Josh Taylor: A sit-down with the King of the Junior Welterweights
“I had this wall custom-made in December because I knew I’d have the extra belts,” said Josh Taylor without a care in the world.
Fighters have tremendous levels of confidence and the undisputed junior welterweight champion is no exception. At his home in Haddington, a small town 17 miles east of Edinburgh, Scotland, Taylor was settling down in his living room to rewatch his most recent triumph, a 12-round unanimous decision win over Jose Ramirez that saw him capture every piece of the 140-pound jigsaw. A 75-inch TV was stationed directly above a neat electric fire, and off to the sides was Taylor’s treasure trove. On the left was the IBF belt he took from Ivan Baranchyk, in May 2019, and the WBA and Ring Magazine titles he won by outpointing Regis Prograis five months later. On the right was the Commonwealth title he picked up at the expense of Dave Ryan in October 2016, the new WBO belt that had just arrived, and there was one space left for the WBC strap that was imminent. It was an eye-popping presentation and more than a bit surreal if you’re a fight fan. For Taylor, though, he knew all this was coming. It was a promise that he had made to himself. All the blood, sweat and tears would not go unrewarded. This entire setup was there five months in advance of the Ramirez showdown because Taylor knew in his bones that he was going to win.
In the modern-day fight game it’s rare for us to have an undisputed world champion but it’s a lot rarer to have a Scottish one. I’d touched base with Taylor (18-0, 13 knockouts) shortly after he’d returned from Las Vegas and asked if I could pay him a visit. “The Tartan Tornado” was gracious enough to see me, so I made the 65-mile trip on Thursday past for a sit-down with one of the finest pound-for-pound fighters in the world today.
What follows is an undiluted account of the conversation we had while watching history unfold:
The Ring: How were you feeling in the moments before the fight?
“Zero nerves, absolute confidence, ready to go. I was so confident that I was going to win this fight. I just knew that all these belts were coming back, I’d visualized it for so long.
“Maybe once or twice during camp… when I got to Vegas, I sparred really shit. I had jetlag, sparred crap, and I said to myself, ‘If I fight like that, I’ll get stopped!’ That’s the kind of thing that will go through a fighter’s mind, but by fight time there was zero doubts.”
The Ring: What are you looking to do in Round 1?
“I’m looking to get my flow, get my rhythm,” said Taylor before pointing at the screen. “That’s the first time I’ve ever done that before a fight.” After bouncing on the spot for a prolonged period, Taylor had stopped dead and stared daggers at Ramirez. “I’m ready for you!” laughed Taylor. “Then I remembered – back on your toes, back on your toes!
“I knew that I was coming out to take the center of the ring and I’d see what movements he was going to use.”
The Ring: You moved more than you have in recent fights, right?
“Yes, I moved more and didn’t just rely on a closed guard. If I’d relied on the closed guard, it would have been a hard, physical fight. I’d be letting him punch away at me when I shouldn’t be allowing that. I actually never moved enough, I could have moved a lot more.
“I could also see everything he as doing. Everything he was doing was kind of telegraphed. He was quite fast, but he was showing [what he was going to do] in his body language. He was tight and tense and I could see that in his eyes when I came into the ring.
The Ring: As a southpaw, do you focus on keeping your right foot outside his left?
“I sometimes do, but I also like to keep my foot inside the left foot with orthodox guys because it gives me the chance to counter with punches that other fighters can’t get back. I’m comfortable with my foot on the inside, even though we worked on having it on the outside.”
The Ring: Ramirez is known for being an extremely strong junior welterweight. How would you rate his strength?
“He was physically strong, but not strong enough to move me around,” offered Taylor following a moment’s deliberation.
“In terms of his punching power, it was nothing to rave about. Baranchyk was a harder puncher; he was a strong, clubbing-type puncher. I’d say Ramirez hit harder than Prograis, though, much harder than Prograis, but he doesn’t have his slickness. I actually think Ramirez would be a very hard fight for Prograis. Prograis can outbox him, but I could see Ramirez getting on top of him at points.
“At the end of Round 1, I said to myself, ‘That went as expected, quite comfortable.’ I knew I’d won the first round.”
The Ring: Two of the judges gave Ramirez three of the first five rounds and the other gave you three of the first five. For the most part, the ESPN and Top Rank commentary suggested that Ramirez was having most of the success in the early going. What was your thoughts?
“I thought I won the first two rounds,” said Taylor. “At the time, I felt that I’d lost the third round big, but when I scored it earlier, it wasn’t that bad. I definitely lost that round, though.
The Ring: What did Ramirez do to win that round and what did you not do?
“I stopped doing my setups,” said Taylor before asking his fiancé, Danielle, for his scorecard just as Ramirez began to open up and have success. “That was me bouncing on the spot that caused that. It’s a habit I’ve picked up, and he’s caught me. We’re working on me stopping that. I stopped the movement and relied on the high guard and that allowed him to get off a little bit. Even then, he’s not hitting me a lot. If anything, I’m landing the better punches, but he’s aggressive and letting more punches go.
Taylor suddenly releases a hard counter left to the solar plexus in the third.
The Ring: Did the body shots take a toll?
“I definitely hurt him one or twice with the left hand up the middle,” said Taylor. “Before the fight, I thought it would be a body shot that would take him out.”
The Ring: You’d taunted him before the fight, saying that he’d struggled to make weight. Is that why you thought the body shots would be key?
“Yes, and he looked soft around the mid-rift. He’s not conditioned around the mid-rift.”
“I gave the fourth round 10-10, but looking at it now, I think I could have won it. There’s the referee on me again. Ramirez is holding and the referee warned me. I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’
“I gave Round 5 to Ramirez, too.”
ROUND 6 – KNOCKDOWN 1
The Ring: Had you worked on the slip/ counter left over his right hand?
“Yes, we knew he’d be rushing in with that,” said Taylor before mimicking the counter shot that would produce the first knockdown. “Just step back, bop, there it is! What a fuckin’ shot that was! He’s shaky there, not badly hurt, but he’s shaky. It wasn’t heavy, just well picked. And I’ll tell you what, if he didn’t fall into my stomach, he’d have been down face-first.”
The Ring: Did the referee put you off here?
“He did a bit, but I didn’t want to jump in and get careless,” said Taylor.
ROUND 7 – KNOCKDOWN 2
“Right, let’s fuckin’ count this!” Taylor barks just before he drops Ramirez with a rocket left uppercut at ring center. The Scotsman counts 20 seconds from when Ramirez hits the floor until the action resumes, but the poor refereeing soon gets ignored as Taylor enjoys his follow-up assault.
“When the bell rings here, I say, ‘You lucky motherfucker!’ and he’s like, ‘Fuck you!” Taylor laughs at the exchange as the slow motion replays begin. “He was fuckin’ lucky, though, very lucky. I looked at him when he fell and his eyes were rolling in the back of his head. His legs were away, he was away, the fight could have been stopped here!”
The Ring: I think that was the second-best punch I’ve ever seen you throw.
“What was first?” Taylor asked inquisitively.
The Ring: The right hook on Ohara Davies.
“Ohara Davies! Right!”
The Ring: What were your thoughts on the championship rounds?
“I initially scored the 11th 10-10, then I thought, let’s be generous and give it to Ramirez.
“My movement was brilliant at times. I had the conditioning to do more and up the pace, but I was so comfortable in there. I felt better at this point of the fight than I did against Baranchyk or Prograis because I was in better condition. I trained for about six months for this fight.”
The Ring: Is that not a bad thing, though? Doesn’t that make you stale?
“No, because I did everything slow and gradual. I worked on technique, worked on movement, the counter shots, the defense, the head movement, the slipping and moving, working on feints. I did all of that over a long period rather than cramming everything into 10 weeks. This camp was about developing and learning rather than just getting fit and strong. It was the fittest and the best I’ve ever been.”
The Ring: With everything that’s at stake, what are you thinking as the bell rings for Round 12?
“Keep focused, keep out his way, don’t take any risks because you’re fuckin’ miles ahead,” recalled Taylor, who was obviously unaware of how close the official cards were on the night.
“He was hesitant about coming in, so I could just box off him and move. He’s trying to get the finish, but he’s missing. I’m in control here. He threw about eight punches there and missed all of them. Even looking back at this round, it’s hard to say I lost it. He comes at me here and every punch misses, I’m laughing at him at the bell.”
The Ring: The scores were 114-112 across the board. Your reaction?
“When I heard 114, I was like, ‘Oh no!’” recalled Taylor with dread. “That was the only number I heard, and I was like, ‘They’re gonna fuck me here!’ But when they announced me as the winner it was the best feeling in the world. I wish you could bottle that.
“I started boxing at 14, I had my first fight at 15, so it’s been a 15-year journey. I could retire tomorrow and be happy. I’ve done what I set out to achieve and more. I’ve completed boxing, I’ve got every meaningful belt. I could retire and say that’s me done, but I have the desire to do more and set more targets.”
The Ring: You went to see Ramirez afterwards. How was that exchange?
“I went to see him and I paid my respects,” said Taylor in earnest. “I just let him know that the things I said in the buildup was all mind games. He’s a warrior!”
The Ring: What’s next for you?
“I’d like to have a fight at Edinburgh Castle. I’d like to fight at Madison Square Garden. I’d like to move up to 147, win another title and really secure my name as one of Scotland’s best fighters ever. It’s all about my legacy now.
“There’s no timeframe on me moving to 147, and I could actually be a career light-welter. I just want to move to 147. If it comes next, it comes next, but I would like to take care of my [WBO] mandatory (Jack Catterall), then maybe move up.
“I’d like a fight at the Castle or at Easter Road (soccer stadium), but I hope there’s no restrictions by then. You’d be looking at August or September, maybe early-October at the very latest. I’d really want a full house for that.
“I’ll take a break and let my hands recover. There’s no broken bones, but they’re still swollen and the fight was almost two weeks ago. We just need to see if there’s any ligament or tissue damage.”
POUND FOR POUND
The Ring: You’re the first British fighter to move into The Ring’s pound for pound Top 5 in 13 years (Joe Calzaghe in 2008). Is that something that you’re proud of?
“It’s almost like a relief to get the recognition that I deserve. It’s nice to get the kudos because before it was always, ‘He’s good, but….’ Even now, I think if I was from south of the border (England), then there would be much more of a song and dance about the win.
The Ring: Do you think if you were from England, the fight would have been on Fite.TV pay-per-view (outside of the U.S.)?
“No,” said Taylor instantly. “It would have been on Sky or BT, 100 percent. A fight of that magnitude, I was making history, and it felt like a lot of the media didn’t give a shit. It is what it is, but I’ve known for a long time that I’m the best fighter in the division. Now they can’t ignore me. In a way it’s a driving force: Keep proving people wrong, sticking the middles up and laughing.”
The Ring: There’s been talk of Terence Crawford in your future. What are your thoughts?
“He’s been struggling for an opponent for quite some time, and that fight is very attractive. It’s undisputed versus undisputed, we’re both under Top Rank, so it could all be in-house and easily put together. And that’s a fight that’s very winnable for me.
“Again, though, people are saying, ‘Stay away from Terence Crawford, he’s a good fighter!’ I’m getting it all again. I’ve proved that I’m one of the best in the game, and it’s still, ‘Stay away from Crawford, Josh, he’ll destroy you!’
“I think Crawford is cream of the crop. He’s a complete fighter, he can mix it up; switch southpaw and orthodox, he’s very clever, and he has the spitefulness as well. He’s very patient, but I can be patient, too. I honestly believe that I can adjust to any fighter and any style.
“Outside of the heavyweights, this is one of the biggest fights in boxing today.”
The Ring: Is welterweight your ceiling?
“I think so. I could possibly go up to light-middle but that would be a big step. I’m big enough for welterweight, but I’d be a middle-sized welterweight. The thing is, anything I give away in size, I make up for with advantages in speed and timing, and I have firepower as well. I spar middleweights, I more than hold my own, and I can hurt these guys with 14oz gloves on.”
HALL OF FAME POTENTIAL
The Ring: You already have Hall of Fame credentials. What would it mean to you if you cross over in Canastota?
“It’s mental,” said Taylor before looking momentarily speechless. “That would be… that would be a great honor. I’m not one for worrying about where people rank me but getting into the Hall of Fame would be a really proud moment.”
Tom Gray is Managing Editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing