Timing is everything. For Josh Taylor and, as it transpires, for me. I was initially scheduled to interview the ‘Tartan Tornado’ around two weeks before the toughest test of his career to date, a WBC super-lightweight final eliminator with Viktor Postol on June 23. Despite his status with the bookies as a significant favourite, a few dissenting voices wondered if, after just 12 professional contests, this crunch clash had arrived too soon. Taylor and I missed each other a couple of times before I made the decision to postpone, concerned that a lengthy and in-depth conversation so close to the fight might prove a distraction. No, that’s an outright lie; my reasoning for the delay was predictably selfish. I felt that by the time the piece was published, the fight would be imminent and the article would falter on the unforgiving rocks of irrelevance; my ego would simply not allow such a (relative) failure.
Taylor, thankfully for us both, faced Postol at just the right time, his late-rounds charge and some astute advice from trainer Shane McGuigan securing a gruelling, high-level victory that was unfortunately not reflected by the wide official scores. Promoters Cyclone, who have been widely celebrated for their matchmaking of Taylor, had made another inspired move. Josh’s 150-ish amateur fights and experience at major international championships, including a Commonwealth Games gold medal in 2014, didn’t hurt either. I was delighted of course, again mostly for myself. A triumphant postscript would prove far more marketable than a preview with a short shelf life. Then, mere days before we spoke, something incredible happened. Buoyed by the best victory of his brief paid career, Taylor doubled down and entered the World Boxing Super Series, an eight-man tournament that will place at stake at least three world belts and feature most of the top fighters at 140 pounds. I had to double check he was still willing to talk, given the demands on his time had just increased exponentially, but I needn’t have worried. Unlike me, Taylor has remained refreshingly humble.
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Fortunately, he did just that and he can thank, in part, an inexorable competitive spirit honed from a very young age. Prestonpans may be an ostensibly tranquil fishing town of around 10,000 residents, but they have a rich tradition of coal mining, of honest toil and standing up for one’s beliefs. Taylor, one of two working-class children born to a receptionist mum and landscape gardener dad, is cut from that same rugged cloth. His parents have fervently supported his ambitions throughout, but he is undeniably a product of his environment and this has bred in Josh an inner steel.
“It’s a lovely little place, and it taught me well; I learnt my fighting here,” he laughs darkly, and it’s clear he’s not entirely joking. “It’s a small town, I used to get in a lot of fights when I was young, and you did have to learn how to defend yourself, to not let people bully you. My family were miners on both sides, tough people, so you learn how to react if someone picked on you.
“Since I was five, I did taekwondo, my uncle instructed it. I got my black belt, I was British champion at a young age, but I eventually lost interest. I was always into boxing, my mum worked at Meadowbank Sports Centre, and [Edinburgh’s former world champion] Alex Arthur used to train there for title fights, so when I was off on school holidays I used to watch him training. I also watched him on TV, had one or two classes, then I was addicted to it. I had been doing taekwondo for 10 years, so I wanted something new and exciting.”
At 15 he pledged his troth to boxing and the ever-alluring siren has yet to let him down, not fatally at any rate. All this time later, Taylor is still loving the sport – though, with a girlfriend for the last eight years, boxing has been relegated to more of a loyal mistress. This is predominantly due to the fact there are always new worlds to conquer.
“I’m absolutely loving it,” he declares and I can hear him loud and clear for the first time. There is no mistaking his enduring passion for one-on-one competition. “It’s always different, a new challenge, something else coming up. It’s pure competitiveness and to become a world champion, look after my family, make sure I’m financially secure. Initially I want to become a world champion and be the best I can be, but I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for my family so I want to return the favour.
“Regis Prograis [who will enter the WBSS should he emerge victorious over Juan Velasco this Saturday] is a good fighter, but I can beat anybody. Everybody’s saying they’d like to see me against Prograis and I like to fight who people think is the best, so him.
“Next year will be a tough year. I’ll be in real 50-50 fights with the best in the world but hopefully next time we speak, I’ll be talking to you as the undisputed world champion.”
Without thinking I reply, “I hope it’s not that long!” I try to explain – the WBC belt, for example, is unlikely to be up for grabs in the tournament – but Taylor is laughing and understands my intentions. He retains a healthy sense of perspective, born in him, cultivated by Prestonpans and now put to good use in what is famously a noble art but a sometimes shady business. He’ll never have a better chance to become a member of the super-lightweight elite, and Taylor knows he must strike while the iron is hot. After all, timing is everything and his time is now.