Winning ways: Josh Taylor interview
John A. MacDonald
It's been a great few months for Josh Taylor, who spoke to John A. MacDonald about his memorable victory against Ohara Davies from earlier this year...
When Josh Taylor took on Ohara Davies in July it was perceived to be an evenly matched contest. Both fighters were unbeaten — Taylor in nine bouts, Davies in 15 — but the Scot had no doubts.
“I knew it could potentially be a straightforward fight from the very moment that fight was getting talked about,” Taylor told Boxing Monthly over the phone. “I knew I could win it with just my boxing IQ, movement and boxing brain.”
Taylor was so certain of success that even as he stood in the ring, minutes before the first bell, he was devoid of nerves or trepidation. Taylor opted to withhold that information from his trainer, Shane McGuigan, for fear it would be interpreted as overconfidence.
“Usually, I get big butterflies just before I go out, but I felt so comfortable,” he said. “I think it was because I was so confident of going in and winning this fight. I was so focused and relaxed. I think that showed in my performance. I was relaxed, but so switched on at the same time. I was going to say to Shane, but I’m glad I never,” he laughed.
If the tactic was to outbox Davies then, after a tentative opening round, Taylor abandoned it in favour of out-fighting his opponent. This may have been misconstrued as an emotionally driven decision due to the enmity between the pair in the lead-up to the contest. However, Taylor was quick to refute any such suggestion.
Taylor had a healthy respect for his opponent’s lauded punching power but discovered that at close range he was better able to negate Davies’ significant reach advantage.
“I was a bit wary of his power because his punching power was knocking everyone out,” Taylor revealed. “I had a wee bit of respect for his power so I wasn’t going to be stupid, but I got in there and realised it was nothing that I hadn’t had before.
“He was actually a wee bit harder to hit at long range because of his awkward stance, but I seen his big, wide shots coming so I was able to prepare for them by blocking and riding the shots, then coming back with my own.
“I know I’m good inside, my shots are short and compact, but he’s got big, long arms so he can’t really throw inside quickly. That was what tended to be working better, so I just stayed with it.”
His deviation from the pre-fight plan was quickly vindicated as Taylor sent Davies to the canvas in the third round. Between rounds, McGuigan told him not to take unnecessary risks, to throw single shots and move out of range, advice that — for the most part — Taylor heeded on his way to a seventh-round victory.
Due to the ill feeling between the pair, the win and the manner in which it came about was particularly satisfactory for Taylor. So much so that he believes that victory was comparable to his greatest success as an amateur, winning gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. In victory, the animosity that Taylor harboured for his rival has dissipated.
“I wouldn’t say it tops [winning Commonwealth gold] but it’s on an even par, just due to the fact that there was so much talking beforehand,” Taylor said. “He disrespects people, he disrespects people’s family. I didn’t think it was very nice at all.
“I didn’t mind it, the things he was saying to me, it just made me want to beat him up more. It’s been and gone. I have nothing bad to say about him. I just wish him all the best in his career, and I’m sure he’ll go on to do something.”
Though Taylor admitted that Davies was heavy-handed, he was never unduly troubled by his power. This is perhaps unsurprising given that Taylor passed a far sterner examination of his chin as an adolescent.
Whilst instructing a relative on how to play golf, Taylor was caught flush by the head of the golf club, fracturing his jaw in multiple places. The injury required surgery and Taylor bears the scar to this day.
“It smashed my jaw in about 13 places,” Taylor recalled. “I was about 10, 11 years old. It was an accident. I was teaching my cousin how to play golf and I was standing behind her. It wasn’t the backswing, it was the follow-through — and I got it bang in the face. I got plastic surgery and stuff like that. It was a pretty horrific injury. It seems fine now. It’s [the jaw] actually probably stronger than my other side. I’ve had no problems with it at all.”
It would not be the last time that Taylor would need an operation. Shortly after the 2014 Commonwealth Games, he required surgery to repair an injury to his left hand. As a southpaw, issues with his dominant hand could have been detrimental to his career.
However, Taylor said that since the operation he hasn’t suffered any recurrence of the damage and believes that period in which he could not use his left resulted in a significant improvement in punches from his right hand.
“I had a bone graft done,” Taylor said. “I had my ligament taken out of my hand and the bone from my hip taken and put into my hand. It was pretty bad. I was out of the game for four months or something. I think that’s how my right hook developed and my jab developed a bit better after that, as I only had one hand to work on. [The right hook] is probably my most accurate shot, as well. People don’t see it coming and it always catches them.”
It is not just the right hook that has improved under the tutelage of Shane McGuigan. Taylor believes he has improved “10-fold” as a boxer since linking up with the son of former WBA featherweight champion Barry McGuigan.
Another advantage Taylor has gained from being trained by McGuigan is that he has been surrounded by world-class fighters. Taylor has been afforded the opportunity to fight in Texas, Las Vegas and New York on the undercard of Carl Frampton’s fights abroad. Taylor has keenly studied how Frampton conducts himself on such occasions.
He has also been able to turn to the likes of Frampton, David Haye — while he was trained by McGuigan — and George Groves for advice. In preparation for his fight with Davies, Taylor found Groves’ support invaluable after his first 12-round spar of the camp. Taylor endured a torrid session, but was buoyed by the words of the WBA super middleweight champion.
“I had a really bad spar,” Taylor confessed. “I was really tired from the day before — it was a hard day the day before. I had a good six, seven rounds, then I just sort of died and took a bit of a beating for four or five rounds. It was bad for my confidence.
“Then George came over and said: ‘Listen, we all have days like that. Days like that, you’ve just got to pull through. Even though you are having a bad day, you’ve got to get through it. You’ve had a bad day, but you’ll be fine.’ I said: ‘Thanks, George.’ Then I had a couple of days’ rest, came back and done my second 12-round spar, and I was flying. It’s wee things like that; don’t get flustered, keep calm. You are going to have bad days. Advice like that from world champions is invaluable.”
Taylor fared much better in sparring when he was in Las Vegas ahead of the rematch between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. He shared the ring with Shawn Porter on four occasions and gave a good account of himself in what he describes as an “invaluable experience”.
His performances in sparring, and the manner in which he dispatched the likes of Ohara Davies and Dave Ryan, give Taylor the belief that he has the talent to challenge for world titles immediately. However, he is also aware that he still lacks experience. As such, he is in no rush. Rather than capturing a world title in the fewest fights possible, Taylor wants to ensure that when he becomes a world champion he will be a dominant one.
“I think talent-wise and ability-wise I’m ready now, but I need to do a little bit more developing,” he said. “I need a couple more testing fights, maybe European level, stuff like that. Once you are at world level, there’s no going back.
“I think maybe two or three more testing fights then challenge for world titles. Once I become world champion, I want to stay there for as long as I can. I don’t want to get there, win the belt then lose it.”
Since this interview - which was originally published in Boxing Monthly magazine's September issue - Josh Taylor has also defeated Miguel Vazquez