As Josh Taylor’s most recent World title defence against Apinun Khongsong has recently been announced, now seems as good a time as any to look back on his career so far. This may seem an odd proposition, as he is yet to turn 30 years old or have even reached 20 pro fights. Yet, there is method to the BBB madness, as we often tell ourselves.
The Tartan Tornado is as fine an example of developing a young talented fighter as you are likely to find. The journey from exciting prospect to unified world champion is rarely a smooth one, however if one was to look for a blueprint, look no further than the Prestonpans man. He is reaping the rewards of competitive matchmaking and the support of a promoter who genuinely believed in his boxer and backed him to do the business in the ring.
In a recent podcast appearance, Eddie Hearn highlighted the conflict between managers, promoters, fans and fighters. In theory, managers want the most money and easiest fights. Promoters want to pay the least money for the most attractive fights. The fans want those same competitive fights where ideally the boxers are well paid (while not really concerning themselves with where the money comes from). And finally, the fighters who often need saving from themselves and their pride. This discussion – on a recent episode of Macklin’s Take – scrutinised how one individual can act as manager and promoter in the UK, while these roles theoretically are at loggerheads.
So with that in mind, credit where it is due to Barry McGuigan. We are going to leave aside the legal allegations and speculation surrounding the split, and concentrate purely on the boxing. Understandably, those close to Carl Frampton will claim that negates a lot of the good work McGuigan has done for his fighters, however the in-ring results show that Cyclone Promotions know how to build a fighter. So let’s have a look at the perfect recipe for perfect progress.
Many wise sages of boxing advise that new prospects need to stay active. This translates as lots of easy fights in a short space of time. The idea being that a large proportion of learning is done early on in the career, in a relatively risk free environment. As risk free as is possible in boxing anyway! The transition from amateur to professional begins in the gym. Preparing body and mind for longer rounds, longer fights and more physical opponents. Each trainer will have their own specific ideas on how best to manage this but few can argue with Shane McGuigan’s methods and results.
Taylor turned professional in July 2015, almost a year to the day since he secured a Commonwealth Games gold medal in Glasgow. In the subsequent 12 months, he boxed 5 times in the paid ranks, and once more less than a fortnight later. Six times in just over a calendar year.
Mix it up
Anyone who has ever tried to progress at anything will testify that there has to be some variation. There also has to be an eventual increase in resistance. Whether this be increasing the distance of a run, or maintaining the distance while running faster. These variables can prove invaluable
Ideally, in boxing terms, the early fights will present the prospect with different styles and pose a range of solvable problems. From orthodox to southpaw, pressure-fighter to counter-puncher, these differences are important to face in the professional ring – albeit most high-level amateurs will have been faced with these challenges before.
Being honest though, there is normally very little to trouble them while they hone their craft and often look to practise specific sequences learned in the gym, away from the public glare. The one variable that really matters is the ability of their opponent.
Step it up
This is the necessary resistance. A good manager will weigh up the risk against the reward. We often hear talk of timing, purses, and all manner of negotiating tactics. Ultimately, it comes down to the confidence a manager has in their fighter. Are they good enough? Josh Taylor emphatically repaid the McGuigans’ faith by capturing the Commonwealth title in just his seventh fight. This accelerated progress is clearly not for every boxer. Very few in fact make such a rapid rise. It was however a bold leap for such an untested professional. The consecutive stoppages and vicious bodywork, a testament to the talent of Taylor.
Following this win over the normally durable Dave Ryan, Cyclone used their influence to give Taylor the experience of a big card. Not necessarily a step up from Ryan, but a useful blend of the previous stages: keeping Taylor active giving him a taste of something different, fighting on then stablemate Carl Frampton’s undercard in the States.
Raise the profile
Not long after, Taylor accepted the highest profile challenge of his fledgling career. Not only did he accept the challenge, he and his team pushed for it to happen. Domestic rival Ohara Davies was reportedly paid very handsomely to battle Taylor north of the border. Handsomely enough that the then Matchroom man was convinced to risk his WBC ranking and box as the away fighter in what was touted as a highly competitive clash.
Another instance of Cyclone’s supreme confidence in their man and putting their money where their mouth was.
The grudge match had built up across social media and gave Taylor the chance to showcase his skills to a huge national audience. The “after-timers” (thank you Steve Bunce) will look back at this through tartan tainted specs, such was the dismantling Taylor carried out, however at the time it was hard to split the pair for many. Davies was indeed the underdog but not by much – reflected by odds as close as 11/10 compared to 8/11 for the Scot.
In a way, Taylor has Davies’ online presence to thank for him bursting onto the scene in the way he did. Not that he was unknown by any means but this win propelled into the wider public eye and such was the devastating fashion of his victory, it helped cement him as a top level prospect with genuine world title aspirations.
Continue as above
If this seems a relatively simple recipe for success, then that is because it is. Saying what needs to be done to build a boxer – from prospect to champion – is infinitely easier said than done though. Josh has obviously been well-supported and provided opportunities. If he faltered at any stage however, then his progress stalls. All of the above is heavily reliant on the boxer rising to each challenge and Josh Taylor has flourished at every stage. A good promoter or manager can only do so much.
He continued his journey in sensational fashion by stopping former world champion Miguel Vazquez – becoming the first man to do so – and following that up with a hard-earned win over 2 time world title challenger Viktor Postol. A win that looks better with every impressive performance the “Iceman” delivers. Victory over Postol enabled Taylor to enter the World Boxing Super Series. Another opportunity to raise his profile and challenge himself against the best in the world. Another opportunity Taylor seized with both hands.
Obviously, boxers tend to come unstuck (or find their level) as the quality of opponent improves. The Tartan Tornado blew through domestic rivals and quickly onto world title contention. He enjoyed his “….and the new!” moment in only his fifteenth pro outing. A defence against the overmatched Ryan Martin was sandwiched between winning the title against Ivan Baranchyk and then unifying belts against Regis Prograis. Thus ensuring he has now defeated three of the top five in the world. Leaving only Jose Ramirez standing in his way of being undisputed super-lightweight ruler.
Unfortunately (depending who you speak to), the Tornado and Cyclone have since parted ways. Whatever has gone on, it cannot be due to in-ring events as Taylor has been guided superbly from talented amateur to the top of the division in five short years. When it comes to sink or swim, you have to jump in to find out and Taylor stands as a perfect example of being allowed to dive in at the right time.
While Josh himself undoubtedly deserves the (rampant) lion’s share of praise for getting in the ring and doing the business, his handlers deserve a nod for allowing him off the leash.