As Josh Taylor slumped to the canvas in the wake of his breathtaking triumph at London’s O2, Barry McGuigan gazed around the arena with a wry smile as much as to say: “I told you so”.
The former WBA featherweight champion,Taylor’s promoter of more than four years, has been shouting from the rooftops about the Commonwealth Games gold medallist since acquiring his signature in early 2015.
He promised the boxing fraternity he would create a pathway, under the guidance of son and trainer Shane, that would help mould the Prestonpans puncher into a future superstar.
Well, the 58-year-old has delivered on his promise after just 16 bouts, Saturday’s awe-inspiring triumph over the previously undefeated American Regis Prograis, confirmed Taylor as a unified world champion and winner of the Muhammad Ali Trophy and Ring Magazine belt.
But let’s rewind the clock and take stock. Following a maiden second-round stoppage over Archie Weah in El Paso, Texas, in July 2015, the assembled media gathered at the Scotsman Hotel just a month later as Taylor prepared to launch his career on home soil, being matched up with Adam Mate of Hungary at Meadowbank.
And although the then 24-year-old produced a devastating performance to stop the Eastern European in the first round, that didn’t prevent McGuigan’s bold prediction being met with a degree of caution.
“That day at the Scotsman Hotel, I told you. Now, 16 fights later, here he is,” the legendary Hall of Famer recalled. “I know that the rugby has been pretty lousy for both Ireland and Scotland. The football hasn’t been great for Scotland, either. But Taylor deserves all the accolades he gets.
“He fought Dave Ryan for the Commonwealth title after five fights and he beat the s**t out of him. He assassinated him. And then Eddie [Hearn] was blowing about Ohara Davies because he’d been knocking guys out in the gym. We said we’d love to fight him and then we won the purse bids and their a**e started to go. He took him apart.
“And even look at Prograis at the weekend there, he had a formidable record and was a guy who knocked everybody out in sparring. And look what Taylor managed to overcome.
“This kid is a superstar and I’ve said it so many times. You guys have come along with us from the very start.
“We both, personally, have had a terrible year. Poor James [Taylor’s partner Danielle’s father] died and that was just shocking. To have to deal with the heartbreak of his wife-to-be, that was devastating. I went up to the funeral and I had just been at my daughter’s.
“For him to come through all that and put everything together where he’s won a unified world title in 16 professional fights is pretty amazing. I’m just so proud of him, having dealt with all he’s had to deal with and still come out on top.”
So, where do Taylor’s achievements rank among former champions? “There aren’t many guys have done what he has,” McGuigan explained. “Taylor is, arguably, the best light welterweight this country has ever produced. Think about it. Terry Marsh was a world champion and he made a couple of defences but this is something we’ve never had, a unified title in 16 fights. Throw in the WBSS and the Ring belt then that is incredible. He didn’t turn pro young, he was quite advanced so I knew that we had to get on with it.”
Having recently moved their training base down to Canterbury at Kent University, McGuigan believes the change has been a breath of fresh air. “We moved down to Canterbury and Josh has loved it because he’s with the fighters all in the one house and they have fun together,” McGuigan said.
“It’s out in the country so they can walk around. He’s a home bird like me and likes to be out in the country.
“These fights take a bit of your soul away. They take a lot out of you – and you can’t have every fight like that. He needs time to rest and recover. We have to give him a chance to have a breather.”
l Our coverage of Josh Taylor’s world title fight is brought to you in association with Watermans Legal.