Unbeaten Scottish star Josh Taylor continued his meteoric rise this past weekend, delivering a career-best performance as he dismantled the previously unbeaten American Ryan Martin in seven brutally one-sided rounds in their World Boxing Super Series semi-final in Glasgow.
The victory, while advancing Taylor to the semi-finals of the glitzy knockout-format tournament, also affords the 27-year-old southpaw his maiden World title shot against Ivan Baranchyk following the Belarussian’s stoppage win over Anthony Yigit in New Orleans.
In a career spanning just fourteen fights, Taylor has blazed a formidable trail through the professional ranks and the precocious Prestonpans puncher now finds himself on the verge of superstardom.
After a hard-earned victory over former WBC World super lightweight champion Viktor Postol in June – a victory that saw him enter the WBSS – Taylor’s masterful showing against Martin is evidence of his continual improvement into a bona fide elite talent.
Having weathered a sizeable storm in the seventh round of his bout with ‘The Iceman’ – as well as alluding to issues with over-thinking and nerves in preparation for the bout (the biggest challenge of his career) – Taylor, evidently, has learned from his gut-check and matured into a fighter that Hall-of-Fame manager and mentor Barry McGuigan called ‘the best 140lb’er on the planet’.
Given the ease in which ‘The Tartan Tornado’ blew away his opponent at the SSE Hydro Arena: it would take a brave man to argue with the former World featherweight champion.
Shane McGuigan, son of Barry and Taylor’s trainer, was similarly effusive, and once again highlighted the importance of Taylor’s win over Postol when analysing his star pupil’s latest victory.
“It was the performance that he should have produced against Postol.” said trainer Shane McGuigan when analysing his star pupil’s victory.
“We’ve dwelled on the Postol fight, but what happened in that fight and how he [Taylor] responded – weathering a storm, coming on strong late in the fight and getting the decision – are the hallmarks of creating a world class fighter: and that’s what he is.” McGuigan continued.
The aggressive matchmaking and unwavering faith in Taylor’s ability by Cyclone Promotions, along with the guile and meticulous preparation from the wise-beyond-his-years McGuigan, have created the perfect storm in the enigmatic Scotsman.
Having come to know Josh Taylor over the last eighteen months or so, I have always felt a unique ‘energy’ whenever encountering him. He has opened up on several occasions – both on camera and off – about his seemingly-exhaustive strive for perfection, as well as a conscious effort to harness and channel his aggression.
“I’m so competitive. I just want to win at everything.” he told me when paying a visit to McGuigan’s Gym in Wandsworth a month prior to his bout with Martin.
A purpose-built facility that allows each member of the team to fine-tune boxing technique alongside the rigours of brutal circuits, the latest addition to the thriving stable in the shape of a ping-pong table has served to alleviate some of the stresses that arise from a career in combat sport.
“I’m rubbish at it.” laughed Taylor when I asked if the opportunity to focus on something other than boxing had helped to ease his competitive streak. In hindsight, it wasn’t the smartest question I have ever asked.
“Aye, there have definitely been a few paddles thrown. Even when I play FIFA with the guys up in the room: I can’t stand losing. The only thing I like to do is play darts and I’m rubbish at that too!”
Known affectionately as ‘Hank’ by his teammates, due to his (apparent) likeness to Jim Carrey’s comical portrayal of the violent alter-ego character of the same name in ‘Me Myself and Irene’, Taylor has always struck me – a self-confessed southern softie – as the archetypal “mad Scotsman”.
He is a vibrant ball of combustible energy. Even when resting, Taylor always seems to have the potential to explode around the four walls of McGuigan’s Gym at any given moment. On my last visit, he would regale me with a story of an, ahem, encounter with a London commuter while on his bicycle. I laughed, he laughed. I was terrified, he was… well, ‘Hank’.
It is probably worth noting at this point that an almost child-like innocence also exists in ‘The Tartan Tornado’. He is inquisitive, honest and, in my experience at least, looking for reassurance. Strange when considering his ferocity in the ring and the bedevilled look in his eyes when flicking into ‘Hank’ mode.
This past weekend, when he took apart Ryan Martin so destructively, so effortlessly: fans of the sport were treated to what seemed to be the perfect blend of the two sides to Josh Taylor.
He was aggressive, but not gung-ho. He punched hard, without loading up. He was busy, without wasting energy.
I had been struck throughout the week by Josh’s calmness. I have been privileged to have an insight into his preparations for, in particular, his last two fights. Having some sort of relationship with him has allowed me to notice the difference in his demeanour, which is something he reiterated to me in our pre-fight interview at the Lochend Boxing Club – the amateur gym that Taylor refers to as his “second home”.
“I’m much more settled.” He told me.
“I’ve got my own place in London, as opposed to staying in a hotel for 14 weeks and sharing a room, travelling an hour in and out to the gym. I was getting in late at night and missing meals because I wasn’t getting home until late at night.
“Now I’m just a mile away from the gym: I can cycle in and go back to the flat in between sessions and get my head down. I can chill out and switch on when I need to focus on the boxing. I’m really much more relaxed – and the experience of the big fights I’ve been in has helped.
“I’m just much more relaxed.” Taylor finished.
Settled. Relaxed. Experienced.
Three permanent fixtures throughout the week.
The experience of facing Postol – who had gone from opponent to drinking partner when joining Taylor for whisky shots back at the team hotel on Saturday night – had clearly impacted on his mental approach as much as anything.
Shane McGuigan offered an insight into the different mentality of Taylor during the final minutes of preparation ahead of his bout with Martin.
“He said to me when he fought Ohara Davies he was so relaxed and so confident – and he was looking at me the same way today.” said McGuigan, during our now-customary 3am post-fight debrief.
“With the warm-up, nothing fazed him. With the [Ryan] Burnett fight going so quick, there wasn’t going to be a swing fight. They said we needed to be ready in fifteen minutes, but I said we needed twenty-five – so there was a bit of commotion in the changing rooms: but nothing fazed him.
“Josh is a guy who loves his warm-ups. He loves easing his way into preparing for battle – and he was just so measured, you know? He had an air of confidence about him. I think he really needed that Postol fight – because he’s going into a tournament as a number two seed, believing he’s number one.”
The ease in which Taylor dissected Martin on the big stage is sure to send shockwaves throughout the 140lbs division. The World Boxing Super Series, while hosting eight of the finest names in the division, does not feature the division’s four champions.
The two remaining titlists, Maurice Hooker [WBO] and Jose Ramirez [WBC], are both based in America – and will no doubt have been interested observers as Taylor ripped through Ryan Martin: a man who had been considered to be one of the nation’s brightest prospects.
“I didn’t get out of second gear.” said Taylor.
“I knew I was going to perform well – but I didn’t think it was going to be so easy.
“The training camp I’ve had has been absolutely awesome. The off-days that I did have weren’t really off days – it was because I was tired and I was knackered from the week’s training. It was because I was tired: I was more relaxed and wasn’t putting any pressure on myself.
“In the build-up to the last fight [against Postol], when I had an off-days I was putting pressure on myself and panicking because I didn’t have the experience. I’ve just taken all that on board and it’s showed in my performance. I’m more than happy with it: I’m delighted with it.”
It was all so mature.
As our interview drew to a close, we were joined by Taylor’s long-time girlfriend Danielle, who I had come across on a more regular basis during my visits to the gym in this camp due to Taylor’s relocation to London.
A calm, beaming smile etches across his face as we make reference to her arrival left-of-camera.
“We’ll do an interview and I can tell you what he’s really like.” she quipped as Taylor grinned away.
“We’ll call it ‘Josh Taylor: Under The Kilt’” I replied.
In my experience, when dealing with fighters at the highest level, a strong support network is essential. While not claiming to know Danielle beyond a polite peck on the cheek whenever we are introduced, my experience with Taylor – and his reaction to seeing her – tells me that her steeliness supersedes even that of her partner. I wonder how many cyclist stories she has not only been told, but had to experience during their courtship.
With the tornado now having spun to a halt, and the clock approaching 3:30am, I ask Taylor whether he has a message for his remaining competition in the Ali Trophy.
He puffs out his cheeks, takes a breath and – to borrow a term from his trainer – is “measured” in his response.
“I’m comin’. I’m comin’ – that’s it.”
“I’m coming into my own now and I don’t believe there’s any stopping me. This is just the start – so whoever wants it can get it!” Taylor laughs.
“You’re like the Scottish ‘Can Man’?” I reply, in reference to controversial American Adrien Broner – someone who Taylor once told me in a previous interview he “might stick the nut on” if they were ever to fight.
“No, don’t start that shit actually! Don’t start that shit!” he grins.
“But anybody wants it, they can get it. That’s it… *They want it, and I fackin’ give it to ‘em!*”
In that moment, while all of his recent experience has seen Taylor mature in recent months as both a fighter and a human, I am politely reminded that the fire still burns. The tornado still rages, as it were.
‘Hank’ may be relaxing, but he’s still in there.
Super lightweights around the world: you have been warned…
Article by: Rob Tebbutt
Follow Rob on Twitter at: @RobTebbutt