BEFORE the great Ken Buchanan’s death in April aged 77, the friendship he had forged with Josh Taylor had contributed to him regaling the younger fighter with one particular story six times.
“But he tells it with such enthusiasm and like it was yesterday,” explained the 32-year-old Taylor, speaking from near the top floor of his hotel mid-fight week in New York. “The attention to detail that he puts in – he can remember how the changing room was and what music was on, and was playing in the arena
“‘Big Muhammad Ali came in and his coach was asking, “We’ve not got a changing room – can we use your changing room?” Aye, if you want. Wait a minute, big man.’
“He got a bit of chalk, drew a line halfway across the room and said, ‘This is your side and this is my side; don’t be coming over here’, and they had a good laugh after the fight and good jokes and spent the night together. These stories are amazing. Pieces of history that are fantastic. He was such a funny guy.”
Already in his 19-fight career Taylor has created his own history. He may never be regarded with quite the same respect as the universally revered Buchanan, but the way that his eyes light up when he talks about him means that when he is following in his footsteps it is tempting to conclude that there are times when for Taylor that is enough.
Missing Buchanan’s funeral after he died at the age of 77 was among the sacrifices he has made to be fully prepared for the fight with Teofimo Lopez that could yet go some way towards defining his career. A convincing performance – over a year after so many doubts were expressed around him when he became the villain in victory over Jack Catterall – would reinvigorate a career that shouldn’t need reinvigorating and ensure that it continues to unfold at the very top.
The divisive 25-year-old Lopez, from Brooklyn, betrays considerably less pleasure at the fact that it is at the theatre at Madison Square Garden that they will fight. It is not unthinkable that that owes to the darkness that had descended on his city as a consequence of forest fires in Canada that had left it looking like the epicentre of the apocalypse instead of the centre of the boxing universe as it was when Buchanan was in his prime. Over 50 years later it is regardless Taylor who represents a link to that past, and who is relishing a similar platform to that once graced by his late friend.
Ali fought Oscar Bonavena on the undercard of Buchanan’s victory over Donato Paduano on the December night in 1970 Buchanan so often retold. Another of Buchanan’s victories at the same venue came against Ismael Laguna, the first opponent Taylor watched footage of him fighting; there was also the defeat by the great Roberto Duran that was ended when Duran landed that most savage of low blows.
“He always said to me that he could still feel that punch to the bollocks,” said Taylor, revealing, without directly trying to, the sense of respect and affection the two Scots shared. “He said he still used to get a bit of pain down there. Back in those days the cups weren’t how they’re made today. They’re basically just a sock; a little bit of padding. He said that he was in severe pain for months.
“He had most of his big fights here. He’s got connections to my hometown, Prestonpans; my first coach was one of his sons, Raymond Fraser Buchanan. We spent a lot of time together.
“My family tartan; he wore his family tartan; the white name band as well. That was a tribute to Ken. He’s one of my heroes; one of my role models growing up. This is a tribute to him, out of respect, because I couldn’t make his funeral a few weeks back.
“Fighting at Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of boxing; topping another bill and doing the business. I’ve got friends; family; travelling support [in town]. I’m buzzing [to be here].”
If it is already with warmth and the fondest of memories that Taylor recalls Buchanan, it is with considerably greater sadness that he remembers William, the uncle who died last year. William – among Taylor’s biggest and longest-term admirers – was so convinced by his nephew’s potential that he placed a bet on him to headline at The Garden, and it is with significant sorrow that Taylor continues to recognise his loss.
“My uncle – I got into boxing when I was 14, 15, and my dad, we used to go to club shows and stuff – used to come with me, and my cousin as well,” he said, capable of discussing him in a way he had been unable to 15 minutes earlier, when the mention of him caught him “off-guard”. “After three or four fights, I’d be beating Scottish champions and British champions, and going to internationals and coming back with medals – gold medals – and my uncle William was like, ‘You’re going to be a world champion, son’.
“He passed away last year, unfortunately, so he’s missing it, but he’s here. He’s here with me. So this is a special moment.
“Even back then, in those days. ‘We’re going to start saving up. You’re going to Madison Square Garden one day.’ He was just always saying it from the very start.”
Should he excel against another natural talent and secure victory he will also be emulating another of his favourite fighters, and in the knowledge that the last time the super lightweight division was as appealing as it is on the eve of Taylor-Lopez, Floyd Mayweather, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto were approaching their primes.
“Miguel Cotto was one of my favourites growing up,” said Taylor, recalling another Garden favourite. “I loved his style and the way he used to fight and box. I used to love watching him.” His date with Lopez is the night before New York’s annual Puerto Rican Day Parade.