Achieving Greatness In Three Acts: Josh Taylor wins WBSS Tournament

Photo: Reuters

The highly anticipated World Boxing Super Series Finale (WBSS) between tournament favorites Regis Prograis & Josh Taylor went down this past Saturday at the O2 Arena in London, UK & did not disappoint throughout all 12 rounds. Neither man took a step backwards in a rough & tumble but otherwise, clean bout fought largely at close range. Boxing fans learned a tremendous amount about the skill & heart of both Prograis & Taylor & each proved a worthy adversary for the other. Taylor 28, though fulfilled potential that had been almost taken for granted as he unified the WBA & IBF titles along with capturing the Ali Trophy in this second season of the WBSS.

Act One: Domestic Dominance

Born on the Second of January 1991 Taylor showed promise almost as soon as he turned pro in 2015. Signing on with Barry McGuigan as manager the Clones Cyclone was an elite boxer in his own right & something of an Irish National treasure. His son Shane a young & up incoming trainer who has worked with George Groves & Carl Framptom to name a few seemed like a great fit for another technical boxer with an impressive amateur pedigree like Taylor. With no time to waste Taylor fought three times in 2015 & four times in 2016 stopping all but one opponent. 

The excitement was building around the fighter who seemed natural to fill the void of once-popular Scot Ricky Burns, now in the twilight of his career will soon step away from the sport. Fans & detractors alike both stood up a little bit straighter when the domestic class between Taylor & trash talking puncher Ohara Davies was announced for early July 2017, both undefeated prospects were taking a risk in a gentleman's agreement to decide who was the best Super Lightweight boxer in all the UK. To everyone's surprise (even to those who picked him to win) Taylor ran through Davies like a dose of salt, Davis could not cope with Tartan Tornado’s hand speed, physicality & boxing brain resulting in a 7th round stoppage. 

Taylor next decimated experienced Mexican Road Warrior Miguel Vasquez who had never been stopped in more than 40 fights. Taylor followed that win with another stoppage against Winston Campos & a one-sided beating of Viktor Postol who had been in the ring not long ago with Bud Crawford. 

That made five straight fights on home soil, his birthplace in Edinburgh, Scotland & five straight dominant victories. 

When Saurerland brothers came calling with an offer to truly break onto the world stage in the second season of the World Boxing Super Series Taylor jumped at the chance & a Tornado was about to touch down.

Act Two: Show & Prove

Ever since the first season of the WBSS tournament wrapped up last year featuring the Super Middleweight & Cruiserweight divisions boxing fans have been clamoring for the concept to continue. Financial issues early in 2019 seemed to spell the demise of the whole concept. The resourceful Sauerland brothers righted the ship & the fights were back on. The Draw was a compelling one but few picked against the tournament favorites Regis Prograis & Josh Taylor from the very beginning.

The tournament featured rugged Belarusians Kiryl Relikh & Ivan Baranchyck, Russian Eduard Troyanovsky, two Brits Terry Flanagan & Josh Taylor, a lone Swede Anthony Yigit & two Americans Regis Prograis & Ryan Martin.

Prograis dismantled Terry Flanagan over 12 rounds last year on October 28th 2018, just days later Josh Taylor easily stopped Ryan Martin on November 3rd. 

That set up two compelling semi-final fights between Regis Prograis -  just a prospect himself like Taylor, against former WBA Super Lightweight champ Kiril Relikh & Taylor was matched with arguably the toughest draw in the tournament Ivan Baranchyk, ‘The Beast’ was undefeated with a shocking 12 KOs in 18 fights. 

The oddsmakers & fans were proved right as Prograis steamrolled Relikh finishing him in the 6th round on April 29th 2019 & Taylor pulled out a gritty performance beating Baranchyk convincingly on May 18th.

The final was set for Saturday, October 26th, a little more than a year after the tournament began & more or less to plan for the Sauerland brothers & their investors - the icing on the cake is that the class of the tournament truly revealed itself & as expected Josh Taylor & Regis Prograis would face each other.

Act Three: Hoc Est Bellum

The natural competitive streaks between both Regis Prograis & Josh Taylor brought out a fair bit of needle between the two men. The steely gaze of Taylor was met by the unflinching resolve of Prograis.

As soon as the bell rang the two men got right to work, some pundits believed that Taylor’s height & reach advantage would give Prograis trouble but up close Prograis looked like the thicker stronger fighter, as I mentioned above the majority of the fight took place in a phonebooth - old school - and neither man shrunk from the conflict! 

Prograis targeted Scot’s body early in an attempt to take some wind out of that Tornado while Taylor surprisingly used his physicality to push & off-balance Prograis then land a flurry of punches mixing in a head-body-head attack. 

After four rounds there was not much to separate the two men, I had Taylor up a point 39-38 with the fourth round drawn. If you liked Prograis’ hard attack to the body & forward pressure & you gave him three of the first four rounds - I ain’t mad at ya!

In the middle rounds a theme began to establish itself, Taylor stayed in Prograis’ face to limit his ability to set his feet, get off shots at will & limit his targets, Prograis launched a great body attack throughout the fight however many punches landed on the hips & elbows after Taylor found his range. One thing Taylor does really well is catch-and-counter, he can catch a shot & comes with a shot of his own almost instantly, both Errol Spence & Bud Crawford excel at this - they don’t eat punches in combination ever - neither does Taylor!

Prograis also seemed to slow slightly, he bounced on his feet in the corner between rounds but the pop on his punches dissipated slightly over time in the fight due in large part to loading up on shots earlier in the fight while Taylor’s punches stayed consistent. Another crucial factor is Taylor mixed rhythm & range, he largely dictated the tenor & tone of the fight in this way, he got the better of the exchanges at medium & close range then got on his bike to stick the jab & move forcing Prograis to use his tiring legs & his boxing brain which seemed to be in info overload, I could just see how the feints, movement, punch variety & physical pressure overwhelmed Prograis ever so slightly - hesitating for just a beat allowing Taylor to throw punches in combination that went largely unanswered as the fight dragged on. 

That said Prograis’ defense is apparently underrated, he slipped & rolled beautifully avoiding many shots that Taylor has been able to hit most of his opponents with effortlessly. Prograis’s power was still dangerous even with some of the steam taken off of his punches as in rounds eight, eleven & twelve he landed the more telling blows and the grotesque swelling of Taylor’s right eye tells the story that eating any one punch from Prograis is a dangerous proposition. 

I watched the fight twice, I scored it the second time as strictly as I could & I had Taylor winning; 116-113. The three judges scored the bout 117-112 (Taylor) which seems wide but I can see actually, 115-113 (Taylor), again no issue there. The only card that bears scrutiny is the 114-114 (draw) by Benoit Roussel. That card is pure fiction, what we saw was a competitive but clear points win for Josh Taylor.

In a little more than four years, Josh Taylor has descended on boxing like an EF 5 Tornado & clearly taken ownership of the Super-Lightweight division. For Prograis, this will not be the last time this young man holds a world title & in my eyes retains his spot as the clear #2 Super Light Lightweight in the world.

It is a gratifying thing to see potential fulfilled & greatness achieved, hard not to think that Josh Taylor’s legacy is not instantly assured with this win, however, this drama is still unfolding and I suspect the next act will be even more compelling!