DEFINING moments are years in the making. On Saturday (October 26) Josh Taylor will step out at the O2 Arena in London to fight Regis Prograis to unify their IBF and WBA super-lightweight titles and win the World Boxing Super Series final. The victor of this fight will be one of the new stars in world boxing and be set up for further big nights and intriguing battles in future. This contest in short will shape Josh Taylor’s future.
While winning would shoot the Scotsman to a new level of acclaim the road to this level has been long one, even though it will only be the 16th fight of his professional career. 10 years ago Taylor, dejected, was sitting in Liverpool eating a pizza. He had just lost, again, to English nemesis Tom Stalker, by a single point in the latter’s home town. He got word that an injury would rule Stalker out of the final of the GB championships the next day. Would he step back in to fight Martin Ward? He put the pizza down and began to shift the excess weight he could have done without putting on. It has never been Taylor’s character to shy away from a fight. From when he was a “wee man” in Prestonpans, happy to scrap with anyone for however long it took, to years down the line tearing into Ivan Baranchyk to win the IBF world title. He has fine defensive skills, but he also wants to punch with spite.
It was alien to him to see Saturday’s opponent Prograis dragging his feet about coming to the UK for this battle to earn the World Boxing Super Series’ Muhammad Ali trophy. Wherever the fight was going to be, Taylor would have it.
Kalle Sauerland, the boxing promoter who handles the Super Series tournament, confirmed there were some issues with Prograis’ team as they confirmed the date and venue for this final. “There were [problems]. They tried to file a lawsuit, which was blown out by us in four days. It was the quickest lawsuit in history. But do I understand why that was an issue? Absolutely. The issue was they signed up to a tournament where their value was this, [initially] not a world champion, then we made the fight in the UK, they heard how much certain other guys were getting, must have thought they were being underpaid so they’re going to try it. I don’t blame the fighter. I don’t blame the handlers, they’re doing their job. They’re trying. The way of doing it was not gentleman-like. But that’s okay. The only thing is when you come to a gun fight bring a gun, don’t bring a f****** water pistol,” Sauerland told Boxing News. “We’ve got cannons.”
A quality final like this though is important for the Super Series. “I think if you look at the other finals so far, Smith-Groves was obviously a great one. Usyk-Gassiev, Inoue-Doniare, Briedis versus Dorticos, I think if I could have put on those five fights as a promoter, I’d have to pinch myself,” Sauerland said. “This tournament, this season we had 24 fighters under contract. And the level of fighters we’re talking grade triple A. It’s one hell of an operation. It’s not me, it’s a massive team of different people helping out. [Both Prograis and Taylor have] fought three times in a year. You tell me another American world champion who has done that, against that level of opponent. It doesn’t happen.”
If Taylor had an extended wait for this final fight, he’s also taken advantage of a long period of time to prepare seriously for the fight. “The training camp’s been tough but it’s been quite smooth really. It’s been smooth. It’s the smoothest camp I’ve had. I’ve been in camp just about all year, after the [Ivan] Baranchyk fight I took two or three weeks off, relaxed and then I got back to the gym, started ticking over, keeping fit again. As I always do, I always keep fit and in shape. I got to camp and I was helping [Luke] Campbell sparring for Lomachenko. That got my fitness up real quick and sharpness up real quick. So I’ve had a great camp in terms of ramping up the training and getting in peak fitness. Its felt real smooth, a real transition to being in good shape and fit and fighting shape and ready to go. It hasn’t felt like I’ve killed my body. It’s felt really smooth this time and I really do feel in the best condition I have been,” Taylor told Boxing News.
But this fight won’t be settled by one training camp. Years of work have gone into it, for both sides. Prograis has been fighting professionally since 2012 and to reach this point beaten good opposition; the likes of Julius Indongo, Terry Flanagan and Kiryl Relikh. Back in 2012 Taylor had qualified for the London Olympics. He didn’t gain much attention at that tournament but did beat Robson Conceicao (who became Olympic champion in 2016), before losing to former World champion Domenico Valentino. Taylor came into his own at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, beating good opponents in style to star in Glasgow. He has a fine grounding from the amateur code and in his accelerated professional development he’s dominated heavy-handed domestic rival Ohara Davies, beaten gatekeeper Miguel Vazquez, before dazzling against Viktor Postol and Ivan Baranchyk. That is a fine track record.
“I’ve had less fights but I’ve fought the best opposition and I’ve fought hungry fighters, live fighters. He’s fought no one up to this point. I just believe I’ve got the edge,” Taylor said. “There’s certainly a lot of hype about him. I know a lot of it is created by himself, I believe. He’s 24-0. He’s beat all 24 opponents. He’s done his job. But he’s not been in with real live opponents, any real live opponents as hungry as him, wants to win like him and are going to fight when he doesn’t want to fight. And is going to f****** hit back. I’m going to take his head off.”
Whether it’s going to be technical bout or a brutal fight, Taylor says, “I’m not sure. But we’re ready for both. We’re ready for a technical fight, I’m ready for a real hard fight as well. I feel ready for both. If it’s going to be a dog fight and go into the trenches as he says, I’m ready for that. If it’s going to be a technical fight I’m ready for that as well.”