The stories of talented boxers with star quality failing to achieve their potential, due to bad coaching and/or management, are legion. In every gym you go to, in every part of the world, you hear their names spoken with the kind of sadness and regret normally associated with mourners discussing a deceased friend at a funeral.
Scottish light welterweight prospect, Josh Taylor, is one fighter who’s been spared such a fate. On the contrary, the 24-year old southpaw could not be in better hands, as he gets ready for his second outing as a professional. Trained by Shane McGuigan, and managed and promoted by Shane’s father and Irish boxing legend, Barry McGuigan, under his Cyclone Promotions banner, Taylor could be forgiven for feeling that he’s got the boxing world at his feet.
At the media day at Lochend Boxing Club in Edinburgh, two days before he steps into the ring to make his hometown debut at the Scottish capital’s Meadowbank Sports Centre against Hungary’s Adam Mate in a six rounder, McGuigan Sr left me in no doubt that Taylor’s head is exactly where it should be. “If Josh has a problem,” the former world champion said, “it’s that he works too hard. After sparring he’s can’t wait to get on the heavy bag and keep going. It’s amazing to watch him, it really is.”
Under the tutelage of Shane McGuigan, Taylor’s transition from the amateurs – in which he represented Britain at the 2012 London Olympics before going on to take the gold for Scotland at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow – to the pros has been remarkable. Making his pro debut on the undercard of Carl Frampton’s title defence against Alejandro Gonzalez Jr in El Paso, Texas, in July, the young Scot exhibited the sort of variation and composure you would associate with a seasoned pro rather than a complete novice. Since the amateurs he’s added impressive power to his shots, demonstrating excellent leverage especially when he goes to the body, which he did repeatedly against Archie Weah until stopping him by TKO in the second.
The blistering hand speed that was a feature of his success in the amateurs now has the power to go with it, making McGuigan’s boast that Josh Taylor is best fighter to come out of Scotland since Ken Buchanan one that should be taken seriously.
Someone else at the media day at Lochend who deserves credit for getting Taylor to this point is Terry McCormack. Owner of Lochend Boxing Club, where he trained Josh from the age of 17 all the way through until he turned pro, McCormack played a key role in laying the foundations. “I’m delighted to see how well he’s progressing with Shane and Barry,” Terry said. “Even though he’s based in London now, it’s always good to see him back. It gives us all a life to see how well he’s doing.”
Watching Josh skipping a few feet away from where we were standing, Terry and I shared the memory of Josh sparring with Guillermo Rigondeaux at Freddie Roach’s Wildcard Gym back in 2009. Terry had taken Josh and a few other fighters over to LA to gain some experience and get some top level sparring. Despite his inexperience, Taylor still had enough in his tank to give Rigondeaux a decent workout. It is tantalising to imagine how he would fare against the Cuban now, seven years on.
“We’ve had him sparring all over,” Barry McGuigan assured me when we spoke. “He’s handled everyone we’ve put him in with. He’s so confident and at ease in there. I have no doubt he’ll get to the very top. No doubt at all.”
If there’s one thing you can’t accuse Barry McGuigan of, not knowing a future world champion when he sees one is surely it.