showdown with Jose Ramirez and his long-term plans for retirement
JOSH TAYLOR still has seven pounds to lose and undisputed recognition as the best super-lightweight in the world to gain. But right now, nine days out from his winner-takes-all clash with Jose Ramirez, what Taylor needs the most is the toilet.
“I’m really sorry, I’ve got to take a p**s,” he says, momentarily breaking free from our conversation before rushing to relieve himself in his temporary Las Vegas abode. There’s an initial prickliness to Taylor and it’s not solely down to his bladder being forced to contend with the seven litres of water he’s downing every day as part of the weight-making process. Taylor weighs around 147lbs but insists shifting the last few pounds to make the divisional limit of 140 is no problem. “I’ve never felt so fit and strong and I’m eating like a horse,” he says. “I’m eating five times a day. This is the first camp I’ve had where I’ve not wanted to escape for a wee chocolate. I’ve never been so comfortable this close to a fight.”
He’s living in a house, five miles away from the distractions of the Sin City strip, with his team that includes his nutritionist who is making him eat and drink the right things at the right time. What’s really troubling him, then, is not the need to p**s but more a feeling that it’s being taken. On paper, Saturday night’s showdown with Ramirez is the most important of his already illustrious career. The four major sanctioning body belts are on the line. The winner will stand alone as the best super-lightweight in the world. It should, frankly, be the most intriguing contest of the 2021 fight calendar to date. Yet two weeks after 73,000 fans crammed into the AT&T Stadium in Dallas to watch Canelo Alvarez defeat Billy Joe Saunders, Taylor-Ramirez will take place inside Virgin Hotels – previously Hard Rock Hotel – on Paradise Road in front of substantially fewer observers. In the UK, it won’t be on Sky Sports, BT Sport or even DAZN. To watch this bona-fide elite-level fight, the kind that the sport should be uniting to shout about, you’ll need to subscribe to FITE, a fledgling subscription channel that is not yet equipped to give this contest the fanfare it deserves.
“If I win this fight it’s got to be one of the best achievements ever by a British boxer,” Taylor tells Boxing News. “It’s not getting the coverage in the mainstream media, certain channels are not picking it up. I do feel like it’s not getting the coverage it deserves, 100 per cent.”
Worse for Taylor is those wishing to attend – his family, friends, much of the British media and his Tartan Army – will not be able to as a consequence of the travel restrictions put in place to combat the spread of coronavirus.
“It has been a bit s**t,” he says. “It’s frustrating. You dream of having fights like this and you train your whole life to gear towards a moment like this. The big occasion, the big atmosphere then gets ripped away from you. It’s even more frustrating when you’re watching shows like last weekend’s [Canelo-Saunders] when they’ve got 70,000-plus fans there and everything is normal, no masks, no restrictions, nobody is walking around falling over and dying; it’s normal.
“Some of the lads, [trainer] Ben [Davison] and [stablemate] Lee McGregor went there and they said it was unbelievable just to be normal again – and that’s only just down the road. It’s frustrating, really, really frustrating. But it is what it is. You can’t cry over spilt milk. We’re just getting on with it but it is a kick in the teeth that my family can’t come out, my mum, my dad, my sister and my fiancé. And my travelling fans. My fans that have been with me since day one and they’re all gutted. A lot of them have said to me that they’ve been saving up for a day like this to come. But we’re here and fully focused on what we have to do. I’m 100 per cent confident that I’ll win this fight and we’ll come back to Vegas and do it again.”
There has been plenty of upheaval for Taylor in recent years. The most obvious is the switch from the McGuigans, who plotted his route to the top, to MTK Global and new coach Ben Davison. Given the history Taylor shared with his old team it’s natural to wonder if the Scot misses those who were once so influential to him as he heads into the defining years of his career. “Nah, not at all,” Taylor says. “Listen, the working relationship was good. The boxing side of things was good. Shane was a good coach but I wasn’t happy with everything else. I wasn’t a happy fighter, I was constantly angry about things and p**sed off. I have no regrets about moving away.
“But obviously I am very grateful for the job that Barry and Shane did with me. I’m not a spoilt brat, I’m not going to disregard the work that they did. We did well, we did really well, but it was time for me to do what I wanted to do for myself and this is what I wanted to do.”
With Barry and Shane behind him, Taylor marched to 16-0 with victories over quality men like Miguel Vazquez, Viktor Postol, Ivan Baranchyk and Regis Prograis underlining what they collectively achieved. The education was extreme but immaculately judged as Taylor rose majestically to each new challenge.
Taylor singled out two potential candidates to replace Shane McGuigan: Ben Davison and Adam Booth. He agreed to spend some time with both before making his decision. Davison, a coach with an exceptional understanding of the intricacies of boxing at a technical level, was the first to get the trial. And once that first session with Davison was underway they clicked to such an extent that Booth, one of the most highly-regarded trainers in the world, didn’t stand a chance.
“I realised Ben was the right choice almost straightaway,” Taylor explains. “There were a few teething problems with the pads for the first couple of rounds, with the timing and the way I box and move. But as soon as we’d got that we gelled and we were flying. That was in a week. I thought, ‘This is the guy for me.’ He was always my first choice and the reason for that was I saw him training with Billy Joe [Saunders], who’s also a southpaw like myself; fast hands, good combination puncher, good co-ordination and things like that. After the first session, my mind was made up.
“I had also booked in with Adam Booth to spend a week with him as well. I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll go there as well.’ I went to look at all options but my mind was made up to go with Ben. Again, Adam is a great coach and both were saying similar things to me in terms of what I needed to do. But my mind was made up after that first session with Ben.”
Davison was last spotted assisting Mark Tibbs in Saunders’ corner when he was pulled out in the eighth round of his bout with Canelo. The surrender triggered criticism from certain fans, notably because Saunders himself declared he would never quit after watching Daniel Dubois do just that while suffering from a broken eye socket – the very same injury that would rule Saunders out in Dallas.
“Anybody that calls Billy Joe Saunders a quitter is an absolute idiot. Complete idiots. Even before you saw the replay you could see his face change shape instantly,” Taylor says. “He had his face caved in. He had four breaks on his cheek. Basically his eyeball was resting on his socket. It’s a horrific injury so anyone that is saying he ‘quit’, or he swallowed it, hasn’t got a clue. If he’d have gone out in the next round he’d have risked losing an eye and losing his sight. Especially with a guy like Canelo who’s very accurate and precise with his punches. That shot was a cracking shot that he caught him with. Billy Joe was dipping down to his left quite often and Canelo figured it out and caught him with a shot. So you go out for another round with a guy like that, you’re risking your life and your health. There’s more to life than boxing, especially when your sight is in jeopardy.
“Ben was in the corner and he said he [Saunders] wanted to go back out [for the ninth round]. Ben whispered in his ear, ‘You’ve proved yourself, you don’t have to go out there again, I’m pulling the fight.’ You see Billy shaking his head. He wasn’t saying he didn’t want to continue, he was saying, ‘Don’t stop the fight, I want to go back out.’ That’s the mark of the man, he’s got the heart of a lion, to say he quit is ridiculous.”
I ask Taylor if the narrative around ‘quitting’ needs to change; if it doesn’t need to be such a dirty word in the eyes of fighters. “But he didn’t quit,” Taylor says, illustrating how difficult the Q-word is for boxers to relate to. “The corner pulled him out. He wanted to go back out. It’s a different story altogether. If he had said he didn’t want to go out and fight that’s essentially quitting but even if he did do that, and he didn’t, he couldn’t see a thing. But he didn’t quit, the corner pulled him out, there’s a massive difference there.”
While Davison is known to do extensive homework on his charges’ opponents, Taylor himself has only been watching “bits and bobs” of Jose Ramirez. The Californian is unbeaten in 26 fights but as Taylor observes he’s not unbeatable. He is a tireless pressure fighter and in tight bouts against the likes of Jose Zepeda and the aforementioned Postol, he found that extra gear to edge ahead. Other solid fighters he’s beaten, like Maurice Hooker, were surprised by Ramirez’s aggression.
“He’s fit and strong and durable and he puts pressure on fighters and he tries to overwhelm you,” Taylor explains. “But I really do think he’s one-dimensional, he only knows one way to fight; he relies on his heart, determination and will. I’ve got heart, determination and will but I’ve got skill and a boxing brain as well. That’s the upper hand that I have.”
When pressed, the IBF and WBO super-lightweight boss admits that Ramirez, who holds the WBC and WBO titles, is more than just an engine with arms and legs. “He does a lot of things very well,” he concedes. “You don’t become a unified champion for nothing. He’s a good body puncher, good pressure fighter, he breaks his opponents down and he’s got a good left hook to the head and to the body. He is a very good fighter which goes without saying. On paper, it’s the toughest fight of my career. I don’t think it will be but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
It’s hard to imagine any fight being as tough and gruelling as Taylor’s thrilling 12-round victory over Regis Prograis in 2019. “I think, tactically, it’s a little more straightforward [than Prograis],” Taylor agrees. “But physically it might be the hardest fight of my life. We need to wait and see. It’s impossible, now, to say how hard the fight is. Ask me again after the fight.”
In January Taylor turned 30, an age when many fighters start to consider their future. Josh has no plans to retire – he hopes to have another “six to eight fights” – but he admits that boxing, his first love since he was a boy, will take some replacing when that day comes.
“The urge for me to fight and punch people in the face will never, ever leave me,” Taylor chuckles. “I love a fight and I love to get in amongst it and challenge someone else. When I do eventually retire it will be hard to channel that energy and that aggression. I’m into my motorbikes and the reason why is it allows me to get that aggression out. Motorbike racing, again, it’s dangerous but you get that aggression out on the track when you’re racing someone else. It makes you feel alive. That’s what I’ll be doing when I finish boxing. I’ll keep myself occupied, maybe open up a new gym as well. But this is all a long way in the future. At the moment I’m so tunnel-visioned with what I’m doing.”
Out of the ring and on to a motorbike, then. His fiancé must be delighted. “She keeps rolling her eyes at me,” Taylor says, letting out a laugh. “I tell her I’m going to get a motorhome and an awning and I’m going to start my race team, I’m going to start a MotoGP career. She just rolls her eyes and laughs at me. ‘Okay, Josh.’”
Taylor, the natural-born thrill-seeker with a belly full of water, starts wiggling in his seat again. It’s time to let him loose.