Having become only the fifth man in history to clean up all four belts in a single weight division, Scottish boxer Josh Taylor has cemented his status – after just 18 professional fights – as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Our man John Silcox sat down with the 30-year-old to find out where it all went so right…
The scorching desert air was foreboding as Josh Taylor arrived for his weigh-in at Virgin Hotels in Paradise, Nevada. The 30-year-old Scot had already forged quite a reputation with his fists: in 17 fights since turning pro, he had chalked up 17 victories – all but five by knockout – earning him two World Title belts. The man he now faced, however, was even more formidable.
José Ramirez was an unbeaten double champion with 26 wins to his name, despite being two years younger. And he was arguably the favourite: fighting on home soil in front of an American crowd.
Had Taylor bitten off more than he could chew? Did the American really hit as hard as journalists reported? Could this be the end of the road?
His critics certainly thought so, and in the packed conference hall whispers and heckles filtered through from the back rows, fuelling an already electric atmosphere. As customary, the two fighters traded insults but emotions boiled over more than usual. Afterwards, in one of the corridors, the two fighters clashed violently and a brawl nearly erupted.
“By that point there was only one option available and that was to win,” says Taylor. “I just wanted it so much, I wanted to win so badly. I hadn’t cut any corners, I had made all the sacrifices: spent time away from home, not gone on holiday, not had any money, not owned flashy cars, I’d done it all. I had put in the training, I had studied his fighting style, my fitness was peak and now he had made things personal.
“All that was left was to knock him down. So that’s exactly what I did – twice.”
Four belts, one holder
Speaking a few weeks later, Taylor is still getting used to his new status of undisputed world champion. The atmosphere is more relaxed, but the boxer remains a busy man who is very much in-demand. We meet him between a photo shoot for his sponsor, Everlast, the boxing wear company, and a live radio interview.
In conversation, Taylor is far from the explosive southpaw renowned for bullying adversaries in the ring. He’s actually rather softly spoken, giving considerate and intelligent answers in a slow-paced but melodious East Scottish accent. It’s quite hard to assimilate these two characters with the same person, but both are part of what makes him special.
“I’ve just got a bit of a madman in me,” he explains, laughing. “He simply comes out every now and again. In the ring, I find I’m more placid and calm mentally. I’m very clinical and professional and focused under fire. It’s just deep down I’ve got this total madness in me: it’s flaming desire, undiluted passion. And in the lead-up to the fight and on fight weekends it tends to erupt sometimes, so now we call it ‘Hank Time’!”
That’s a reference to the film Me, Myself and Irene where Jim Carrey plays Charlie, a do-gooder policeman with an evil split personality: Hank. Taylor was given the nickname by fellow professional boxers Carl Frampton and Conrad Cummings, who he used to train with.
“They said the way I shadow box, all that irky-jerky movement, was like a scene out of the movie,” he laughs. “Sometimes I’m nice, placid and laid-back. Then at other times I’m a lunatic, so I’ve kind of got that split in me, too. Once we were out on the weekend after training in London and we all got a haircut together at a barber’s shop. The barber absolutely butchered me and I ended up with a flat top. It really stuck then – I was Hank after that.”
The kid from Prestonpans
Taylor’s unique style could be attributed to coming into the sport quite late. When he was growing up in Prestonpans, 15 miles east of Edinburgh, Taekwando was his main after-school activity. He only got into boxing after visiting his mother at the sports centre, where she worked.
“I was a blackbelt, but used to watch the boxing while waiting for my mum to finish her shift on reception,” he remembers. “Former Scottish champion Alex Arthur was training there at the time and after looking on from the sidelines, I ended up getting involved. It was different, new and fresh, so I fell in love with it straight away. The only person I knew in boxing at the time was Arthur because he was local and on the telly. Apart from Ali and Tyson, I never really knew anything about boxing but after trying it out I loved the training, the techniques, the sparring… all of it.”
Taylor cherishes the lessons he was taught in that gym and believes he would have gained just as much from boxing, even if he hadn’t turned professional.
“Boxing is great for any young kid, it teaches discipline, self-respect and respect for others,” he explains. “I really do think it should be taken into schools to teach kids respect and discipline, control and self-control. It gives confidence to the shy kids and discipline to the wild ones. It builds on your self-esteem and suits kids from all backgrounds.”
What started off as a hobby quickly became more as Taylor began to catch the eye of local trainers with his athleticism and quick movement. Before long, he was selected to box for Scotland, then he travelled to competitions all over the world, continuing to win and fight impressively.
“I started to take it more seriously when I got selected to go to the Commonwealth Youth Games and came back with a bronze medal,” he recalls. “Then two years later, after only three-and-a-half years boxing, I came back with my silver medals from the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games. By then I had been laid off by a few jobs because I was going away and taking time off work and college to go to these tournaments. I decided to take things more seriously and see how far I could take it.”
Despite having a considerable amount of raw talent, Taylor denies being naturally outstanding. He attributes his success to a simple formula: drive, determination and desire to win.
“There were loads of other fighters out there when I was an amateur who had just as much talent as I did, if not more,” he says. “The difference is they weren’t willing to give the time and make the necessary sacrifice. There’s not one certain sacrifice over the others that does it, it’s more of an accumulation over the years. It’s basically giving up your life to pursue a dream.”
That’s not simply 5am starts and raw eggs for breakfast everyday, though. In terms of routine, Taylor takes a much more measured approach to things and believes a good workout starts with a good rest.
“I like to get a nice long lie-in and only get up at 8am to have my breakfast,” he explains. “Then I go to the gym for 10am, get wrapped up, get loosened off and do a boxing session. It’ll be either pad work or bag work, then some groundwork, before some abdominal work after that. That’ll be the best part of two hours. Then I come home, have a rest, lunch and chill for a few hours.
“I go back at 4/5pm and do my second session: that’s either a run on the treadmill with sprints, or it’s weights. We train twice a day, five days a week, and then go for a run on a Saturday. I like at least ten weeks of training before a fight: a good, long training camp to make sure I’m firing on all cylinders and my weight is right.”
Unlike many boxers, who tend to go a bit to seed between fights, Taylor is a big believer in constant exercise. He likes to keep ticking over in the gym between fights, rather than leaving himself with mountains to climb in pre-fight training camps.
Food is an important part of that routine, too, but his constant exercise means he doesn’t stay too strict all the time – pizza and Chinese food are favourites on cheat days.
Not being so hard on himself in some areas of his life helps Taylor remain mentally strong in more difficult moments. One of his key attributes in the ring is buckling down when things aren’t going right, finding remarkable inner strength and turning a bad situation to his advantage.
“You will always get a few doubts and worries, but if you work as hard as you can, you can throw them out,” he explains. “It actually becomes quite easy, because if you know you’ve put 100 per cent into training, there’s nothing more you can do.”
For Taylor, it’s sheer determination that sees him right: “My will to win always gets me out of hard situations,” he says. “It’s second to none. I think I would fight on even if I only had one toe left and I think that I would fight to my very last breath if I had to. I just have that determination to beat the other guy and not be the one who ends up beaten. That’s the key factor in my fights. That little bit of wickedness in me: I dig deep, bite on my gumshield and fight hard. You’ve either got that or you haven’t – it can’t be taught.”
That same streak is also what keeps Taylor mentally stimulated. He is currently viewed as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and after achieving undisputed status, no-one would blame him for hanging up his gloves.
“I could do it right now and still have had an amazing career, living relatively content for the rest of my life as a former world champion,” he says. “But I know I’d regret it in a few years’ time, because deep down I know I haven’t reached my full potential yet. I feel I can go and achieve more. I’ve always been tenacious and I just set myself simple goals.
“First it was to be the best boxer in my age group, then the best at my gym, etc. Now I want to try and become a two weight world champion, so I’m moving up to welterweight and will challenge for belts up there. That’s what I need to become truly great. I’d love to be a double world champion and go down as Scotland’s best ever.”
Everlast ambassador Josh Taylor was speaking at the new Sports Direct flagship store on Oxford Street. To shop the collection, visit sportsdirect.com