Sweat pours down Josh Taylor’s face as the rope whirrs above his head and his feet blur beneath him. The best boxer in Britain, and one of the leading pound-for-pound fighters in the world, skips faster and faster in a stark and anonymous building at Harlow, Essex. We’re in the gym where Taylor has spent so much of the past two months preparing to defend his undisputed world light‑welterweight titles against Jack Catterall in Glasgow on Saturday.
In his last bout, nine months ago, Taylor became the first British fighter, and the fifth man in boxing’s four-belt history, to win the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO titles in his division. He defeated the previously unbeaten José Ramírez in a thrilling battle, twice knocking down the tough American on his way to an unanimous victory on points in Las Vegas.
Yet today, after a grueling sparring session, Taylor howls in frustration when his feet get caught up in the rope and his frenetic skipping routine misses his target. He soon grins again as he resumes skipping and counting – only for the same thing to happen a minute later. This time there is also a mock wail of anguish because the rope hits his thigh with a real sting. Taylor rubs his leg while cursing cheerfully.
The 31-year-old Scot has a perfect 18-0 record, and some compelling fights ahead of him if he beats Catterall, but he has grown used to not receiving the praise his boxing skills deserve. When we leave the gym a few hours later there are no surprised looks of recognition, or requests for selfies, from people walking past. No one even glances for long at Taylor who doesn’t seem bothered as he offers me a lift to the station. There is no need but it works as a reminder that Taylor still leads a relatively ordinary life despite his achievements.
At least people who follow boxing closely are aware of Taylor’s spiteful talent in the ring and genuine relish for challenging contests. His status continues to grow in this small corner away from mainstream sport. “I think so,” he says. “It’s starting but, yeah, sometimes it’s a little frustrating. If I’d been someone else on a different platform, or from somewhere else, I’d have been all over the place.”
Taylor shrugs when I ask why he has not been given the attention of his exploits warrant. “I really don’t know. But I’m not in it for that anyway. I’m not a show pony. The achievement’s there and you can’t take away from what I’ve done. I don’t live for the adulation and the pats on the back. I’m doing it because I want to be the best in the sport.”
Despite his landmark victory in 2021 he was ignored in the BBC’s annual sports review of the year. “I couldn’t give a monkey’s,” he says calmly. “But I thought I’d put out the point [on Twitter] that, in terms of sporting achievements and British boxing history, no one got anywhere near to what I achieved last year. To not even be mentioned or acknowledged was a bit funny and disrespectful. But I really couldn’t give a shit.”
Taylor is ready for far harder tests and he suggests it would be better to risk defeat rather than avoid facing some of the greatest contemporary fighters in a weight category above him. The welterweight division is the best and most competitive and Terence Crawford and Errol Spence are probably in the top three pound‑for‑pound fighters in the world behind Canelo Álvarez. Crawford and Spence are yet to face each other and they are being chased by prodigious young American boxers such as Jaron “Boots” Ennis and Vergil Ortiz Jr.
He needs to successfully defend his titles against Catterall but Taylor wants to move up and meet Crawford in an immensely dangerous fight. “If I can go my whole career without losing it would be absolutely fantastic but I don’t think it’s the be-all and end‑all,” he says. “I don’t think a loss defines any fighter. Look at the UFC where guys have had 20 fights and five or six losses. But they know that all the top guys can beat each other. That’s what boxing needs, even more so now after the Floyd Mayweather era where it became all about your unbeaten record.
“A lot of fighters are trying to protect their records and it ruins the sport in terms of big fights not happening – or if they do happen it’s like Manny Pacquiao-Mayweather, which was six years too late.”
Crawford is his prime target but before we turn to the brooding and brilliant American I ask Taylor about Catterall, his mandatory challenger. The 28-year-old from Chorley had stepped aside 12 months ago so Taylor could face Ramírez in his unification battle. “We got that deal done after I gave my word that I would fight Jack next. I could have easily went for another fighter or moved up to welterweight. But I like to keep my word.”
Catterall also has a pristine record, 26-0, but he has not faced the same caliber of opposition as the champion. I tell Taylor I recently heard Carl Frampton, his friend and former world featherweight champion, say that he only ever stayed behind to watch two fighters spar in the gym. Taylor was the first and Frampton spoke of how, after 10 pro fights, the Scot produced a master class in America when he sparred against a former world champion in Shawn Porter.
“I remember getting quite nervous before that sparring session because it was Shawn Porter and I was just coming through. But I impressed everyone, including Porter. I knew how good I was at that point and that I was going to be a world champion. I knew I was world-class but I needed those sessions to really prove it to myself. I shocked Porter the first time because he wasn’t expecting much. But the next time he was really trying and I did really well.”
Can Taylor guess the other fighter that Frampton loved to watch spar? “I’m not sure,” he says before, looking at me closely, he asks: “Jack Catterall? Yeah.” Is he surprised? “No. Carl told me that he’s quite talented, quite skilled. I see bits of Catterall’s skill set in his fights but he needs to do something very different against me.”
When they have gone face to face has Taylor felt Catterall’s conviction that he can cause a shock and win in Glasgow? “I think so. If I was in his position, I know I would believe I could win. But I definitely picked up a bit of nervousness from him – the way he was acting and his body language.
“I’ve not got any harsh feelings towards him yet because he comes across as a good, nice, respectful lad. But he’s standing in the way of my dreams and ambitions. The crowd is going to be well up for it and that gives me the butterflies and the buzz, the adrenaline rush that keeps you on your toes. I found it a lot harder the last couple of years boxing behind closed doors or in front of a very limited crowd.”
His fight against Ramírez was affected by Covid restrictions but Taylor did not allow the muted Vegas atmosphere to affect him. All week he was a spiky and boisterous presence. “That was just my competitive nature coming out. There was no real animosity because you’re going in for a fight and the other guy’s trying to hurt you. It is violent but we’re going in there to do a job and we’re throwing punches with intent. You don’t want to cause any permanent damage but your mindset is to win the fight by hurting your opponent. It’s a vicious mindset.
“I was in control most of the fight apart from in the third round when I switched off a little, made a mistake, and he had some success. But there were things we had been working on and I knocked him down in the sixth. I did the same in the next round with the uppercut. It was a real sweet one and he hit the canvas. He got up but I was in even more control. I thought I lost three rounds maximum. The judges’ scorecards were much closer and I thought they were really biased. But I never really needed to get into top gear.”
the left upper cut that changed the course of the bout in the seventh round was a perfect punch and the memory makes Taylor smile. “It was a really good shot and even more satisfying because it was one we had worked on. We had watched Ramírez and we knew that the uppercut was going to work. He walked into them.”
Ramírez is an excellent fighter but Crawford operates in a different dimension. Taylor knows his current obscurity in mainstream sporting terms would finally be overcome if he moved up a division and defeated Crawford. That ambition is his best way of gaining belated and sustained recognition for his boxing prowess. “If it goes the right way against Catterall I’ve achieved all I can at 140 pounds.
“I always believe in improving and setting new goals so I’ve set my sights on becoming a two-weight unified world champion. It’s definitely an achievable goal and this way it keeps my desire and fire burning to go down as an all-time great in British and world boxing.”
Asked who he thinks would win a fight between the world’s two best welterweights, he says: “Spence is very good as well but Crawford’s on fire. I think he wins that one as he’s the best pound-for-pound fighter.”
Even more than Canelo? “I think so. Crawford was the undisputed champion at 140, and he’s now unified champion at welterweight in a hot division. But if a fight with me happens I believe I’m 100% capable of winning. That’s the fight that would give me the fear factor and push me to new heights. Otherwise, if you don’t have that kind of challenge, you go stale.”
Crawford and Taylor met in Las Vegas in Nov. “He was very respectful,” Taylor says. “We were both training at the Top Rank gym in the week of his fight [when Crawford stopped Porter] and I bumped into him and his team. He was cutting weight so you don’t want to get in his face. There was a little bit of sizing each other up but it was all respectful. He’s a really good guy and speaking to him I thought he’s a cool cat.”
The sweat has dried on Taylor’s face. His problems with the skipping rope have long been forgotten and his anonymity in deepest Essex clearly does not irk him. His defining time, he believes, is coming. “Crawford is more than a cool dude,” he says. “He’s also a great fighter.”
There is a fleeting pause and then, with a smile which is steely rather than relaxed, Taylor adds: “And so am I …”