Back in November, I agreed with the consensus that said the WBSS bill topped by Josh Taylor was the best to occur on Scottish soil for years. Six months later and fight fans got another show in Glasgow and it measured up. I could get used to this. Last time, boxing royalty rolled into Glasgow in the shape of five-division champ Nonito Donaire, but tonight’s young monarch was Japanese dynamo Naoya Inoue, appearing in a bantamweight unification co-feature versus Emmanuel Rodriguez. Coupled with the mouth-watering main event between home favourite Taylor and bull-strong IBF title-holder Ivan Baranchyk, the card promised fireworks with the four headliners boasting a combined record of 69-0.
First up, the phenomenon from Japan known as “Monster” as the fearsome puncher sought to register his third straight first-round knockout, having iced Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano in his previous two appearances. Needless to say, the local crowd gave the star an obliging ovation as he walked to the ring, exuding cold menace. Not since Terence Crawford silenced the local crowd by dominating Ricky Burns in 2014 have Scottish fight fans been so spoiled. There was no danger of another first-round blowout here, as although Inoue landed some powerful shots which drew gasps from the crowd, the Puerto Rican kept his poise and landed his own share of punches.
Early in the second though, a familiar development: Rodriguez on the canvas courtesy of a huge left hook. And no sooner had he rose than he was deposited on the deck again, this time with a sickening right hook to the stomach that left him disconsolately shaking his head at his corner. And then a third time, another fusillade to the body. It was over. “What a boy, man,” said an excitable punter over my shoulder. “He’s somethin’ else.” Indeed. The threshing machine had claimed another victim. Nonito Donaire grinned from ringside but you’ve got to imagine that the interior monologue told a different story. Talk about a daunting task.
Time for the main event. And at Glasgow’s packed SSE Hydro, a venue fast becoming Taylor’s stomping ground – this was his fourth consecutive outing here – the “Tartan Tornado” put on a clinical display, claiming a worthy unanimous decision over his redoubtable opponent. The pattern was set early on: Baranchyk would stalk and throw heavy, short-armed shots, while Taylor would box without running, then step forward with compact hooks as Baranchyk was in the pocket. Taylor sought to use his legs and make the champion pursue, thus letting the pace take its toll and burn up Baranchyk’s nervous energy.
In the first, Taylor circled away and Baranchyk stalked, periodically loading up and taking advantage of Taylor’s reticence by landing an excellent left hook and a right hand soon after. First round to the champion. The second was better for Taylor as he visibly warmed to the task, his lateral movement causing the Belarusian to miss with both a wild hook and right hand. Taylor’s offence was now on point as he stepped in with body shots and hooks to the head, plus a nice lead left.
The third round was close, but the fourth wasn’t – Taylor hurt Baranchyk with an uppercut early on and followed up, drawing the crowd to its feet. Baranchyk mounted a brief rally but JT was getting in a groove, measuring his man and landing eye-catching punches off the back foot while making his opponent miss with wild shots. Taylor knows how to invest in the body and he drummed Baranchyk’s stomach with a few fierce blows in the fifth, while continuing to make him miss with clever footwork. Then he hurt the champion with a straight left; Baranchyk bravely fired back but Taylor proceeded to walk him down, using his guard to protect against anything coming back. Then Taylor seemed to get buzzed himself before skipping away.
Round six was close, at least until Taylor heavily dropped Baranchyk with a mighty hook, timed to perfection as the champ slung an agricultural right-hander. Then Josh followed up and put him down again with seconds left. Baranchyk was saved by the bell and the challenger was in the hunt in the seventh, but you got the impression Shane McGuigan had ordered him to apply educated pressure, not steam in. A right hook by Baranchyk added an exclamation point to this missive. But Baranchyk seemed tired and all the quality output was coming from the Scot, whose physical strength is underrated: he pushed the stocky fighter to the ropes and battered him in the final minute.
The eighth was quiet, Baranchyk huffing and puffing but Taylor proving elusive. In the ninth, Baranchyk probably outworked the challenger though most of his punches only grazed the target. Taylor reasserted supremacy in the tenth with some beautiful counter punches as Baranchyk stormed forward. Taylor was mostly under-utilising his jab but his sizzling left hook counters, well-placed body punches and occasional uppercuts didn’t need a range-finder. Baranchyk presented an easy target and Taylor obliged with precise ordnance.
The IBF ruler must’ve known he needed to knock Taylor down to claw back into the fight, but he was incapable of mounting a sustained offence against such a balletic opponent. Nonetheless, he enjoyed some success in the eleventh as Taylor coasted. Just as well the home fighter has long arms, because Baranchyk’s whaling assaults to the body looked painful.
In the final round, Baranchyk was in seek-and-destroy mode. Taylor started off boxing before holding his feet to deliver a salvo; then he took another leisurely walk around the ring and popped the jab. Baranchyk was relentless and put together some good offensive work but, with the crowd exhorting him, Taylor showed resolve to absorb the pressure and then offer his own little bursts. The last 20 seconds was trench warfare as Taylor decided to stand in the pocket and trade with his bulldog-like opponent. Well, you’ve got to beat the champion, don’t you?
The scores? 117-109 and 115-111 twice, for Scotland’s latest world champion. This was a marvelous display from a big-hearted, technically astute boxer-puncher whose natural ability and durability make comparisons to Ken Buchanan obvious. All in all, a terrific show from the World Boxing Super Series. Taylor marches towards a daunting assignment with Regis Prograis, and the destroyer Inoue faces a rejuvenated Nonito Donaire. I can’t wait. — Ronnie McCluskey