Has the “Tartan Tornado” blown itself out? Observers couldn’t help but ponder this question as the lineal light-welterweight champion was gradually overwhelmed by a resurgent Teofimo Lopez in Madison Square Garden Theater last week. Where did it all go wrong for the man who two short years ago became the first Briton to sweep all divisional titles in the so-called “four-belt era,” the versatile southpaw whose stacked resumé includes victories over Viktor Pistol, Ivan Baranchyk, Regis Prograis and Jose Carlos Ramirez? Who could possibly have seen this coming?
Despite being seven years his opponent’s senior at 32, Taylor was thought to be the seasoned and savvy veteran in the heavier weight class, while Lopez was widely viewed as the once-promising but wayward tyro who had looked a shadow of himself since conquering Vasyl Lomachenko back in 2020. Undeterred, the Brooklynite punched holes through that simplistic narrative over twelve methodical rounds to gatecrash the title scene at 140 pounds.
Ironically, Taylor should look to Lopez for instruction on how, with the right fire, focus and game plan, he can now flip the script and change the mood music. After all, “The Takeover” went into last weekend’s showdown having underperformed in consecutive bouts against George Kambosos Jr, Pedro Campa and Sandor Martin. Many critics assumed he was finished, burned out at 25. Perhaps Taylor’s situation is even more precarious given the year on the birth certificate and the miles on the clock. Before surrendering his title in New York, the Scot was the recipient of a contentious verdict over unheralded challenger Jack Catterall last February. The truth is it’s now been over two years since Josh Taylor looked like, well, Josh Taylor.
To which factors should we attribute this startling decline? Or would it be an exaggeration to characterise the downfall as such? Catterall is a slippery customer, someone tough to look good against – and Taylor had by all accounts endured a lousy camp, something that was plain to see in the BBC’s Portrait of a Fighter documentary aired last June. As for the Lopez upset, it’s not that momentous: the champ – inactive for sixteen months, coming off a horrible performance, giving away home advantage to a firebrand with a point to prove – was in some ways ripe for the picking.
However, there are certainly some worrying signs of regression in Taylor’s armoury. He looked far too easy to hit and faded badly down the stretch after a promising start against Lopez. He could not impose his physicality as he has on other opponents, and for a fighter who has so often showcased a beguiling bag of tricks, he appeared out of ideas even by the midway stage. Lopez was too quick, too strong and too determined, and Taylor couldn’t fend him off or hurt him enough to gain the respect and distance he needed to do his best work. It was a bad night.
Is it possible Taylor peaked in just his 16th fight against Regis Prograis four years ago? He looked unstoppable back then. Perhaps he has suffered from a dearth of motivation since scaling the mountaintop by vanquishing Ramirez two years later. Or maybe dropping lead trainer Ben Davidson and recruiting Joe McNally was a mistake. Personally, I don’t think that’s the issue: Taylor looked better against Lopez than he had against Catterall, though that could be a matter of styles. Ultimately, at 32, it doesn’t matter very much who’s in the corner for Josh Taylor providing he’s dialed-in. His formidable arsenal punched his ticket to the top, not the edicts of Ben Davidson, Shane McGuigan or anyone else.
A major part of the problem could be that Taylor has outgrown the super lightweight division, having boiled his leviathan frame down to the weight since his debut in 2015. Or not: a cursory glance at the recorded poundage shows he scaled between 141 and 143 for his first half-dozen outings before having to make the contracted limit for a Commonwealth tilt against Dave Ryan in 2016. No doubt making weight has become more punishing as the years have gone by and his metabolism has slowed. A move to welterweight is probably overdue and, while hindsight is 20/20, Taylor is doubtless cursing himself for not doing so immediately after the Ramirez win.
Reinventing oneself in today’s welterweight division appears a dangerous mission. Terence Crawford and Errol Spence square off for alpha-dog status next month, while the unbeaten pair of Jaron “Boots” Ennis and Vergil Ortiz Jr hardly resemble easy pickings. And so what does Josh Taylor’s roadmap look like? Clearly he needs a confidence-boosting victory, but teeing off on some outgunned journeyman serves no-one’s interests. Pride will dictate that the “Tornado” finds its way to a title shot before long, though throwing down the gauntlet to the aforementioned names on current form would be like showing up to a gunfight armed with a billy club.
Options, there are always options. And the best of them, at least to my mind, are as follows. An all-British confrontation against Conor Benn – one that would need to occur in the Middle East due to the latter’s British Boxing Board suspension. A rematch with Catterall, this time at welterweight. Or lastly, a 147 pound sequel against Prograis, who surely expects to turn the tables four years after their brilliant first meeting. All three represent live challenges sufficient to motivate Taylor, assuming he doesn’t already have all the motivation he needs after the Lopez drubbing.
Whatever he elects to do, Taylor has carved out a reputation as a throwback who takes on all comers and usually emerges victorious. His career doesn’t necessarily need a glorious Second Act, but if he can bring it about, well, damn, that will be something. –Ronnie McCluskey