JOSH TAYLOR tends to a motorbike. He maintains it, cleans it, starts it up to keep it running. But he won’t ride it. Not until his boxing career is over.
“It’s not worth risking your career that you’ve been working hard for,” he said. “You might get knocked off, break your wrist, break your arm, break your shoulder or break your leg. That’s your career.”
“I still have got a motorbike but I haven’t been on it for about two years now,” he added. “I’ve put the bikes away until the boxing’s finished.”
Some of his earliest memories involve motorbikes. He’s been riding them since he was a child. As he grew older he began to compete. “I raced motorcross myself. I was pretty good. I just never had the money to be really competitive,” he recalled. “It’s just never ending, it’s a never ending money pit. Guys at the top end have got sponsored bikes, maybe two or three bikes and a lot of money behind them and teams giving them stuff. You just can’t compete with them.”
But he notes, “I was pretty good. By the end of the season I was getting top fives in a field of 40. So I was doing alright, I think I got a couple of thirds on a standard engine. I think I only had my suspension done and that was it. Because I was so light the suspension was too hard for me… I was getting top fives and top threes out of a field of 40 bikes, so I was doing alright.”
These were thrilling events. “It’s not like a grid set up like in Formula One, in motorcross you’ve got a line and it narrows down into the first corner. You’ve got 40 bikes in a line going into the first corner so that can be quite daunting,” he said. “But at the same time going as fast as you can and jumping the big jumps, it’s adrenaline, adrenaline and the only thing that comes close to that rush is boxing and that’s the same kind of rush I get in boxing, the same adrenaline. You get the fear. You get the nerves. You get the excitement all in one and it’s just a great feeling, you know, it’s brilliant.”
Back then Taylor was a small, angry man. Before he got into boxing he was a 15-year-old weighing less than 48 kilos. He was tiny. Growing up in Prestonpans, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, he remembered, “I had what you call ‘wee man syndrome’. I used to stick up for myself. I wouldn’t let people bully me or anything.”
“You had to look after yourself. If you got picked on, you had to look after yourself,” he said. “I never had any big brothers or big cousins look after me and I was the tiny one in my year as well so… I would always find myself in wee scraps.”
“I had to defend myself because they thought it was easy pickings because I was so small,” Taylor said with a smile. “If I got knocked down I’d get back up and say let’s go again, let’s go again, until I won. I always did that.
“Guys would [think] I’m not fighting him again, I’ll be fighting all day.”
He has grown, into a leading super-lightweight contender, but he still has that edge. The ‘wee man syndrome’ isn’t too far from the surface. In his last contest for instance, his opening bout in the World Boxing Super Series, Ryan Martin, who lost tamely in seven rounds, appeared to sense it. Taylor said, “I’m not scared of anybody. I don’t think intimidation tactics work on me. The fighting instinct takes over when people try to intimidate me. It doesn’t work. There seems to be a switch in there.”
The machinations of Ivan Baranchyk’s team in the build up to their May 18 clash for the IBF super-lightweight title at Glasgow’s Hydro have also drawn his ire. It is a World Boxing Super Series semi-final so should essentially have been a done deal. But the Belarussian’s manager publicly distanced his fighter from the event before reconciling with the Super Series. Taylor takes a dim view of such antics.
“When I do get in there and if I hurt him, I am going to jump on him and I really will punish him for this.
I really will look to be doing a number on him. If I hurt him, I’ll jump on him and I’ll try and put him away,” the Scotsman said cheerfully. “You can’t sign up to a tournament and a contract, then win a title then decide you’re not playing anymore. You can’t do that.”
“It’s completely ridiculous,” he continued with intent. “To a lot of people he’s a coward [but] it seems to be his manager’s playing all the games and doing all this stuff, you know, trying to pull him out and not wanting to come to Scotland and all that carry on. But I think it’s tough tattie, as they say in Scotland. You’re going to have to. You signed up to it, you’re going to have to come. It’s been a little bit frustrating not knowing what’s going on. But the goal stays the same. Train hard. Work hard. Spar hard and get as fit as I can, as strong as I can.”
Taylor is also unimpressed with the conduct of Regis Prograis, who boxes WBA super-lightweight champion Kiryl Relikh in the other Super Series semi-final this weekend. “He kind of irritates me a wee bit. His arrogance. His cockiness becomes arrogance. I don’t think it’s confidence, it’s arrogance,” Taylor said. “He calls himself a world champ and he isn’t a world champ and he walks about with his two belts over his shoulder.
“I could call myself the Silver world champion for f**k’s sake. I’m not world champion because [Jose] Ramirez is [the WBC] world champion. So why is he calling himself world champion? But he isn’t.”
Taylor’s sole focus is on becoming a genuine champion, winning one of the major world belts. He expects to do just that on May 18 fighting for the IBF title. “I really do think I’m going to win this tournament and I do think I’m going to win this belt in this fight and I think I’m going to do it in style,” the Scotsman says. “[Baranchyk] can box and keep tight but eventually he’ll come forward and throw his big swinging punches and get wild.
“It’ll suit me but if he tries to box me, it’s even better. Because there’s no way he’s going to outbox me. I’m too tall for him. I’m faster than him and I think I can hit just as hard as him as well. I think I can outfight him as well. I think I can beat him in every department.
“I can’t wait. It’s my big shot at getting a title, becoming a world champion – my dream. I’ve always spoken to you about it and said I will do it. So I’m grabbing this opportunity with both hands.”
The next part of the dream would of course be winning more belts. “I’d love to become [Scotland’s] first undisputed world champion since Ken Buchanan, that would just be awesome,” he reflected. “Take the belts back to Scotland and show him them.”
Buchanan, even at 73 years old, still comes into Lochend, Taylor’s former amateur club in Scotland, to do some training. “I see Kenny a lot back home, when I go home,” Josh said. “He’s still got the moves there and he comes in and gives me bits of advice.”
“Mistakes that he’s made outside of the ring as well,” he continued. “You get all the fight stories as well. I just love listening to him… In those days they were warriors. They don’t make them like that anymore.
“They were real fighters back then.”
Real fighters take fights. It’s a lesson Baranchyk or at least his team could learn. For his part Taylor insists he would never back down from fighting anyone. Even if the peerless Vasyl Lomachenko were to step up to a fourth weight class, Taylor would gladly take him on. “He’s not got any challengers really. Mikey Garcia, that’ll probably be the one that he’ll chase I think but he might come up to 140lbs as well. I’d love to get in the ring with him,” Taylor said.
Years ago, he almost met the Ukrainian in the World Series of Boxing, the quasi-pro league for Olympic style boxers. “I was supposed to fight him in the WSB. I had to pull out because I smashed my hand up, I broke my hand against [Domenico] Valentino,” he said. “I wanted to fight him but you can’t fight a guy like that with one hand.”
It is a fight he’s thought about. “You can’t stand off him because he comes at you and changes his angles. [You’ve got to] go at him and f**king push him. Really just break him down, just go for him and keep on top of him. You’ve got to be physical with him, use the size, the strength, get on top of him and just keep breaking him down really.”
“I was up for it,” he added cheerfully. “I’ll fight anybody. I’ll fight my own shadow.”
He’s waiting to ride his motorbike again, waiting until his fighting days are done. But he loves the thrill of boxing. Beyond winning multiple titles, becoming undisputed or being hailed the next great Scottish fighter, Taylor just wants to see how far his talent can carry him. “I just want to become world champion and be the best that I can be. I’m not interested in topping anybody else’s records,” he says. “I just want to be world champion and see how far I can take it.”