'Tartan Tornado' blows back into town
High winds are forecast in Edinburgh when 'The Tartan Tornado' blows back into town. Andrew Harrison previews Josh Taylor's latest bout...
On Friday night exciting Scotsman Josh Taylor faces South African Warren Joubert in the maiden defence of his Commonwealth super lightweight title, a mere footnote in the grand scheme of Taylor’s career, should the lofty projections for the Prestonpans man unfold as planned. Unbeaten in eight with seven knockouts, Taylor is pegged as the blue-chipper in a competitive domestic 140-pound huddle - one that includes top contenders Jack Catterall (Bolton) and Ohara Davies (London), Huddersfield’s British champ Tyrone Nurse and Taylor’s ultimate target: WBA world-title holder Ricky Burns of Coatbridge (a small town just east of Glasgow).
The bull’s eye for Taylor – the jackpot scenario - would see him opposing the happy-go-lucky Burns on the Esplanade at Edinburgh Castle – the rugged sentry overlooking 'Auld Reekie', a city whose glossy gentrification and Gothic splendour was given the cinematic touch in the recent hit film sequel, T2 Trainspotting.
Cyclone are building Taylor’s profile on free-to-air TV. His title-winning effort against Dave Ryan was broadcast on Channel Five (the IBO of original terrestrial channels) and the Joubert clash will go out on Spike TV. Taylor, for his part, is producing the sort of buzz reserved for all sure things: see him while you can still get reasonably priced ringside tickets, basically.
Though Edinburgh boasts two football teams in Hibernian (Hibs) and Heart of Midlothian (Hearts), Glasgow’s 'Old Firm' in Celtic and Rangers have held a traditional death-grip on matters north of Hadrian’s Wall. Despite the Edinburgh clubs winning Scottish Cups in 2012 (Hearts – a 5-1 derby win over Hibs) and 2016 (Hibs – their first in 114 years), neither have won the league for almost six decades. There may then, be a sporting void within the city that Taylor can exploit.
Former super lightweight king Ricky Hatton and current featherweight contender Josh Warrington capitalised on the waning fortunes of Manchester City and Leeds United respectively (both clubs currently revitalised it has to be said) by drawing impressive crowds of fans – many of them disillusioned football supporters – who were desperate for something to cheer. In fact, Taylor may have a chance at becoming a new icon for Scottish sport.
If only moulding a talented prospect into a legendary prize fighter was that easy. Sixteen years ago, 'Amazing' Alex Arthur (who had a monopoly on three-letter nicknames long before Kazakhstan middleweight Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin came along), was a charismatic, talented prospect from these same parts. Like Taylor, the Leith man struck Commonwealth gold as an amateur and seemed destined for glory in the pros (he, too, coveted a world-title fight atop Castle Rock).
In his 17th fight, though, Arthur was derailed in Edinburgh by the colourful Mancunian Michael Gomez while defending his British super featherweight crown. And while Arthur came back to win British, Commonwealth, European and WBO world honours (the latter on a technicality, when a minor version of the belt was upgraded after enigmatic Dominican Joan Guzmán vacated the full version), while also inflicting a first defeat on Ricky Burns, he was never in danger of living up to his billing as the heir apparent to the great lightweight world champion Ken Buchanan.
Both the smooth boxing Buchanan – the man every hot prospect in Scotland is inevitably compared to - and his tenacious Glasgow rival Jim Watt cast glorious shadows over Scottish boxing that have endured for 40 years. Inevitably, Cyclone CEO Barry McGuigan – bullish in support of his fighters – has already hailed Taylor as Scotland’s best boxer since 'The Fighting Carpenter'.
Only Burns could hope to threaten Watt for that accolade, yet after 47 fights in almost 16 years as a pro, how long does 'Rickster' have left at the top level? It's that ticking clock (coupled with Taylor's startling ability) that has McGuigan pondering when they can make their move.
As to Friday’s fight: Taylor is a speedy southpaw – a long-armed former Olympian who gets in and out of range well and likes to hook with his lead right. Joubert (26-4-5, 11 KOs) seems a stubborn, tough sort – yet the very same description applied to Derby’s 'Rocky' Ryan, who was summarily outclassed by the 'Tartan Tornado' in five rounds. Taylor is favoured to win inside schedule – probably in the fight’s second half.
The intrigue lies in how well he performs. When an emerging fighter looks as promising a Taylor does, in a sport where every prospect is automatically trumpeted as the latest incarnation a former great, the kick lies in the abiding hope that boxing may have uncovered a true original.