"I'm a bad loser, a very bad loser.... always have been," explains Josh Taylor as he unwraps his hands after a beautiful display of shapes and angles in the ring. The lefty world champion is without doubt a fan-pleaser. The Scotsman's attitude, unshakeable self-belief and granite must be to the fore on Saturday night against knockout artist Apinun Khongsong as Taylor becomes the first world champion from the UK to defend a world title since lockdown began due to COVID-19.
It will be behind closed doors, of course, very different to the fights the 29 year old once had in the streets from Edinburgh to Prestonpans, the fishing town in East Lothian, from where he hails. They breed them tough there, where Taylor runs early in the morning and swims in the North Sea.
“I had to learn to stand up for myself, because I was small growing up. But everything I did as a kid, no matter what it was... it could be Snakes and Ladders with my younger sister and she’d beat me and the whole thing would be up in the air; sports days at school, football.... if we lost, I’d go crazy. For as long as I can remember I had to win, even on a pushbikes as kids."
"I’d go off in a huff. That’s been there since I can ever remember. I’m a bad loser, always have been. I want to win. I was super competitive. If I got beat, I’d get angry. I hated it. I wanted to play again until I won. The fight comes out, the nastiness, the spitefulness. I can be really spiteful, that’s always been there.”
Quite some admission, but boxing's dark underbelly forces folk to look at themselves. The dark side of Taylor has brought rays of light to his life, though. He got the boxing bug at 14 and travelled the 25 miles to Edinburgh to train in a gym four times a week. There were street fights, too, in his callow youth, before sense prevailed.
The skills, the discipline, the use of that 'dark will' has certainly brought him successes: he was a 2012 Olympian - I can recall him so bitterly disappointed giving interviews after being beaten in the Round of 16 - became a Commonwealth Games gold medallist in Glasgow in 2014 before rising over the last five years, undefeated in sixteen fights as a professional to hold the WBA and IBF super lightweight titles. He claimed them with a points decision at the World Boxing Super Series final in a brilliant, all-action thriller with Regis Prograis last year at the O2 Arena.
Taylor is without doubt one of the most skilled fighters in Britain, and is still rising. Initially with Barry McGuigan's Cyclone Promotions, he signed a deal with MTK Global and Bob Arum this year, and, although beginning the elite part of his career now, if he gets past Khongsong - who has thirteen knockouts from his sixteen career wins -Scotland could have undisputed champion to rival other greats such as Ken Buchanan and Ricky Burns, should he triumph against Jose Ramirez who holds the other two world title belts, the WBO and WBC baubles. Promoter Arum told me this week that staging the fight in Edinburgh, early next year, "will happen as long as long as the numbers add up". Little doubt the fans would come out for Taylor.
At home, there are no airs and graces. “I’m just Josh from Prestonpans. It’s brilliant. I really do love the place and the people there. It’s a hard place, a tough place but I love it. After runs I’ll swim. Only in the summer mind,” he added.
"I don’t think the competitiveness will ever leave me," he explained, adding that the reinforcement comes from both parents to 'be as he is'.
"They know I'm ultra competitive and could not be prouder. My dad is hard as nails, no nonsense. And that’s where I get it from, but he always said if you’re going to do something you have to do it with your full heart. He's right. It's a tough trade. My mum loves that I’m doing boxing and is the proudest woman alive. But I think she hates fight week and the fight. I can sense it, she’s a bag of nerves. I’m her baby boy," explained Taylor, as he readies himself for a silent arena at BT Sport's cavernous studios in Stratford with new trainer Ben Davison.
"I’m with the best team possible with MTK Global and Top Rank and anything is possible. Bob Arum has promoted the best in history and it's a privilege to know that if I perform I can showcase my skills and grow in both the UK and the USA. I’ve got to set new goals after I’m undisputed champion and that is to move up to 147lbs and challenge for another world title.
"I thought that move was a no brainier, especially thinking about wider goals. The Ramirez fight, Terence Crawford, they’re all Top Rank fighters, so they are easier fights to make." Taylor shadow boxes. "I just have to keep on winning. I can't afford to lose. I won't lose. I refuse to." That is what makes champions.
- Josh Taylor defends the WBA and IBF light welterweight titles against Apinun Khongsong live on BT Sport on Saturday September 26