Josh Taylor has taken a short, hard and direct route to Saturday’s world title fight against Regis Prograis at the O2 in London.
Scottish idol Taylor, who is known as the Tartan Tornado, has been in the ring just 15 times, holds the IBF super-lightweight title and fights the exiled New Orleans native for his WBA and WBC versions; it is a rare fight in a British ring, two unbeaten world champions facing each other in their primes.
Last June Taylor was just a promising boxer, a novice of 12 fights, all wins, but mostly compiled against men he had no chance of losing to. His best wins, at that time, were against a tough guy from Derby called Dave Ryan and an unbeaten and untested Londoner called Ohara Davies; Taylor stopped both, Ryan in five and Davies in seven. A real nasty side of Taylor emerged in the Davies fight, which had been promoted as an ugly skirmish.
In late 2017 there was a one-sided beating of Mexican Miguel Vazquez, a former world champion old before his years, and it gave Taylor a sense of just how tough the best, even at the end of their careers, can be. Vazquez, incidentally, had lost his first fight back in 2006 to Saul Canelo Alvarez.
The first real test for Taylor came in the summer of 2018, 12 rounds against Viktor Postol in Glasgow; Postol was a former world champion, had lost just once in 30 fights and was a real risk: Taylor won on points, it was brutal at times, but the scores were far too wide in his favour. He was honest enough to question the scores.
The opportunity to enter the World Boxing Super Series followed, Taylor had only fought 13 times, but believed it was simply too good an opportunity to refuse. “There were world titles on the line, great fights to make and I knew I could win it,” Taylor insisted. He started to talk about Prograis, who was the firm pre-tournament betting favourite, from that point; Prograis returned the compliment. “I knew we would meet in the final,” both have said in the last few weeks.
The route to Saturday’s final was dangerous for Taylor and arguably a lot easier for Prograis, who dropped and outpointed Manchester’s Terry Flanagan and stopped Kiryl Relikh. Prograis was getting the headlines, make no mistake, and it was his name being linked with super fights.
Last November, in his WBSS quarter-final, Taylor ruined previously unbeaten American Ryan Martin in seven rounds. In May of this year there was another unbeaten man, The Beast from Belarus, a fighter called Ivan Baranchyk, who was the IBF super-lightweight champion.
Taylor beat Baranchyk on points, a clear but predictably hard win, especially for a boxer having just his 15th fight. At the end, Prograis, a ringside spectator, climbed through the ropes and came face-to-face with Taylor. It was heated, private and personal - Taylor was packed with post-fight adrenaline, Prograis relaxed until insulted and the early scene for Saturday was set. “We don’t like each other,” said Prograis.
“I know how hard it will be,” insists Taylor. “I know just how good I will have to be, I have respect for Prograis, but he’s not my friend. I don’t need friends in the ring.”
Prograis has stopped or knocked out 20 of the 24 men he has beaten, looked impressive taking opponents out with either hand and is slowly becoming a big name. The Flanagan win is the only one on points in the last four years and nine fights; Prograis has stopped or knocked out four of his last nine victims in two rounds or less.
His troubled evolution - refugee from Hurricane Katrina and often fighting for free when he first turned professional - is captivating and his skills are now attracting grand accolades. Taylor has been cast as the quiet man, not quite the good guy but close enough.
Taylor has won all 15 of his fights, has finished 12 of the men quick and is two years younger at 28; he has the clear edge in amateur experience, an appearance at the London Olympics and a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. Prograis lost in the USA Olympic trials for London and was twice beaten as an amateur by Errol Spence, now one of the world’s top two or three boxers.
They are both southpaws and that is a clash that the smarter boxer will always win, always find a clever way to handle the awkwardness. They have both claimed to be the smarter fighter, both presented instances of their fighting intelligence. Taylor might be smarter, but Prograis is slicker and punches harder. The bookies have installed Prograis as the favourite and left the draw as a wide option in what feels like a genuine 50-50 fight. A clever Taylor can control rounds with his feet, his long jab and that might just be enough to give him the edge over 12 long and tight rounds.
Josh Taylor is +150 to win this Saturday's fight.