TALENT, hard work and dedication have taken Josh Taylor to the Olympics and to the top tier of the Commonwealth Games podiums in Glasgow in the past. They have also earned him a place in the professional ranks. Those who work with him have no doubt he deserves to be there and expect him to go on to great things.
But if the boxer from Prestonpans wants to be catapulted into the realms of marketing stardom then he has to pack more than a few punches inside the ring, he has to learn to let his guard down slightly when he steps outside it.“His temperament is ideal,” said manager and former world champion Barry McGuigan. “But he has been a high performance boxer for five years or more and while that teaches you how to fight at the highest level, it also makes you slightly dour. You travel so much, you train so hard and you can sometimes lose your personality to an extent. You are part of a team and there isn’t that much publicity in the amateur game but in the pro game he has to have that and that is something we have to improve, he has to embrace that.”
Returning to Scotland for the second fight of his professional career, Taylor will be cheered by a partisan crowd when he takes on Hungarian Adam Mate at Meadowbank on Friday. His opponent has 15 wins under his belt and is vastly experienced. But Taylor’s manager believes he is up to the task and hopes that returning to his comfort zone will draw the real Taylor out of his shell and help him showcase more than just the boxing ability which has seen him hailed as the best fighter to emerge from the Scottish ranks since the legendary Ken Buchanan.
“We have very high expectations for Josh,” said McGuigan. “He is going to be a major draw and that is a side of things we will have to work on because, honestly, he is one of the funniest kids and is definitely the joker in the pack down in the training camp and is one of the loveliest kids you could ever meet. But away from that and for people who don’t know him he tends to come across as a bit serious.
“He is a great lad and is full of confidence but it doesn’t bubble over into arrogance. When he is boxing he is self-assured but he is, I think, actually a genuinely shy kid but I promise you he has the personality. He is the whole package. When people see him box they will be very excited.”
Sharing the McGuigan Gym with the likes of Carl Frampton, Taylor has seen what it takes to win world titles and those around him have seen the desire in him to emulate that feat. That accession is something McGuigan fully expects. The comparisons with men like Buchanan are something McGuigan tends to shy away from, aware that placing an emerging talent on such a lofty pedestal can look foolish if it turns out they don’t have the head for heights. But in Taylor, he sees a boxer built, both physically and psychologically, for the big occasions. That is why he set him up with a testing pro debut in the USA. He has also thrown down the gauntlet with this bout.
“He made his professional debut out in El Paso against a top journeyman and he took him in two rounds so we have no doubt he can beat Adam Mate and it is a tough fight but it’s what he needs and he always rises to the task,” added McGuigan.
A product of the Lochend ABC gym in Leith, where Buchanan was a regular visitor, the 24-year-old Commonwealth Games gold medallist has a lot of the same attributes, says McGuigan. “When you are looking for talent, you look for certain criteria, and there are a lot of boxes you have to tick: can he fight? Can he box? Can he hold a shot? Can he move his feet? Does he punch fast? Does he have stamina? Does he have marketability? Does he have drive and desire? Does he have natural ability? Some tick some of those boxes, some tick a lot but Josh ticks them all and more and that’s why we are so excited. There is a whole wave of very talented professional boxers in Scotland at the moment and I would say it is a pretty much unprecedented time for professional boxing in Scotland but I think that Josh spearheads the lot of them. Time will tell and it is always dangerous to make bold statements about a guy because it is an arduous business but I think there is no doubt about it, this kid is one of the most talented guys, not just in Scotland, but in the UK for a long time.
“He is a big occasion fighter. He is the sort of guy who likes and needs the big occasion in order to get the best out of himself. He is very fast and fluent and has great movement and balance and coordination. His pace is tremendous and that’s why his boxing pseudonym is the Tartan Tornado.”
So much praise could go to a new pro’s head, and the noise generated by a home crowd next weekend could get to his legs. It could if he allowed things to get to him or operated under the misapprehension that he had already made an indelible mark. “Josh isn’t like that,” stressed McGuigan. “It’s one thing having talent – and he definitely does – but a lot of lads who have natural talent tend to be quite lazy. But he works very hard and he is great to watch and is a great example to all the other boys in the gym.
“They all, including Josh, tend to all look up to Carl Frampton who is the world super bantamweight champion and the paradigm in the gym but Josh works every bit as hard and is just as diligent.”