Editor’s note: This story was originally published in September. It has been updated to reference that Josh Taylor will face Jose Ramirez on May 22 in an attempt to become the undisputed champion at 140 pounds.
Josh Taylor’s journey to being one of boxing’s most respected world champions included a near-death experience, plenty of white-knuckle rides and heartbreak at the Olympics. Those life experiences were significant in the making of ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 140 pounds.
Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs), from Edinburgh, Scotland, steps back into the ring on Saturday against Jose Ramirez in one of the biggest fights the sport can make: a fight for the undisputed crown at junior welterweight (ESPN/ESPN+, 8:30 p.m. ET)
At 30, Taylor is at his peak after winning the IBF title via a unanimous decision over Ivan Baranchyk, of Belarus, in May 2019. The Scot added the WBA belt to his waist with another UD over American Regis Prograis in the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight final nearly a year ago.
Here, in his own words, “The Tartan Tornado” relives some of the pivotal moments which have made him the fighter he is today.
Boxing wasn’t even my first love growing up in Prestonpans [just outside Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh]. I’ve been into my motorbikes my whole life. That was my first love. I was going to races with my dad [James], he used to race at club level.
I’ve been on bikes since I was 5 years old. I went to the Scottish Minimoto Championship, I think I came sixth there one year, and then moved into motocross. I had a couple of seasons in the Scottish Motocross Championship and did pretty well, I was finishing in the top three or five out of a field of 40 for my age.
I had a couple of bad crashes — but I don’t think you can say you are a motorbike rider until you have had a crash. My mum and dad never had the money to buy all the equipment, so one time I was a little bit light for the bike and the suspension wasn’t right. I was racing, and I was going flat out and hit a couple of bumps, and then I went flying over the handlebars at 60 mph. I landed on a big rock, and ended up badly bruising my kidneys and back. I was lucky I had all the protectors on … but I was still left coughing blood, and passing blood. I couldn’t stand up for a while. I was about 13, 14 at the time, but it didn’t put me off motorbikes one bit. I learned from my mistake, that my suspension was too hard.
I’ve not been banged up like that in boxing before, although I was left passing blood in the urine after I beat Ivan Baranchyk for the IBF title, because he hit me a couple of times in the kidneys.
But it’s a very expensive sport so to compete with the guys that were winning you need a lot of money for the bikes, repairs and place to ride. We never had the money to keep it going and stay competitive. It’s an endless money pit. Plus, I started to get into boxing in my teens.
I still have a bike to this day though. It’s my passion, I couldn’t imagine being without it. The sense of freedom and the adrenaline rush — there’s nothing quite like it. The only thing that comes close to it is boxing for the adrenaline rush. The excitement is just brilliant when you are going fast or over a jump. The need for speed is big within me, I guess.
Every time I’m away from boxing I still go to motorbike race meetings, I have some friends that are racing, and I love watching it and meeting people there.
I still have bikes to this day, but I’ve put them away because it’s not worth risking my boxing career at the moment. Occasionally I will go for a little run down the countryside, but I have to be sensible with my boxing career. I’ve just bought a super Suzuki 450.
I love watching MotoGP as well. I’m a big fan of Valentino Rossi, who is a multiple world champion. To still be competitive at the top level of MotoGP with guys half his age is unbelievable, plus he’s a great character.
I didn’t start boxing until I was 14 or 15, which is quite late really, but I was always fighting growing up because I was always the little kid being picked on by the bigger guys. Plus, I had a bad temper!
I also did taekwondo, and I had hundreds of contests at taekwondo. I got a black belt aged 12, 13, I was junior British champion and competed for Scotland at the European Championships.
So, I’ve always had that will to win, whether it was motorbikes, taekwondo, football or boxing.
But one sport I’m not so keen on is golf. I had a horrific accident when I was playing golf with my cousin. I was about 10 years old and I was standing behind her showing her the swing when she scalped me right in the face with the club on the follow through. My jaw was shattered in five places, and the skin rolled up so you could see my tongue and teeth. My ears just wouldn’t stop ringing.
When I put my hand on my face it was covered in blood. It was only when I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, when the adrenaline started to wear off, that the pain started to kick in. I was operated on and stayed in the hospital for a week or so. I needed facial reconstruction and was feeding through a straw for a bit after it. I needed 30 stitches on the outside, 60 on the inside.
The doctor said if it was half an inch to the side, and to the temple, I would have been killed. I was very lucky.
What it did show me is that I could take a good blow because I was still standing strong, I had a good jaw.
I got into boxing by chance after I saw Alex Arthur training at a local sports center in Edinburgh where my mum worked [in 2005]. I used to go down and watch him train, and eventually he asked me to join in. I picked it up quickly because of the taekwondo and I had natural talent. I got the bug for boxing so I joined Lochend Boxing Club. I started late, but I always had that will to win and won the Scottish amateur title in only my seventh fight; five years after I started, I won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in India. I had over 100 international amateur fights for Scotland and at 21 boxed for Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics. I shared a flat in London with Anthony Joshua [now WBA-IBF-WBO world heavyweight champion] and Luke Campbell [now top lightweight contender], who were also on the Team Great Britain squad, and I thought I could win it.
But I boxed at 60 kilos, which wasn’t my weight, and I was weight drained. It was an achievement just to make 60 kilos as I had been competing at 64 kilos. At the Olympic test event I beat Jeff Horn [former WBO world welterweight titlist], Jamel Herring [now WBO world junior lightweight titlist], Anthony Yigit, Robson Conceicao [2016 Olympic gold medalist] at 64 kilos but was then asked to drop down to 60 kilos because no one was competing at that division for Team GB. I was frustrated with the results [Taylor was eliminated in the last 16, without a medal] because I felt I was capable of winning the thing, or at least a medal. After the Olympics I went into the World Series of Boxing at 61 kilos, it was the wrong weight for me again, and then I turned professional in 2015. I went all over the world as an amateur, so I saw a lot of different styles, and improved all the time, so I was more than ready to turn professional.
Beating Baranchyk for the world title in front of my home fans and family in Scotland was a dream come true, then unifying the titles against Regis Prograis in London last year was another step up.
The aim now is to fight Ramirez for all the belts. I want to become undisputed champion, to say I’m the best in the division, to become Scotland’s first undisputed world champion since Ken Buchanan [in the 1970s]. It’s a massive fight for boxing given I get through my next fight against Khongsong. In my opinion it’s the biggest fight in boxing outside of the heavyweights Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, and for all four world titles.
But I’ve not been thinking about Ramirez since I watched his last fight [a majority decision win versus Viktor Postol on Aug. 29]. I’m expecting a tough 12 rounds from Khongsong, I’m looking to go out and put on a dominant performance and show I’m No. 1 in the division.