By Derek Bonnett: The apprenticeship of a prospect in the sport of boxing is meant to groom the novice professional for the ranks of championship contention. Along the way, a prospect must learn that some chins will stand up to heavy thunder and some wills were not meant to be broken. Stubborn opposition will rise from the canvas and survive to hear the final bell. Some pugs will even enter the ring with a game plan and the confidence to strive for victory. The prospect’s job is squash that kind of thinking and keep the outcome of the bout something closer to the prescribed script. Every now and then the opponent thwarts the pre-ordained rise of the hot prospect and sends the losing team back to camp to rebuild. The special ones struggle and then rise to the occasion and clear the path for contender status. In 2017, Scotland’s Josh Taylor, 140 pounds, made his step up in opposition and passed multiple tests in character building fashion. Due largely to Taylor’s awe-inspiring showings in two higher profile bouts, "The Tartan Tornado" has been named SecondsOut’s Prospect of the Year for 2017.
Taylor’s 2017 opposition entered the ring a combined 88-11-6 and held various regional and minor titles with one of the boxers being a former world champion with a record of 7-1 in world title fights. Taylor, a southpaw charge of Shane McGuigan, entered 2017 a 7-0-0 professional, who had yet to hear the final bell for one of his paid bouts. In January of 2017, Taylor, who had been matched pretty even in terms of height was probably the shorter boxer for the first time as a professional against Alfonso Olvera of Mexico. Olvera, 27, arrived to the ring on short-notice to meet Taylor on the undercard of Frampton-Santa Cruz II. The big stage may have impacted Taylor,26, as he punched too eagerly and forgot some of his boxing tool bag in the locker-room. Specifically, the Edinburgh native neglected his jab and abandoned his body attack after a first round warning from the referee after straying low. Nevertheless, Taylor won the vast majority of the rounds and fought tirelessly for twenty-four minutes against an awkward, rangy opponent and took home the unanimous decision by scores of 79-72 and 78-73 twice in what is still his only distance win as a professional.
In March, Taylor met Warren "The Warrior" Joubert of South Africa and again found himself in difficult territory for a prospect. During the first round, Taylor emerged from an exchange with a cut on the left eye-lid produced by a clash of heads. Unlike Taylor, Joubert was accustomed to the twelve round distance, having fought thirty six rounds in his previous three outings. A long night with a cut was not the scenario Taylor wanted to contend with against an on-charging opponent. Early in round two, Taylor stunned Joubert with a left hook to start quickly. Sensing urgency, the Edinburgh prospect elected to take some risks rather than box safely behind the jab. Taylor tenderized Joubert’s abdomen with heavy, digging shots out of his southpaw stance. Joubert was not easily discouraged, but Taylor was intent on sending the message, I may be bleeding, but you’re the one in trouble. Joubert remained stubborn, but Taylor systematically began to break him down in round three with disciplined body work and a stiff jab to set up his power shots. All the while Joubert remained a dangerous fighter and Taylor should be commended for taking all the South African boxer had in return. Joubert never stopped trying for victory against the more polished Taylor; that is until a clean-up left hook from the southpaw in round six separated Joubert from both his mouthpiece and his senses. The South African landed on all fours on the canvas and climbed to his feet gamely, but his own corner had seen enough and the bout officially ended at 1:27 of the round.
In July, Taylor met rival prospect O’hara Davies at Braehead Arena in Glasgow following a well-publicized build-up to the grudge match. Bad-blood spewed between the two boxers and produced a match-up which had the pundits split over what the outcome might be. Scottish writer Andrew McCart felt his fellow countrymen knew from the start that Taylor would win and attested that this opinion was common throughout the United Kingdom. Having traveled from the United States to Glasgow to see the bout, I also favored Taylor, but the common belief in North America was that Davies had the power and athleticism to thwart Taylor’s rise. Davies also owned the most recognizable win of the pair as he crushed Derry Mathews in three rounds in March. The night would be electric for my American mates and all who attended Braehead Arena as Taylor’s stable-mate Jason Easton set a high bar for entertainment in the main supporting bout on the undercard. Taylor and Davies represented the biggest challenge yet at this stage of their respective careers and only one man would remain unbeaten at the conclusion of the 140-pound contest.
Taylor began the contest on the back foot as the shorter Davies pressed forward to set the pace of the action. However, Taylor circled to his right to take the range off Davies’ jab and right hand. The Scotsman landed to the torso early, further establishing himself already as one of the premiere body punchers in the sport today. Davies punched out of a crouch and came at Taylor from awkward angles, but "The Tartan Tornado" was well-prepared and the style of his opponent did little to upset the balance of his game-plan. At a distance, Davies was never able to keep Taylor on the end of his long arms and on the inside, his punches often sailed over their mark. Signs of the Hackney fighter’s own discomfort surfaced as early as round two as he followed Taylor around the ring unable to produce a savory punch output. Taylor’s left to the body remained steady in rounds two and three. The third round saw some nice exchanges between the rival junior welterweights. Taylor was the more efficient puncher and his mind was on testing Davies to the body as he alluded to in the pre-fight hype. Davies took a knee in the closing seconds of the round after Taylor checked him to the body and chin. Overwhelmed and less effective than his foe, Davies, 25, had no safe haven but the canvas. Taylor taunted Davies early in the fourth with a Pee-Wee Herman-like Tequila Shuffle. The Scottish boxer fed off the fervor of his countrymen around the ring and lifted his game to perform for them at the greatest of heights. Taylor’s actions may have appeared brazen, cocky, or too bold, but the Edinburgh fighter never lost control of the fight. Before the opening bell, both fighter’s talked the talk, but only he was able to perambulate accordingly. Davies resurfaced in the fifth and managed some sound work as he backed Taylor up to the ropes, fighting with a sense of urgency. His actions were dynamic and explosive while Taylor remained poised and used up a lot less energy in boxing effectively with calculation. Taylor body-snatched in round six as Davies employed his last stand; the substance of the fight was coming lopsidedly from Taylor at this point as the end was nigh. Taylor rocked Davies with a right hand early in the seventh, putting the Hackney fighter under the cover of a tight guard. Davies responded with heavy shots from an open stance, but Taylor’s guard was closed and he found Davies’ body even more open during these exchanges. Davies pushed his punches at Taylor as the Scotsman back toward a corner. As Davies followed, Taylor stepped to the side and unleashed a compact right hook, which dropped Davies on his trunks. Davies rose a beaten man, but Taylor needed to put on the final touches to secure the victory. One more right hand landed and Davies waved his glove in surrender. Davies turned his back as Taylor came in for the finish, but the referee quickly intervened, making Taylor the winner at 2:25 of the round.
Taylor was gracious in victory and received compliments from fellow countryman Ricky Burns, who was ringside. Taylor was also a generous host as he invited myself and my two travel mates to attend his victory party. After enjoying several drams of Bunnahabhain and Balvenie, we got the chance to congratulate Taylor on his awesome victory and the winner happily gave us a few minutes of his time for handshakes and photographs. Taylor’s efforts converted my friend Jonathon Bashford into a boxing fan in what was his first boxing card. My sometimes camera-man Russ Johnson had his feelings toward the Sweet Science re-affirmed. The three of us are appreciative to Andrew McCart for lining up our tickets during my fortieth birthday trip.
The victory resonated within the boxing world and filled your pallet like a fine Scotch whisky. The name Josh Taylor became more familiar to tongues outside of the United Kingdom. Both SecondsOut and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board recognized Taylor as a top ten commodity just ahead of his biggest challenge yet as a professional. In November, Taylor took on former lightweight world champion Miguel "Titere" Vazquez. Vazquez, 30, represented Taylor’s most accomplished opponent as a former world champion with seven world title victories behind him. Vazquez also possessed invaluable ring experience having twice fought Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and also Timothy Bradley, going the distance in each fight. Taylor would be favored by most going in, but Vazquez was not your typical Mexican fighter. It was easy to see how Vazquez’ awkward, grabbing style could trouble the rising prospect in a long fight scheduled for twelve rounds.
In the opening round, Taylor employed his jab to box the rangy former world champion. For his efforts, Taylor ate a few well-placed jabs from the Mexican boxer. Vazquez would break rhythm and dart in and out unexpectedly landing and throwing Taylor out of step. Vazquez used the ring to his advantage and changed directions erratically. The bout was only moments old, but Vazquez was already showing greater depth and dimension than the previous pugilists assigned to Taylor. The round was even at best with Vazquez giving Taylor much to think about regarding his application for world title contender status. Vazquez would be the gatekeeper and provide the stamp of approval or denial over the course of the contest. Taylor exited his corner for round two a confident man and moved forward to find his shots. His left was effective, but nothing to stop Vazquez in his tracks or slow down his own counter flurries, which scored points even if they did little harm. Midway through the round Taylor landed a left with more mustard and sent the former world champion back on his heels. Taylor came in to deliver more damage, but found himself entangled in the strings of "Titere", which is Spanish for puppet. Vazquez bought himself time to recover fully and smothered any possible barrage which my inflict real harm. Once ready, it was Vazquez who came out of the clinch offensively and landed a crisp combination on the southpaw. Later in the stanza, the fighters’ heads came together during an exchange and Taylor walked away with a cut to his left eye similarly to the Joubert fight, but more to the outside. Vazquez started the third pounding Taylor’s body and looping his right up to nail the damaged eye. Taylor, emotions slightly elevated, fought a riskier bout in the inside where Vazquez was happy to play. After a few moments of little success, Taylor re-instated his jab and dictated the action more carefully. However, Vazquez, who punched from all angles and directions, quickly adjusted to return to his role of being a thorn in Taylor’s side. Vazquez entered the ring with over 300 professional rounds on his dossier against 35 for Taylor. This type of veteran experience was what Taylor needed, but it would not come without the customary pound of flesh. Vazquez, a rough and tumble gentleman, no doubt, was not too polite to target Taylor’s bleeding eye and find it he did with unexpected shots from below his waistline as Taylor would charge forward. Many of them were simple sticks, but Taylor’s own momentum enhanced the blows. Taylor met Vazquez for the fourth and applied more of his boxing acumen to gain an advantage. However, the Mexican desired a grinding inside fight and drew the prospect in when he could. The rounds were tough to score at times because the Scotsman was landing hard blows, but also an education by the wily Vazquez. Taylor connected with a solid left hook at the start of the fifth that must have forced Vazquez to bite down hard on his gum-shield. Taylor opened up a tornado of blows to the body and head of Vazquez, forcing him back to the ropes, but the Mexican remained composed and always answered Taylor from an unexpected angle to remind him it was a former world champion he shared the ring with. Taylor was able to keep Vazquez on the hook with his strength, size, and dogged determination. He crafted good work, but had not yet discouraged his veteran foe. Taylor’s body work and left hooks would have already dropped or stopped a lesser entity at this point of the bout. Vazquez came to earn his purse though, win or lose, but there had been no evidence the Mexican considered losing as a viable option. Vazquez drilled his uppercut on the inside even when under heavy fire; his arms and elbows moving every which way to deflect or soften a blow from the prospect. Vazquez roughed Taylor up in the clinches in round six, prompting the Edinburgh native to seek some distance where he could use the jab to better serve up his left hook or cross. Taylor controlled the action and was able to avoid some of Vazquez’ big punches, but the Mexican was a true product of his environment and would adapt his game to keep him from ever being dominated. In the corner before round seven, Vazquez showed the first signs of fatigue and doubt as he shook his head for what exactly I do not know, but he held a solemn countenance in doing so. Conversely, Taylor appeared bright-eyed as he breathed evenly on his stool. Ringside observer and former world champion, Richie Woodhall, only favored Taylor by a single point on his unofficial scorecard. After an even first, he awarded Vazquez round four and six.
Against his best interest, Taylor scrapped on the inside with Vazquez to open the seventh. The Mexican landed a hard left hook to the side of Taylor’s face, forcing him to clinch momentarily before he tagged the torso of the Mexican. Taylor was warned by the referee for hitting behind the head and rapping him on the top of the head from a headlock position. Taylor’s own frustrations manifested themselves as he found himself still in front of a man, who simply would not be deterred by conventional tactics. Vazquez seized the moment and fired quick combos to push Taylor further down the road of despair. Taylor landed the harder punches, but Vazquez always had an answer like a petulant school child. Taylor came out of the eighth boxing, using distance to open a greater gap on the scorecards. Taylor’s focus returned and he resumed working the body confidently. Taylor’s conditioning showed as he was able to maintain his punch output round after round while Vazquez finally showed signs that his batteries were fading. The eighth was one of Taylor’s strongest, but after the round’s end, "The Tartan Tornado" moved into unexplored territory. Only against Olvera had Taylor fought eight full rounds; however, this time there was a ninth to follow. Taylor tortured Vazquez to the body in the this frame. He kept close to the Mexican an lifted the former world champion’s head with uppercuts. Vazquez responded in kind, but absorbed more shots than in previous rounds and held for a moment’s rest more than to implement strategy. Taylor connected solidly with a left hook to the head and followed up instantly with a murderous right to the body. He lifted Vazquez’ chin with a double left uppercut. Vazquez tried to circle left out of harm’s way, but created and opening for Taylor to sink a right to his body. Vazquez sank to the canvas like a marionette with his strings cut. The count was clear and fairly administered, but Vazquez could make no attempt to rise before the mark of ten, officially ending the bout at 2:30 of round nine.
Taylor, who finished 2017 at 11-0-0 (10), became the first man to stop Miguel Vazquez, who dipped to 39-6-0 (15). He recognized Vazquez’ effort and thanked him for the experience. Josh Taylor earned a quality education in 2017, going the distance, overcoming two cuts, besting a rival peer amid an emotional build-up, and grinding down a dangerous former world champion in four separate bouts. Taylor was pushed and, accordingly, he pushed back to move himself from novice professional to be able to start 2018 as a bonafide contender. For his efforts, SecondsOut would like to congratulate Josh Taylor and recognize him as 2017’s Prospect of the Year.