(This commentary on Scotland’s Josh Taylor is from our contributor/writer David Payne and you can read his work, as well at his site www.boxingwriter.co.uk)
“You don’t miss your water til your well runs dry.”
William Bell, Singer/Songwriter, (1939-)
As the pain seeps in to Josh Taylor’s morning, the bouquet of bruises blossom on his body and the tartan accoutrements are laundered for the flight home, or to which ever parasol laden destination he promised his new wife, the 32-year-old will be forced to face the truths that only defeat imparts. It is a reckoning all fighters must address at some point, with deference to the select band who escaped without its bitterness on their lips. The process tends to reveal the character that previously sneered at the contenders for their crown from beneath the veil of invincibility unbeaten fighters drape themselves in.
Taylor’s defeat to Teofimo Lopez on Saturday night in the Madison Square Garden Theatre was sufficiently comprehensive to insist he faces that reality. No controversary or contention. Just loss. The first, maybe the last. Perhaps the beginning of the end. Only time, and his next fight or two, can provide the answers.
Taylor- out-worked, out-landed and out-maneuvered
Shaken and rendered impotent in attack, it was a disrobing of a fighter who had looked capable of enduring dominance in his climb to the top of the 140 pounders. Scorecards were kind, two judges awarded him 5 rounds, including Englishman Steve Grey, and 3 rounds on the third. Lopez was a clear and decisive winner and is now well placed, at the beginning of his own prime, to become something much more vital to a sport in need of heroes.
In a battle between two talented fighters, one recently moving up into the division, one overdue departing for the weight class above, tradition suggests the bigger fighter tends to win. “A good big un beats a good little un” is the dictum by which outcomes are predicted in fights like this.
Hear Dan Rafael and T.J. Rives discuss the Lopez win and Taylor’s future on the newest “Fight Freaks Unite Recap” Podcast by clicking below,
Perhaps too simplistic to suspect Taylor believed this too but there is a sense Taylor was unwilling to consider his own inactivity posed risks or that the disappointing performance against Jack Catterall advanced warning of his decline.
A necessary arrogance most elite athletes possess, to believe in that invincibility, to believe both realities could be explained away. It proved to be a deception. Not of those sage enough to read the signs, and there were a few, but those who wanted to believe Taylor could make the weight, and still be in the groove of 2019 simply because he wanted to be. Taylor appears to have been chief among them. The sense Taylor felt he’d won when he’d made weight, as he clutched the kilt which threatened to slip from the narrowness of his hips was evident at the time and luminous in hindsight.
It was never possible to dismiss Lopez, but the 25-year-old American’s erratic behaviour encouraged the notion he would crumble beneath the pressure, the size disadvantages, the range and skill of Taylor, the naturally bigger man. His conduct belied a solid belief in himself and an awareness of those weaknesses in the Scotsman that Taylor himself refused to acknowledge.
Although the COVID period was an impediment to many fighters, Taylor’s lack of activity is hard to defend even in an era of low miles and risk management. A fighter who boxed and beat Regis Prograis in 2019 to become the undisputed champion, his fourth high-level fight in a 16-month run; featuring Postol, Martin, Baranchyk and the razor tight win over Prograis. Subsequent to that glorious crescendo of the Super-Lightweight tournament, Taylor has boxed four times in 44 months and this was his first fight since the controversial win over England’s Catterall in February 2022. He is now 32.
Not that the vanquished Prograis has done any more to capitalise on the credit he received for the closeness of their fight, he too is preparing for only his fourth fight since they met.
Over the period he had relinquished all but the WBO title, and if pride and perchance a sprinkling of misguided machismo hadn’t been running the ship, he would have been advised to take the contentious victory over Catterall, in which he was cut, dropped and disorganised, to depart the division and head for the rich but sanguine waters of Welterweight. A weight class he proposed to venture towards in the aftermath of the Prograis win aged 28, and with the benefit of four back-to-back training camps.
What’s next for the Scot?
Naturally, as they always do, Taylor will box on. If he returns to the ring sooner rather than later and at certainly as a Welterweight, he may yet find significant wins and good paydays ahead. It is time to recognise that the world that lay before him in late 2019 is now gone.
The razor-sharp Southpaw, with creditable power, speed, solid work-rate and versality and precision in attack has also been dimmed. It is a glow 32-year-olds don’t rediscover. There are echoes of Kell Brook holding on to Welterweight despite the evident benefits of not stripping his body of the final pounds in the admittedly forlorn shot at a dominant Golovkin. He couldn’t be convinced to move to 154 pounds. Pragmatism may have led him to better days in the Autumn of his career than he enjoyed.
Taylor must concede the rematch with Catterall he so longed for is now gone, talk of a rematch with Lopez futile and contendership at Welterweight must now be his sole realistic aim. If he is to capitalise on activity, he would be advised to box again in the Autumn.
For his own Autumn as a prizefighter looms large.