In a recent episode of the Netflix smash hit ‘The Last Dance’, against a backdrop of Michael Jordan defying physics as he soared to the basket, coach Phil Jackson pointedly remarks upon the Chicago Bulls’ attitude to winning another championship. “We had this statement: ‘You’re only a success at the moment you perform a successful act’. You have to do it again.”
It’s mantras such as these that separate the exceptional from the legendary and, for any team looking to replicate past glories, the responsibilities for the cohesion, harmony, and performances of the group are, of course, shared. No such luxury exists in individual sport, least of all in boxing. The ultimate career pinnacle for any fighter is winning a world title, but within this select band of boxers exist individuals who are intent on pushing even further, demanding the seemingly impossible.
“The mentality is always the same. It never changes.” The voice on the other end of the line, emphatic in its delivery, is that of Josh Taylor, the IBF and WBA Super 140lbs champion of the world. Affable, laidback and entirely accommodating, Taylor’s tone switches up the moment he’s asked about his mental approach to boxing.
“I’m extremely self-critical,” admitted the Scot, who was recently forced to cancel his mandatory defence against Thailand’s Apinun Khongsong and return from his training camp in Las Vegas with new trainer Ben Davison due to the Covid-19 crisis. “There are a lot of pros that come with that [attitude], but also some cons.
“Before the [Viktor] Postol fight, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. You could see it in the first six rounds. I was very tight, just looking for the KO. I’ve always been someone who wants to be the best, even in training. The best at sprints, the most reps. But that experience taught me a lot. You won’t always have a good day, but just give your best.”
To most boxers, being crowned a world champion would represent a very good day indeed. But the Scot paints a picture of an athlete who is utterly relentless in his pursuit, not only of future honours, but of pugilistic perfection. It’s why this next chapter of his career has taken him to Davison, a precocious young coach who’s had an instant impact on Taylor.
“I watched my last couple of fights back. I like to see where I can improve, so we’ve been working on the things I didn’t do so well, my feet and my head movement,” said Taylor. “I’d seen what Ben was doing with Billy Joe [Saunders] as a southpaw. He’s only 27, but he’s so knowledgeable. The way he explains little changes he wants you to make, it’s been fantastic.”
Taylor’s last fight was one of 2019’s best, a breathless 12 rounds where he edged a formidable opponent in American Regis Prograis. The result meant the IBF, WBA Super and Ring Magazine belts all returned to a gleeful Scotland, along with the gargantuan Muhammad Ali Trophy.
“The Scots are so passionate. We don’t get too many people at the top of their sport, so when we get one, we really celebrate,” he said. “But I’ve had messages from people all over the world wanting to support me.”
Taylor paused to reflect upon why his career has resonated universally with boxing fans. “I think it’s my fighting style, and that I’m someone who never turns down a challenge,” he said. “I’ve only had 16 fights, but my development has shown each time. From my debut, I’ve always treated each fight like a world title fight.”
History had been made in the Prograis victory, but the champion is far from satisfied. “I want to unify all the belts and become the undisputed champion of the division. That’s the goal. Fight Ramirez [WBO and WBC champion]. [Afterwards,] I’d definitely like to move up to 147lbs.”
Conquering an entire weight class before moving up to face the likes of Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr would place Taylor amongst the very best pound-for-pound, whilst arguably making him the greatest fighter in Scotland’s proud boxing history.
Firstly, though, he must defeat an unknown quantity in Apinun Khongsong. The Scot is, as ever, making battle plans in his head. “I’m always thinking about my next challenge,” asserted Taylor.
It never changes.