Commonwealth Games: ‘Finest hour’ for Scots boxing

IT was, quite literally, one of Scottish boxing’s finest hours. Inside a tumultuous 60-minute period packed with drama, courage, skill and raw emotion at the end of Saturday’s afternoon session of the Glasgow 2014 boxing finals, two outstanding performances and the subsequent medal ceremonies for Charlie Flynn and Josh Taylor cast a golden glow around the Hydro arena.

Josh Taylor of Edinburgh wins gold. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The celebrations Flynn and Taylor were able to savour, with the Saltire raised and Flower of Scotland reverberating around them, are unique to amateur boxing. But if the experience of winning a Commonwealth gold medal is priceless, it does not take long for someone to try and place a valuation on it.

The lure of the professional game can prove impossible to resist in the immediate aftermath of high profile successes such as those achieved so memorably by Flynn and Taylor as they gave Scotland its first double gold medal haul since the 1962 Games.

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Flynn, the 20-year-old from Newarthill who comprehensively outclassed Joe Fitzpatrick of Northern Ireland to claim lightweight gold, confirmed that professional promoters have already made advances in his direction. He is tempted, observing that he is currently “scraping through” as a part-time boxer alongside his day job with Royal Mail.

Charlie Flynn celebrates after defeating Joe Fitzpatrick. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Taylor, the classy Prestonpans boxer who overcame Junias Jonas of Namibia to win the light-welterweight final, is in a more favourable position as a fully funded member of the Sheffield-based GB podium boxing squad for elite amateur fighters.

But after adding gold to the silver medal he claimed in Delhi four years earlier, Taylor says he will also ponder whether it is time to switch to the paid ranks. According to one man who speaks from rich experience, however, both Flynn and Taylor should resist the professional game for some time yet.

Richie Woodhall, who won a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and then struck Commonwealth gold in Auckland two years later, timed his own career progression perfectly as he went on to become WBC super-middleweight champion as a pro.

A pundit for the BBC throughout the Glasgow 2014 boxing competition, Woodhall believes Flynn has earned a place in the lottery-funded GB squad. He also insists Taylor can go on to win Olympic gold in Rio in two years time if he remains part of the programme.

“I just pray that Charlie Flynn stays amateur,” said Woodhall. “He has got a big, big future in amateur boxing. I would hope he gets the funding he needs, because he deserves it.

“Out of Scotland’s team in Glasgow, I thought the flyweight Reece McFadden was going to steal the limelight but he had to settle for a bronze. But Charlie Flynn has come through brilliantly.

“His semi-final win over Joe Cordina of Wales, who is a GB podium squad boxer, was incredible. Then you had his performance in the final which was remarkable for such a young man.

“He was under pressure, with the expectation of the home crowd, but he turned it to his advantage and fought a great fight. He got his tactics spot-on. I was really, really impressed by him.

“I’d certainly like to think he would now go down to the GB set-up in Sheffield. With his gold-medal winning performance here, and the maturity he has shown throughout the tournament, it warrants him going down to join the GB squad. If that’s what it takes for him to stay amateur, that’s what I hope will happen.

“Josh Taylor has been fantastic as well and I believe he should stay amateur as well. With his previous Olympic experience, I’d like to see him competing in Rio. He is already a full-time GB podium boxer. He was up against a tricky opponent in the final here, Jonas really was quite decent. But Josh has had a terrific tournament.

“The problem I felt Josh might have going into the final was that he already felt he had won the gold, after beating Sam Maxwell in the semi-final. Because Josh and Sam were the two most-fancied boxers in the light-welter competition beforehand, so that was like a final before the final.

“But Josh was at the top of his game again and boxed tremendously well. He looks much better at light-welter. He obviously can’t make lightweight anymore. He’s too big and too tall and has naturally grown into light-welter.

“Who knows, he might even go up in weight again, because he’s still big at light-welter. If he does go to Rio, he will absolutely have a chance of getting a medal, maybe even the gold. In fact, with the experience he has, I think he would be one of the favourites for gold.

“When you have the tournament experience he now has, boxing four or five times over a ten-day period, you are capable of success at the Olympics. Josh has already competed at London 2012. There are the world and European championships before Rio, so I think Josh should definitely stay amateur.”

Taylor won all three rounds on all three judges’ scorecards as he intelligently negated the more aggressive style of the dangerous Jonas. While the 23-year-old became involved in more toe-to-toe action than was necessary in the final round, there was always a sense he had the fight under his control.

After his dismay at losing the lightweight final to Tom Stalker of England in Delhi, the podium tears were joyful ones this time.

“It was a thousand times better than I imagined it would feel,” said Taylor. “I’ve sacrificed a lot for this but finally having a gold medal around my neck makes it all worth it.”

The ebullient Flynn claimed what was Team Scotland’s 50th medal of Glasgow 2014 and few have been won with such a consummate mastery of the athlete’s own discipline. He boxed with a degree of style and technical ability which the great Dick McTaggart, who presented his gold medal, would have appreciated.

“Dick is the man,” grinned Flynn. “He IS Scottish boxing and one of the best boxers who has ever lived. For him to give me the medal was unbelievable.”

McTaggart, of course, rejected countless offers to turn professional during his gilded career which saw him win Commonwealth, European and Olympic gold. It remains to be seen if Scottish boxing’s latest golden boys can do the same.