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Josh Taylor: Scotland’s Spiteful Warrior Is Ready To ‘Beat Up The Nicest Guy In The World’

Alex Reid

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Josh Taylor: Scotland’s Spiteful Warrior Is Ready To ‘Beat Up The Nicest Guy In The World’

"That spitefulness is in me; it's just there," says Josh Tayor, eyeballing SPORTbible via video screen. "He can be the nicest guy in the world, but I'm not going to have any problem beating him up on Saturday night."

The undefeated light-welterweight world champion has the telltale glare of a boxer in fight week. Halfway between restless boredom - training done, just killing time now - and latent menace, knowing the violence is to come.

One minute Taylor is telling you he's nice and calm and relaxed; the next he's venting that his rival "doesn't have a boxing brain" and is on his way to getting knocked out. That Jekyll and Hyde streak exists in all fighters, but it is pronounced in Taylor.

Jose Ramirez - AKA the nicest guy in the world - is also undefeated, also a 140lb world champion. In fact, the Taylor vs Ramirez bout this weekend in Las Vegas (on FITE TV in the UK) is a rare beast: a fight with all four of boxing's major world titles on the line.

The winner becomes just the fifth male boxer ever to unify the four belts. Which tells you something about the chaos of boxing's alphabet world titles, but a lot about just how difficult it is to achieve. Win and Scotland's Taylor becomes the first Brit ever to do it.

"He's a very, very good fighter," says the 30-year-old of the man standing in his way. "He comes forward, he puts fighters under pressure, he overwhelms them, he attacks well to the head and the body.

"I know he's going to bring the heat, try to push the pace and put me on the backfoot... Because if he tries to play it smart and box, he's got absolutely no chance."

The 17-0 (13 KOs) Taylor, currently ninth in Ring magazine's pound-for-pound rankings, is a curiosity in that he has all the exterior facets of a slickster. He's a tall, versatile, technically good southpaw with a rich amateur pedigree. But he loves to get inside and have a tear-up.

SPORTbible puts it to him that there are, very broadly, two ways of approaching a pressure fighter like Ramirez. Be the slick matador to his onrushing bull - or take the centre ring and push him backwards into a style he's not comfortable with.

Taylor, shirtless in his Vegas hotel room, glowers and picks up the tempo as he answers.

"All I know is I'm mentally and physically prepared for an absolute war," he says. "I'm more than capable of meeting him in the middle, putting him on the back foot and knocking him out.

"Everybody says he's got punch-power. Well I've got power - but I've also got speed, skill, timing, boxing IQ." Taylor ticks off each attribute on his fingers.

"I can go toe-to-toe and outfight him, which I'm more than happy to do. If the fight goes the way where he tries to box and tries to outsmart me, then I'll take that fight all day as well. He's not got a boxing brain. He only knows one way, that's to come forward and I am prepared to stand in a phone box and beat him."

Nurturing hostility toward an opponent is a typical process for boxers. Not every fighter can be a Manny Pacquiao; grinning happily on the scales one day, loading up monster hooks the next. But Taylor insists that that fight night animosity comes naturally, even when facing someone as easygoing as the 28-year-old Mexican-American Ramirez.

"Anybody you're going to fight, you dislike," he says. "You're not going in there to beat up your friend, you're going in there to beat up your enemy. He's a really nice guy, but right now, that doesn't matter.

"As soon as the fight is done, we can be best friends if he wants - and we can be best friends up until the fight if he wants. But as soon as that bell rings, I'm trying to take his head off and he's trying to take mine off.

"That's the nature of the game. It's the hurt business. It's human cockfighting, we're modern-day gladiators - we're in there to do our job. His intent is to come out and hurt me, my intent is the exact same. It's the nature of the game. So I've got no problem finding that spitefulness."

While that may be typical of a boxer's mindset, Taylor's origins in the sport are not. Nobody in Taylor's family was interested in boxing before him and he grew up over 20 miles away from the nearest boxing gym.

Prestonpans in East Lothian, just outside Edinburgh, actually looks like a rather scenic slice of Scottish coastline. It's not exactly the mean, inner-city streets we expect boxers to emerge from. Brownsville, Brooklyn - childhood home to Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe and others - it is not.

Taylor laughs when it's put to him that his boxing origins are atypical.

"My background wasn't no ghetto or anything like that," he says, "but you really had to look after yourself or you got picked on; you got beat up.

"It was a very tough, fighting man's area. There was a working man's club, a miner's club and everyone there were fighting men. There was always fights going on everywhere in the town where I was from.

"Everybody was fond of a bit of friendly violence, everybody loved to fight. You have to learn how to look after yourself and I've always been involved in scraps growing up. I was never a troublemaker... I've just always had that terrier inside of me, the little warrior. I did taekwondo from the age of five, so I've always been involved in combat sports my whole life."

Bypassing the fact that a reference to "a bit of friendly violence" could only sound cheery in a Scottish accent, Taylor does own one quality that boxers possess which sets them apart from most mortals: the ability to withstand pain, to keep going and exchanging punches when your body and brain must be screaming at you to stop.

During the biggest fight of his career before Saturday night, a thrilling 12-round war with Regis Prograis at London's O2, Taylor's right eye began to swell gruesomely. It was completely closed for the final three rounds and Taylor simply could not see the incoming shots.

Credit: Instagram @joshtaylorbox1
Credit: Instagram @joshtaylorbox1

"You're full you're full of adrenaline, so you don't really feel it as much," he says evenly on what it feels like to get hit flush, again and again, on an injured eye.

"The times I was feeling it was actually in between the rounds, in the corner when I was getting the iron on the face [to reduce swelling] and it got pushed about. Plus with the head clashes and obviously get punched in it as well... it did start getting a little bit sore near the end. Even then, it wasn't that bad.

"Look, it's just my nature. You can't teach heart to someone, that grit and determination. You've either got it or you haven't. I would fight till my very last breath. It's just in me, that will to win... that's what it comes down to. How much do you want to win this fight and how much do I want it?"

On Saturday, with the undisputed light-welterweight world title on the line, there will be no shortage of will to win between two boxers who don't know how to lose. But Jose Ramirez needs to hope all his dogged desire can overcome a man who promises to bring both spite and skill to the ring in Las Vegas.

Jose Ramirez vs Josh Taylor is live on FITE TV, from 1am BST, 23 May, priced $12.99

Featured image credit: PA Images

Topics: Boxing

Alex Reid
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