Josh Taylor’s post-Glasgow 2014 injury problems

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EVERY boxer who climbs through the ropes is worthy of respect, from Floyd “Money” Mayweather right down to the journeymen whose function is to serve as opponents for up-and-coming youngsters to learn their trades against.

Bravery is a given in the toughest sport of all but there are occasions when courage is taken to its limits by athletes whose competitive instincts take precedence over their health and safety.

In September 2013, Ricky Burns held on to his WBO lightweight title against Raymundo Beltran in spite of having his jaw broken in the second round.

The judges’ decision to score the contest a draw was widely ridiculed but Burns’ supporters argued that he deserved the result on grit alone.

Josh Taylor knows what he was going through. At the time of that fight the light-welterweight from Prestonpans was already halfway through his two-year ordeal of boxing with a broken hand.

The 24-year-old was well aware that he had a problem (although not of the extent of the damage) but he was too focused on winning gold for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow last summer to have it repaired.

It wasn’t until after he had stepped on to that podium, collected his medal (he also won silver at Delhi in 2010) and sang along to Flower of Scotland that he sought medical advice.

“I went to the hospital to have my hand examined,” said Taylor. “They discovered that not only was there damage to my joints and ligaments but there were also two or three fractures in there as well.

“Consequently, I had to have an operation in October to repair the damage. That involved the doctors grinding the bones in my hand down, taking a bone graft from my hip and fusing that to my hand.

“I had to wait for that to heal but I was back in the gym in January and I can finally hit the punchbags as hard as I want again.”

That explains why his profile has not matched that of Scotland team-mate Charlie Flynn, who also won gold and who has already swapped the amateur scene for purse fights.

Taylor intends to follow in his footsteps but right now, after putting himself through hell, he is simply relieved that the punches he throws are no longer hurting him as well as his opponents.

“It all started just after the Olympic Games in 2012,” he said. “I fought the Italian, Domenico Valentino, and my left hand was sore afterwards.

“I expected the pain to just go away over time but it never did. After a bout my hand would swell – I basically fought one-handed through 2013 and 2014. That was a problem for me because I’m a southpaw and my left hand is my main one for punching with.”

Many, probably most, fighters would have accepted that they could not continue without a cure but Taylor was determined not to have his gold medal ambition thwarted and, instead, found ways to circumvent the problem.

“When it came to tournaments I would have cortisone injections to numb my hand,” he said. “That would usually get me through.

“However, when it came to the European Championships in Minsk two years ago, I’d sparred just twice in the eight weeks leading up to it.

“I then came up against a Russian in the first round and lost on a split decision. I was raging because I knew that I’d beaten him out of the park but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“When I took my gloves off at the end my hand had just ballooned so it was just as well I didn’t have to box on.”

“I should have had it looked at earlier but competitions were coming thick and fast and I wanted to just get through them,” he concedes.

“As a result, I would mainly do shadow boxing instead of sparring. And I would only punch the pads with my right hand – I used water bags for my left because that wouldn’t put pressure on it.”

Oddly enough, Taylor believes the breaks have been beneficial because they forced him to add more variety to his armoury.

“It helped me in one sense because I had to develop as a boxer and find a different style,” he said. “I’m now a much better switch-hitter than I was before the injury – in fact, the right hook has become my strongest punch.

“The downside was the mental aspect because I would always be worried that my hand might go during a fight.

“Now I’m raring to go again but I won’t compete again as an amateur. My next contest will be as a pro – I can’t say too much about that just now but it should be finalised shortly.”

Taylor has also drawn succour from a recent brush with greatness.

“I met Sugar Ray Leonard when he came to Scotland a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

“I sat next to him for 90 minutes and just asked him everything I could think of about his training and how he prepared.

“That was inspiring and now I want to bring world titles back to Scotland.”