Securing a boyhood dream, Josh Taylor defeated Regis Prograis at the O2 Arena over 12 pulsating rounds in a battle of minds and fight science to become the first Scotsman to unify world titles since the great lightweight Ken Buchanan outpointed Ruben Navarro in Los Angeles in 1971.
With the victory over the previously unbeaten American, Taylor became the unified WBA and IBF light welterweight world champion, the World Boxing Super Series winner, and the Ring Magazine belt holder which recognises the 28-year-old as the No 1 boxer in the division.
Staying close to his heritage, Taylor, now unbeaten in 16 contests, will take the belts to show Scottish legend Buchanan. “I can’t wait to bring the belts back to show to Kenny,” said Taylor. “I haven’t seen him in a long time. He used to come in my old amateur gym, Lochend, a lot. When they announced ‘the fighting pride of Scotland’ as the winner, the house came crashing down, it was such a relief. I never believed I would do it this quickly. I’ve only been a pro for four years.”
Indeed, this was a close encounter with elite boxing skills and brutal intent between two brilliant southpaw boxers who had never previously tasted defeat in the prizefighting ranks, and both men fought with a self belief and ferocity which made this is a special night, a special contest in London’s Docklands.
Taylor had to contend with an horrific eye injury – a cut and swelling almost closing his right eye – in the later rounds while Prograis’s nose was flattened and seeping blood from the mid-point of the fight, his mouth open as he sought more oxygen for his lungs in a relentless back and forth tussle which ignited after one round of feeling out the range and movement of the other.
The war concluded, the ringside judges gave the teak-tough Taylor the majority decision 115-113, 117-112, with the third judge seeing to as a 114-114 draw. In my view it was the correct result. I had it 7-5 in rounds to Taylor, though Prograis finished strong in an intense and undiminished battle of aggression and will. But it was the home fighter who showed greater adeptness with brutally accurate cutting punches on the inside, outworking his foe from New Orleans.
He also showed a great chin in the eighth round, Taylor riding a huge left hook from the American.
“He won, I can’t make no excuses,” offered Prograis, suffering his first loss in twenty-five fights. “The best man won tonight. I’ll be back.”
Taylor said afterwards, his right eye swollen, purple and closed: “I’ve visualised this for so long, ever since I put my name forward for this tournament, lifting the trophy and all these belts. It was a hard fight, I got caught a few times with the head on the eye. From round eight or nine I could hardly see out of the eye because of the swelling. The last two rounds I was fighting on instinct with one eye, so all tactics went out of the window. It was just my heart and determination.”
He added: “Hopefully I now get the recognition I believe I deserve. I’ve kind of gone under the radar and I like that to an extent, I’m not a show pony, I don’t act up for the cameras. But this will take my profile to another level and people will be getting behind me.” Taylor now wants to fight the WBO/WBC champion Jose Ramirez. “If I get this Ramirez fight and it is in America, I’ll take a travelling army.”
Elsewhere on the London card, heavyweight Dereck Chisora stopped David Price in the fourth round and called for a fight on the undercard of the Andy Ruiz-Anthony Joshua rematch. “I want to fight in Riyadh, I want to squeeze another fight in this year,” he said. “Either Jarrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller, or Joseph Parker or Oleksandr Usyk. I’m going to try to speak to Eddie Hearn to make it happen.”