Josh Taylor says he might be one of the few people who is taking the threat of Apinun Khongsong seriously this weekend but insists that he only has the Thai on his mind and not a fight for the undisputed title with Jose Ramirez.
Taylor puts his WBA and IBF super-lightweight titles on the line against Khongsong behind closed doors at York Hall in East London on Saturday. But the talk has been as much about an undisputed fight with Ramirez, the WBC and WBO champion, as it has been about the Thai, much to Taylor’s annoyance.
“Everyone keeps saying ‘next’ and expecting this,” Taylor said. “But I think myself and my team and Ben [Davison, his trainer] are the only ones not looking past him because we can’t afford any slip-ups.
“We are at the final hurdle of all these big fights I have always dreamed of. My mind is fully focused on this job.”
The Scot has struggled to find much footage of Khongsong in action, but is expecting a serious challenge for his belts.
“It’s very dangerous,” Taylor said. “It is his big chance to change his life, not only becoming world champion but unified world champion, he is getting the chance at three belts – the IBF, the WBA and The Ring magazine. So it is a massive opportunity to really change his life.
“I know what my mindset is when I was up and coming. He is going to be bringing his A game. He is relatively unknown, there is only limited footage of him as well. It is dangerous, particularly if I switch off and think it is a blow over fight, because it is 100 per cent not.
“It only takes one punch in boxing and you have seen that happen in recent history a couple of times. I’ve got my eyes firmly on the prize and that is Saturday, I’m not thinking about the next fight or what is happening next. It is all about Saturday, getting the job done and getting the job done well.”
It will be Taylor’s first fight with Davison in his corner. Taylor picked him to replace Shane McGuigan after unifying the WBA and IBF titles with a win over Regis Prograis in the World Boxing Super Series final in London 11 months ago after splitting from Cyclone Promotions, the company headed by McGuigan’s father, Barry.
The early days were spent in Manchester, training alongside Billy Joe Saunders, before some time in Las Vegas, as Saunders prepared to face Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Taylor prepared for Khongsong, which were both due to be on May 2.
The coronavirus pandemic put paid to that and following a session training in Spain, Davison and Taylor have been working at a gym in Harlow, Essex, just north of London, for the past two months. Taylor says the relationship has grown well.
“We have spent a hell of a lot of time together now,” Taylor said. “We train how we fight, so on fight night, nothing is going to be any different. We have worked together long enough now to know what I like or don’t like and what he likes and doesn’t like.”
They also got a flavour of what fighting behind closed doors was like when they went along to watch Anthony Yarde’s fight with Dec Spelman at York Hall two weeks ago and the atmosphere, or lack of it, is something they have tried to create in training.
“We gave been sparring and training without any music, without any talking, to recreate the atmosphere on fight night,” he said. “We went to that fight night and once a good fight got going, we totally forgot about there being no crowd there.
“It is not going to feel like a sparring session, though, because it us a world title fight at the end of the day. The cameras are there, my reputation is on the line, my titles are on the line. It is 100 percent serious. I will be up for it and nervous on Saturday night.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for Boxing Scene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.