By Thomas Gerbasi
Call it the perfect storm. What do you get when you take a boxer with an Olympic pedigree as an amateur and put him in a pro situation where he not only gets to compete on high-profile cards in his formative days, but also has a little domestic rivalry to deal with as well?
You get BoxingScene.com’s 2017 Prospect of the Year, Josh Taylor.
Already on the short list of top up and comers in the running for last year’s Prospect of the Year award, “The Tartan Tornado” soared past fellow rising stars Daniel Dubois, Ryan Garcia, Jaime Munguia and Anthony Yarde by not only performing when his name was called, but by getting over those hurdles fighters don’t often see until they’re 20 fights or so into their career.
Being a member of the 2012 Olympic team for Great Britain guaranteed that the Scotland native was going to receive an elevated level of attention from the start of his pro career and not as many “developmental” fights as his fellow newcomers would get. So after going 7-0 with seven knockouts to kick off his run in the punch for pay ranks, Taylor was clearly ready for a different kind of year in 2017.
Beginning the year in Las Vegas on the Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz undercard, Taylor went the distance for the first time as a pro, beating Alfonso Olvera. It was a learning experience in the ring, and outside it, as he continued to get acclimated to being in the spotlight during the fight week of a big event.
In March, he successfully defended his Commonwealth junior welterweight crown with a sixth-round stoppage of Warren Joubert, and then came a bad blood battle against domestic rival Ohara Davies. London’s Davies entered the bout with a 15-0 record, and he and the 9-0 Taylor fought it out on social media before stepping into the ring at Braehead Arena in Glasgow.
With his nation watching, Taylor stepped up and scored two knockdowns before a left hand to the nose after the second one forced Davies out of the bout. It was the beauty of UK boxing on full display in that promoters don’t mind putting two hot prospects together fairly early in their careers if the time is right for the matchup (See Groves-DeGale, Saunders-Eubank Jr., Fury-Chisora) and the fans want it.
Yet while the Davies fight had the most sizzle behind it, Taylor’s most important bout – and win – came four months later when he knocked out former world champion Miguel Vazquez in nine rounds. Always a tough out, Vazquez had gone 5-1 since losing his IBF lightweight title to Mickey Bey in 2014, but he wasn’t able to get a read on Taylor, who dug to the body with a purpose before ending the bout, issuing the Mexican veteran his first knockout loss in 45 fights.
The win sets up a big 2018 campaign for the 26-year-old, who nonetheless does have some interesting questions surrounding him. Most important, will Frampton’s move from Cyclone Promotions to Frank Warren affect how Taylor is matched? As noted, Taylor’s appearances on Frampton undercards have allowed him to grow in and out of the ring. Now that Frampton has moved on, will the McGuigan squad be tempted to push him faster as the face of the promotion? Already ranked in the top 15 at 140 pounds by the WBC and IBF, a title fight may be too soon for a fighter who, if moved correctly, can win one of those belts in 2019.
So what to do with him in the meantime? Well, there is the idea of an All-Scotland showdown with three-division world champ Ricky Burns. Yes, Burns has stated his desire to stay at 135 pounds, but money and a big fight can do wonders to persuade anyone to pack on a couple pounds, and this is another bout that can do big business and further build Taylor’s name and experience level as he looks to get into the title race, so don’t be surprised if it happens. In a lot of ways, it’s the perfect scenario, a changing of the guard and the official coronation of Taylor as Scotland’s next big thing in the boxing world. Then, he will be a prospect no longer, but a legitimate contender. All in less than 20 fights.
It’s a new world out there.
MORE TO WATCH IN 2018
I can almost hear Allen Iverson talking about practice, but hey, Daniel Dubois allegedly knocking down world champ Anthony Joshua in sparring has been a story making the rounds throughout 2017. Yes, it’s sparring, yes, it doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things, but the 20-year-old Brit has the size, power and killer instinct to bring even more attention to the heavyweight division in the coming years. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
If you’re looking for the fighter Golden Boy Promotions would love to place “poster boy” status on after Canelo Alvarez walks off into the sunset, meet Ryan Garcia. A 19-year-old junior lightweight with the looks and talent to make that rare crossover from boxing into the general sports world, Garcia is still raw, but he has done all that’s been asked of him thus far en route to a 13-0 (12 KOs) record, and if he’s moved carefully and stays on the straight and narrow (not a foregone conclusion for any teenager), we might be hearing a lot more from him soon.
Just 21 years old, Tijuana native Jaime Munguia is already 26-0 with 22 KOs, and though records like that can often be deceiving, this kid looks like the genuine article. Yes, he’s been taking the conventional route with his career thus far, but he’s getting good sparring with top fighters and prospects, he had a solid amateur background, and he has a maturity beyond his years in the ring. 2018 should be the year when he find out for sure if he’s for real or not.
With world-class competitors at the top of the division but a fairly wide open middle, the light heavyweight division is ripe for someone like unbeaten Anthony Yarde to come in and make some noise in 2018. Unbeaten in 14 pro bouts with 13 knockouts, Yarde has been moving fast and staying busy, going 5-0 with five KOs in 2017. And though he may not be ready for the top of the class yet, another year like he had in this one, and that may change in a hurry.