FOUR weeks after WBC and WBO super-lightweight champion Jose Ramirez edged out Viktor Postol to keep his belts, Josh Taylor stakes his claim to be the best 140lb fighter in the world. The 29-year-old Scot defends his WBA and IBF titles against Apinun Khongsong on Saturday (September 26) at York Hall in Bethnal Green.
There’s been talk of a Taylor-Ramirez unification for all four belts, provided both keep winning. Ramirez has to deal with WBO mandatory challenger Jack Catterall – unless an agreement can be reached – and Taylor faces an unbeaten knockout specialist from Thailand this weekend. Khongsong has 13 early wins on his 16-0 record – including his last six. Taylor (also 16-0) says the 24-year-old has “an ungainly rhythm, good timing and can punch with both hands.”
For the left-handed champion, it’s his first fight since outpointing Regis Prograis (24-0) in the final of the World Boxing Super Series in October. We regarded that as the best bout seen in Britain last year. It was a fight of the highest quality, with several shifts in momentum – and it was desperately close. Two judges had it level after eight rounds, with the other having Taylor up by two. Had Alfredo Polanco seen the 12th the same way as the other two judges and given it to Prograis, it would have been a majority draw. The decision went Taylor’s way and that result put him up with the best pound-for-pound fighters in Britain.
Last year he took world titles off Ivan Baranchyk (IBF) and Prograis (WBA), and previously he beat former world champions Miguel Vazquez (39-5) and Postol (29-1). Taylor’s last four opponents had a combined record of 94-1 going in. He is a good size for 140lbs, can box on the balls of his feet, fight on the inside – and he’s good over the championship distance. His fights with Vazquez, Postol and Prograis were won down the stretch.
Taylor says that ever since he was a boy he has had an appetite for fighting. “If I got knocked down, I’d get up and say, ‘Let’s go again,’” he remembered. “I always did that. Guys would think, ‘I’m not fighting him. I’ll be fighting all day.’” That attitude has stayed with Taylor. There’s a steely, hard-to-beat look about him. If a fight is in the balance or going against him, Taylor gets more out of himself. Taylor has been cut several times in his career and possibly trades more than a fighter with his feet needs to. If Taylor trades with Khongsong or loses concentration, he could find himself in trouble.
Since the Prograis fight, Taylor has made headlines for being fined after an incident at an Edinburgh nightclub and splitting from the McGuigans. Taylor is now trained by Ben Davison, promoted by Top Rank and fighting on BT Sport and ESPN.
The promise of his upcoming challenger is that “he cannot tolerate my power punch.” Khongsong has climbed the IBF rankings to the mandatory spot by winning their Pan Pacific and Asia belts. The outstanding result on his record is a fifth-round KO of Akihiro Kondo (31-7-1) in Japan last February. Fifteen months earlier, Kondo had lost on points to Sergey Lipinets for the vacant IBF belt and sections of the crowd thought him hard done by. Khongsong dramatically chinned Kondo, but that moment of quality apart, he looked fairly average. The same height as Taylor at 5ft 10ins, he has long arms and while his straight punches are good, he tends to sling slow, wide shots and doesn’t always take his feet with him. Against Kondo he looked hittable as well.
The Thais don’t produce too many quality fighters around 140lbs. The heaviest Thai to win a world title is the late Saensak Muangsurin, who won the WBC belt at super-lightweight in his third fight in 1975, setting a record subsequently equalled by Vasyl Lomachenko.
“I am stronger than Taylor, I hit harder than Taylor,” said Khongsong. But Taylor’s chin hasn’t let him down yet. Against Postol, he held a couple of times and he went for a walk after Baranchyk cracked him cleanly, but he’s never come close to going down and he’s been fighting at championship level since his seventh fight, when he stopped hardened veteran Dave Ryan (17-9) for the vacant Commonwealth crown.
This is Taylor’s ninth successive title fight and he has completed 12 rounds three times in his last four. Khongsong has been 12 once, when outpointing Adam Diu Abdulhamid (11-3) three years ago. No question Khongsong can punch, but the reality is, Taylor looks too good for him and can force a stoppage around the middle rounds.
Also on the show, Charlie Edwards (15-1), the former undefeated WBC flyweight champion, fights Kyle Williams (11-2) over 10 up at 118lbs, but says his future is at 115lbs and his target is Kal Yafai. First, he has to get past Williams, a 28-year-old from Wolverhampton who has suffered losses to Ukashir Farooq (11-0) for the British title and last time out, an overweight Ionut Baluta (11-2).
Croydon’s Edwards, 27, left Eddie Hearn for Frank Warren and vacated his world title after a close shave with Julio Cesar Martinez (14-1), and given that he’s been fighting at a higher level and Williams has been on the floor a few times, we go for Edwards to win inside schedule.
Baluta is also in action, facing Mullingar’s David Oliver Joyce (12-1) at super-bantam, and both go into their 10-rounder off the back of wins over former world champions. 2016 Olympian Joyce sent Lee Haskins (36-4) into retirement with a fifth-round stoppage in February and a few weeks later, Baluta outpointed TJ Doheny (22-1) over eight rounds in a big upset. Joyce looks to get into range and let his hands go, while Baluta slips and slides on the outside, looking to pot shot. Our prediction is that Joyce will get on top of the Romanian and stop him in the second half.
The Verdict Taylor’s pedigree should prove too much for Khongsong, but he cannot afford to switch off.