Review of 2019: Prophecy fulfilled as Josh Taylor comes of age
Some of the sport’s most respected professionals, past and present, have been proclaiming as much since he clinched silver at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, aged 19.
Taylor lost 11-3 to England’s Thomas Stalker more than nine years ago, the disappointment of coming second best etched across his face as he received his medal that night in South Asia. The teenager shed a few tears on the podium. They weren’t joyous ones, however.
That dejection has only ever reared its ugly head once more – when the Scot lost in the second round of the lightweight contest at the 2012 Olympics in London.
But, in the subsequent years, it has been nothing but unbridled joy for Taylor. He bettered the silver he won in Delhi with gold at Glasgow in 2014 and took his place at the sport’s top table in May when he won the IBF world super lightweight title with success over the previously unbeaten Belarusian, Ivan Baranchyk, at the SSE Hydro.
The words “Josh Taylor world champion” that he inscribed on pieces of paper scattered around the premises of Lochend Amateur Boxing Club as a schoolboy no longer resembled a pipe dream. He had achieved such a feat in only his 15th fight as a professional and a career that began in El Paso, Texas, with a second-round stoppage of Archie Weah only four years prior.
That win over Baranchyk seven months ago also secured the 28-year-old a place in the final of the money-spinning World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) against another undefeated athlete and WBA champion – Regis Prograis of the United States.
There was doubt cast over whether the duel would go ahead after Prograis and the tournament organisers became embroiled in a dispute over the New Orleans native’s contract. The outstanding issues were ironed out and the fight was confirmed for London’s O2 Arena on Saturday, 26 October.
What these warriors served up on the banks of the River Thames was a compelling feast of boxing over 12 rounds, a technically brilliant contest that swung back and forth with not only the chance to unify the division, but the Muhammad Ali Trophy, awarded to the winner of the WBSS, and Ring Magazine Belt, merely adding fuel to a ferocious fire.
It took an heroic effort by Taylor to fend off the feisty, but hugely talented 30-year-old American, who was active outwith his native country for the first time. Prograis more than played his part in a duel that is in contention to win the Fight of the Year accolade, and rightly so. It was mesmeric.
The Prestonpans puncher dropped to his knees as he was declared the winner by a majority decision. He had achieved double world champion status in only five months. Taylor had the belts but he also had the war wounds to show for it. He revealed in the aftermath he was fighting the last three rounds on pure instinct after his right eye had completely closed over following an accidental clash of heads in the earlier rounds.
However, despite ending the year as the No 1 super lightweight in the world, the Tartan Tornado failed to make the six-athlete shortlist for this year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, a gong that was won by England cricketer Ben Stokes in Aberdeen earlier this month. Taylor had previously been quick to skim over his surprising omission but did succumb to venting his frustration on social media only days prior to the event. Irrespective of his snub by the British broadcaster, he ends the year king of the super lightweight division with the opportunity to become undisputed world champion in 2020.
On the domestic front and another from Edinburgh’s patch to make significant strides this year is bantamweight Lee McGregor. The 23-year-old defending Commonwealth champion added the British crown to his collection last month with a pulsating split-decision win over compatriot and former champion, Glasgow’s Kash Farooq.
More than willing to put their respective belts and undefeated records on the line, it was MTK fighter McGregor who came up trumps, although there was some controversy over the margin of victory awarded in his favour with the third judge scoring it a rather generous 115-112.
McGregor is most likely to go on to challenge for European honours next year, while Pakistan-born Farooq has been snapped up by Matchroom Boxing supremo Eddie Hearn. Farooq, also 23, will now have Anthony Joshua, Callum Smith and Katie Taylor among his new stablemates as he looks to rebuild his career following the first blemish to land on his record.