London 2012 Olympics: Josh Taylor keeps composure to win convincingly
AN ARENA full of people roaring their support the minute a British competitor walks into sight. A couple holding up a banner reading “I Love GBH”. An atmosphere that begins at the manic and builds from there. I don’t think we’re at the dressage any more, Toto.
This is the boxing at the ExCel, formerly the Docklands Arena. Support for boxing has always been strong in this part of London and, so far at these Olympics, the Team GB fighters have risen to the occasion.
It was East Lothian lightweight Josh Taylor’s turn to experience that atmosphere last night as he set out to keep up Great Britain’s 100 per cent record in opening bouts, following victories for middleweight Anthony Ogogo and welterweight Fred Evans. The 21-year-old did it in convincing style, outpointing Robson Conceicao of Brazil 13-9.
“I felt a bit tight and tense at first, in my first fight, but hopefully I’ll start relaxing in the fight to come,” said Taylor, a Commonwealth Games silver medallist two years ago in Delhi. “I know what to expect now. I know what the crowd’s like. So I’ll relax and get my combinations going. I tried to hit and move, keep it long. That’s what I tried to do throughout the whole fight. I sparred with him a couple of weeks ago and I knew he was really strong, so I knew I had to stay away from him.”
There was a low-key but disciplined start to the fight, in which Conceicao tried to impose himself mentally as well as physically, at times approaching Taylor with his guard down in a display of self-confidence. The Scot had the better of the later stages, however, and was 3-2 up at the end of the first three minutes.
The South American sought to increase the tempo from the start of the second, but Taylor remained composed. Weathering what amounted to a miniature storm, the British boxer put in a solid comibination of punches in the middle of the round, then again in the closing minute. Together, those efforts saw him pull three points ahead, to 9-6.
With the fight in his grasp, Taylor continued to defend well in the final round as Conceicao threw everything he had into attempting a comeback. On another night, with a different set of judges, the Brazilian might have edged a point or two closer, but in the event Taylor was declared the winner by a four-point margin.
The victory takes the only Scot in the Team GB boxing squad into the last 16, where his next opponent, on Thursday evening, is the No 3 seed, Domenico Valentino of Italy. Valentino, who had a bye from the opening round, is a former world champion. “I’ve boxed him before,” Taylor added. “He’s very technical – a good counter-fighter. I fought him in the Europeans last year, and there were two points in it. But I didn’t have nutritional support then – I wasn’t really clued up on that kind of stuff – and I am now.”
Taylor is a lot more clued up in all sorts of ways than he was when he boxed for Scotland in that Commonwealth competition in 2010. Talented but inexperienced, he was desperately disappointed when he won silver, feeling he had let everyone down. “I don’t want to feel like that again, that’s for sure,” he added. “But I go into every competition thinking the same way.”
There was an enthusiastic audience in the boxing arena in Delhi. But it did not compare to this. Nor has anything else that Taylor has previously experienced.
“Nothing like this, no,” he said. “Specially when they’re all roaring for you – it’s the first time I’ve had that.”
Taylor had initially planned to get into the Olympics as a light-welterweight, but then switched down to lightweight. Coach Terry McCormack said: “There has been no stopping him. He is big at the weight, he can really punch and as a southpaw he must be a nightmare to fight.
“It is amazing to get a Scottish boxer into the team for the London Olympics. Boxing has come a long way since [Scottish 1956 lightweight gold medallist] Dick McTaggart, but there is no reason why Josh cannot go on to reach the same kind of level.”
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