The young boy sat quietly and watched.

It was summer 2005 and “Amazing” Alex Arthur, the reigning British and Commonwealth junior lightweight champion, went through the motions during a media day at a local sports center. In a few weeks, Arthur would be challenging Russia’s Boris Sinitsin for the European championship and, all going to plan, the talented boxer-puncher from Edinburgh, Scotland, would hopefully be challenging for world honors.

Media days come as standard on and around top level. Fighters just loosen up with some shadowboxing or they might hit a heavy bag. You would consider it a bonus if you’re treated to some mitt work or a fancy skipping routine. It’s nothing more than an appropriate setting for interview opportunities. However, regardless of the constant repetition and the lack of entertainment, the young boy at the side of the hall was completely transfixed.

“Normally young guys will hit a bag and do something, but he just sat and didn’t move,” recalled Arthur, who would reign briefly as the WBO junior lightweight titleholder. “He watched all the training and the media stuff and was maybe a bit in awe with all the cameras. Eventually I said to him, ‘Look, you’re getting on my nerves sitting doing nothing. I’d rather you got up to some mischief. Go and grab a pair of gloves.’

“The next thing, he starts hitting the bag and he looked like he’d been boxing for years. I was like, ‘For goodness sake, wee man, where did that come from?’ He said, ‘Well, I do Taekwondo, but I don’t really like kicking; I just like punching.’ I said, ‘Well, you sure can punch,’ and I told him to come back the next day. Honestly, within a few weeks, he was out doing roadwork and sparring with me. He was there through full training camps.”

The young boy was Josh Taylor, who is now firmly established as one of the best junior welterweights in the world. As of publication time, the Scotsman was ranked No.2 by The Ring at 140 pounds and will campaign in the second season of the World Boxing Super Series tournament, which is scheduled to begin before year’s end.

For as long as he can remember, Taylor has enjoyed combat. Small in stature during his formative years at school, bullies occasionally targeted what they perceived to be easy pickings. That plan would soon backfire and the bully would end up being bullied straight back. Pretty soon, the young Taylor found the Korean martial art of Taekwondo and excelled, receiving his black belt and winning a British championship as a teenager.

However, it was that almost pre-ordained meeting with Arthur at the sports center where his mother worked that would change his life forever. Encouraged to take up the sport in earnest, Taylor began training at 14 years old and later made the transition to the Lochend Boxing Club, which was run by Terry McCormack. The eager young southpaw progressed rapidly and caught the attention of all the right people, a narrative that has remained with him to the present day.

“After winning the Scottish title, I went abroad to compete with only 36 fights on my club card. All the rest were internationals,” said Taylor in relation to his rapid ascent. “I had something like 130, 140 international fights. I went all over the world, multinational tournaments, winning medals everywhere. You see every kind of style, every boxing stance, so you’re always learning and adapting. It also matures you. I’ve seen all kinds of cultures and different ways of life. That’s been great for me outside of boxing.

“I was ready to turn professional at 19 in terms of ability, but I just didn’t feel ready physically. I didn’t have the strength I needed. I was too weak. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to box grown men with little gloves on, and I’m just not ready yet.’ I decided to stay amateur until after the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. I’d matured by then and was hurting opponents in almost every fight. I turned professional after that, and it was the perfect time. I believe I can get any style thrown at me and I can adapt.”

Taylor’s pro debut in 2015:

 

Taylor had represented Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics, the first Scotsman to do since Dick McTaggart claimed gold at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. He was disappointed following a loss to Italian amateur star and No. 2 seed Domenico Valentino, but it was his performance at the aforementioned Commonwealth Games in 2014 that really turned heads. Taylor had moved up from lightweight to light welterweight, and his attractive combination punching was now juxtaposed alongside strength and explosiveness.

He took gold and kicked – or rather punched – open the door to professional stardom.

Cyclone Promotions, headed by former WBA featherweight champion Barry McGuigan, knew what it had when they signed the 24-year-old Taylor. There would be no prolonged professional learning curve for the exciting boxer-puncher. As well as his international amateur experience, Taylor had competed with the “British Lionhearts” in the World Series of Boxing, which is considered an almost perfect bridge between the amateur and pro game.

Trained by acclaimed coach Shane McGuigan, the Scotsman won his first eight fights, seven by knockout, before defeating Warren Joubert for the 140-pound Commonwealth championship. Taylor was moving fast, but many insiders were still surprised when he was matched against the unbeaten and bombastic power-puncher Ohara Davies. Experts were split on who would prevail when the pair met at the Braehead Arena in Glasgow on July 8, 2017.

Josh Taylor has an excellent rapport with his trainer, Shane McGuigan, the son of his promoter, Barry McGuigan.

“I always knew it wasn’t a 50-50 fight,” said Taylor, aghast. “In terms of skills and intelligence, I was miles ahead of him in every single department. He had the big name, the big profile and he was well-known for his mouth and punching power. But I knew he would fall apart against someone with boxing skill. As soon as I seen him mouth off on Twitter, I said to Barry and Shane, ‘Get that fight made now, because I will absolutely spank him.’ A lot of people didn’t believe me, but I said, ‘This guy is shit. He can punch, but he can’t box and he’s got slow feet.’ I’ve sparred middleweights, so punching power doesn’t bother me. Davies was an easy fight, but it was great for my profile. It was the fight that got everyone talking.”

Taylor dropped Davies twice and stopped him in seven. The performance was nearly flawless and resonated on both sides of the Atlantic. With just 10 fights under his belt, the Edinburgh man broke into this publication’s top 10 at junior welterweight (entering at No. 9) and made the leap from prospect to contender. Even the most revered members of the British fight fraternity knew they had a potential superstar in their midst.

“He is a very talented fighter, very skillful,” said former Ring and IBF junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton. “He’s been brought through with the right opposition at the right time and he’s in a good camp with the McGuigans. Shane, despite being young in years, is an extremely talented coach, one of the best tactically in the country, and you’ll have Barry sticking his head around the corner when he’s needed. Barry knows how a fighter should be brought along and when he needs to be stepped up.

 

“I’ve met Josh several times and he’s a lovely guy, but he has that bit of devil inside of him. You need that nastiness, but sometimes you’ve got to put the boxing brain in front of the intensity. When I first turned professional, I went at my opponents like they’d stole my dinner money, and I suffered a lot of cuts. My trainer told me those cuts were happening because I was too ragged, too aggressive, and that could shorten my career. You need to think about your attacks; use your jab, feint on the way in and use the subtleties.”

And Taylor needed almost every fistic nuance he’d learned through the years in his most recent outing on June 23. After becoming the first fighter to knock out former IBF lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez, Taylor was matched against Viktor Postol. Despite being relatively inactive, the Ukrainian technician was still regarded as one of the best 140-pound fighters in the world. Postol was unbeaten over an eight-year professional career when he knocked out the hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse to claim the vacant WBC junior welterweight title in 2015. In July of the following year, Postol fell way short in a unification showdown with pound-for-pound star Terence Crawford, but that is no disgrace.

The 34-year-old contender ventured to Glasgow full of fight, and although the scorecards of his unanimous decision defeat to Taylor were wide, that didn’t tell the story of what became a grueling and highly competitive prizefight.

“He caught me with a left uppercut and I thought, ‘Right, that’s a good shot,’” recalled Taylor, who was taken 12 rounds for the first time in his career. “I went to pull out, but I pulled out with my hands down, which is a mistake. I lost concentration and he caught me with another two shots. I thought, ‘Fuck!’ You can’t switch off at the highest level, and that was a big lesson I learned. But I adapted when Shane told me to put it on him. He told me to go through the gears, fight at a fast pace and work off the jab. That’s when I started hitting him with left hands and other big shots.

Josh Taylor vs. Viktor Postol

“I was confident that I could go 12 rounds, because I’ve done it in the gym. It was the pace of the Postol fight that was unbelievable – it was a red-hot pace – but I honestly felt that I could have gone 15 rounds. That’s how fit I was. I was in great condition and that’s further testament to Postol, the shape he must have been in. His interpreter actually said to me the next day that he was in better shape for me than he was for Crawford. He had a long time to prepare and got himself in the best shape possible, and I believe that, because I hit him with some great shots.”

The shot of the night was a massive left hand from Taylor that floored the ex-champion in Round 10. The knockdown wasn’t required, but it was an exclamation point on an extremely important victory. After winning what was officially a WBC final eliminator, the assumption was that Taylor would face off against that organization’s titleholder, fellow London 2012 Olympian Jose Ramirez from California.

However, that showdown will have to wait.

Shortly after posting a career-best victory, Taylor changed direction and signed up for the WBSS tournament at 140 pounds. The other participants will be Kiryl Relikh, Regis Prograis, Terry Flanagan, Eduard Troyanovsky, Anthony Yigit, Ivan Baranchyk and the man whom Taylor will meet first, unbeaten American Ryan “Blue Chip” Martin.

“I’m not going to give you the game plan, because (Martin) is going to be reading this and he’ll say to himself, ‘I’ll need to start working on this, and I’ll need to start working on that,’” laughed Taylor when asked what weaknesses he’d detected in his first-round opponent.

“I hadn’t seen him fight when we went over to Russia for the gala draw, but once the match was set, I had a look at him. He’s a solid all-rounder. He’s as tall as me, he’s got fast hands and he can do everything quite well. He’s a good fighter, and I think this a tough fight, to be honest. I’m going to have to train hard and make sure that I’m at my best. If I’m not at my best, he could come away with a victory, and that upsets my goals. He’s in the way of me accomplishing what I want to accomplish.”

Taylor (13-0, 11 KOs) reels off what he dreams of achieving in his career with youthful exuberance. Winning the WBSS is front and center, and both Arthur and Hatton believe he is more than capable of doing it. If that comes to fruition, Taylor would be the IBF, WBA and, most likely, Ring champion at junior welterweight. He would then look to become Scotland’s first undisputed champion since the great Ken Buchanan, his boxing idol, who also happens to hail from Edinburgh.

“In 20 years, I think we’ll look back at Josh as one of the best Scottish fighters ever,” said Arthur without hesitation. “Barring an act of God or a serious injury, I think that’s a foregone conclusion. Can he become the best or the greatest? That remains to be seen. There’s still a long way to go. I’d like to say he’ll become the greatest Scottish fighter we’ve ever had. I’d like him to show the world that Scotland has great boxers, because we do. We always have and we always will. But we maybe just lack that worldwide recognition. Josh could be the one who gets that for us.”

Taylor is no longer the young boy looking on at the side. “The Tartan Tornado” is very close to having the boxing world at his feet.

 

Tom Gray is Associate Editor for The Ring. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing.

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