Josh Taylor primed for next chapter of career as he discusses Apinun Khongsong threat and working with new trainer Ben Davison

World champion is back in ring tonight after almost a year on sidelines
Josh Taylor lays his titles on the line tonight at an empty York Hall.Josh Taylor lays his titles on the line tonight at an empty York Hall.
Josh Taylor lays his titles on the line tonight at an empty York Hall.

World champion boxer Josh Taylor is preparing to enter uncharted territory tonight when he laces up the gloves for the first time in 11 months.

Not only is the undefeated super lightweight about to embark on a first defence of his WBA and IBF belts he won last October, the 29-year-old will fight Thailand’s Apinun Khongsong in an eerily quiet York Hall, with no fans permitted inside the London-based venue due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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The duel against mandatory challenger Khongsong, another boxer with an unblemished professional record of 16 wins, will also be Taylor’s first as a Top Rank prodigy after he severed ties with former promoter Barry McGuigan and trainer Shane McGuigan in January.

Taylor hopes to continue his dominance in the 140lbs division under the watchful eye of new coach Ben Davison, the individual credited for not only rebuilding Tyson Fury boxing career but the man himself following his battle with mental health.

Prestonpans native Taylor knows only too well the importance of continuity when ringside – he has former Lochend and amateur mentor Terry McCormack in his corner still to this day – but he believes he has found the perfect blend with 27-year-old Davison.

"Nothing is going to be any different tonight so I don't read too much into having changed coaches," Taylor said. "Ben and I have worked together long enough now to understand what we both like and what we don't. We were out training in Las Vegas earlier in the year and then Fuerteventura over the summer and we've gelled really well. It won't be an issue. We've been brushing up my strengths to make them even stronger while also improving my weaknesses, so I feel in a position to put in a really strong performance.

"I know everything has been up in the air this year with Covid but, in some ways, I think it has worked in my favour as it has given me a little bit more time to work with Ben. We clicked straight away so it's been good. It's probably been my first real break since I turned professional over five years ago so I've had the chance to take stock of what I have achieved so far while focusing on what lies ahead."

Taylor was due to face Khongsong at Glasgow's SSE Hydro at the beginning of May, only for that to be shelved due to the rise in cases of Covid-19. The enforced break has afforded both Taylor and Khongsong ample time to hone their skills ahead of tonight's contest, which will be broadcast live on BT Sport. Taylor has also had to fend off suggestions his focus is beyond this weekend and the much-talked about and mouth-watering unification bout against WBC and WBO champion Jose Ramirez.

"I cannot afford to take my eye off him [Khongsong] – that would be very dangerous," he said of his rival, who will fight outside of Asia for the first time in his career. "It's his big chance for him to change his life, not only to become a world champion but a unified world champion. There are three belts up for grabs with the Ring Magazine belt thrown in there too. I knew what was at stake when I was coming through the ranks with the opponents I was facing and the opportunities that were ahead if I won. That's what has got me to where I am today. He will bring his A-game so I cannot afford to switch off. Every fight is just as important as your last one.

"I must be the only one not looking at Ramirez with all that has been said. Of course I would like the chance to become undisputed champion, but talk of that can only happen if I get past tonight first.

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"Khongsong's got good timing and lures his opponents in. He will spring an attack when you least expect it and he punches through the target. Having the right mindset is the most important tool in this game and I'm even hungrier now than what I was when I was an up-and-coming boxer. I want to achieve more in the sport and win more titles, have these big fights in America and keep Scotland on the map."

In-demand Davison no longer looks after world heavyweight champion Fury after the pair parted ways last year. The Essex-based trainer, who has recently added Edinburgh British and Commonwealth bantamweight champion Lee McGregor to his stable, said it has been a joy to work with Taylor.

"Josh came to me in a completely different mindset to that of Tyson," Davison said. "He [Tyson] had a lot of problems which have been well publicised and he wasn't the man he is today when we first started. But Josh knows what he wants to achieve. Everybody learns differently so it's very dependent on the individual. But I feel like we've worked out the best way for Josh to develop even further and I'm delighted with the progress we've made.

"We have had a great camp but a long one. Josh still has a lot to achieve in his career and he's just coming to his peak. He is very focused on the job in hand."

Taylor's fight against Khongsong will be screened live on BT Sport 1 this evening. The programme starts at 7.30pm, with Taylor and Khongsong predicted to be in the ring between 8.30pm and 9.30pm.