The fight before the big fight has always been a potential landmine for boxers’ hopes and dreams. And, if Josh Taylor needed any reminder to keep his focus firmly on his next opponent rather than the exciting possibilities in the distance, Dillian Whyte serves as a cautionary tale.
After spending more than 1000 days as the WBC’s number one challenger without actually receiving a shot at the heavyweight belt, Whyte’s world came crashing down courtesy of one devastating uppercut from Alexander Povetkin.
A unification fight against the American, Jose Ramirez, for all four super-lightweight belts is tantalisingly within reach for Taylor, but he must first negotiate a mandatory defence of his WBA and IBF titles against the largely unknown Thai fighter, Apinun Khongsong, on 26 September.
“I keep getting asked about the Ramirez fight, unification fights, moving up to 147 and fighting Terence Crawford and Manny Pacquiao, but that’s all down the line,” Taylor told BBC Scotland.
“I’ve got to fully focus on Apinun Khongsong because, if I don’t, something like what happened to Dillian Whyte could happen to me. That would throw my career, my goals and ambitions up in the air.
“Khongsong is coming here to whip away my belts – it’s the chance of his life to get two belts. He’ll be coming here to give it his all, but I’m fully focused on him and there is no way I’m going to overlook this guy.”
A fresh start behind closed doors
When Taylor steps into the ring against Khongsong, it will be 11 months since his last outing, an epic victory over Regis Prograis in one of the fights of 2019.
He spoke then of striking while the iron was hot, of chasing the big fights and making his name in the United States. The world since then has turned upside down and a career that was just beginning to pop had to be put on hold.
Initially reluctant to fight behind closed doors, Taylor realised he could not afford to wait any longer to step back into the ring. But he does so feeling like he’s made a fresh start, with a new promotor, new management company and, in Ben Davison, a new trainer.
“It always does make it that little bit tougher knowing there’s a big fight round the corner,” says the man credited with masterminding the comeback of Tyson Fury.
“I’ve had it before when big fights are looming. As much as you do everything to make sure the fighter’s mind is on the job, sometimes the mind can stray a little bit towards what’s to come. But it’s important we remain focused, particularly with the fight being behind closed doors.
“Going into a fight behind closed doors when you’re used to selling out arenas with a big crowd behind you, and I know all of Scotland gets behind Josh, that can have an impact.
“He can’t be walking in there thinking it’s a comfortable spar. This is a world title fight and something Apinun Khongsong will have worked for his whole life. It’s important that Josh has his mind on his job.”
‘One of the biggest fights in boxing’
There is no hint of complacency from fighter or trainer and, if Taylor does what he is widely expected to do and dispatches Khongsong with some ease, all signs point to that massive showdown with Ramirez. A fight worthy of any of the world’s great boxing arenas, but one Bob Arum, the legendary promotor and Top Rank chief, has said could take place in Scotland.
“It’s a massive fight,” Taylor said. “Outside the heavyweights – Joshua, Fury and Wilder – and maybe Canelo’s next fight, I think it’s one of the biggest fights in boxing.
“It doesn’t happen often in the game that you get a fight for all the belts. I do think it’s one of the biggest fights in boxing at the minute, a mouth-watering fight. There’s only one winner though and that’s me.
“That’s why I signed with Top Rank because all these fights should be easy to make. They’ve also said fighting in Scotland is not off the table, so that’s what I want to do.
“To see my name in bright lights at the MGM Grand or Madison Square Garden, every fighter dreams of that. But having a fight at Edinburgh Castle or Easter Road would just be amazing for Scottish sport. Especially a fight at the Castle with that backdrop, it would be an iconic moment in Scottish sporting history.”
Taylor is being linked with some of the biggest names in boxing and Davison believes the man now under his tutelage can go on to cement his legacy by adding some global stars to his list of conquests.
“I couldn’t put a ceiling on Josh’s potential,” he said. “I don’t know where that ceiling is because there is so much that can be added to his game.
“He’s had just 16 fights and he’s managed to achieve what he’s achieved. With time, with experience, more development, there is no ceiling to his potential. He’s a phenomenal fighter, physically he’s a fantastic athlete, he’s dedicated to the sport and he’s got a great mental attitude.
“He applies himself, he sets himself new goals. He achieved a world title in his 15th fight then set the goal of being unified champion. Becomes unified champion, sets a new goal to become undisputed. Then he’ll set the goal of becoming a two-weight world champion. That’s a great mindset to have.”
Before all that, some business to take care of on 26 September. Only then will Taylor begin planning for some truly momentous nights.