Training in the pub… Josh Taylor’s ring education with Ken Buchanan’s son
Josh Taylor grew up in the shadow of Ken Buchanan.
Scotland’s greatest fighter reigned as the undisputed lightweight world champion until he was dethroned by the even greater Roberto Duran.
But fifty years on from Buchanan’s crowning glory, Taylor can match his fellow countryman’s exploits by adding Jose Ramirez’s two titles to his own pair of belts.
Victory in Las Vegas on Saturday night would also anoint Taylor as his country’s first-ever four-belt champion.
How fitting, then, that his journey to world domination began under the tutelage of the son of the legend he dreams of eclipsing.
Fifteen-year-old Taylor was a three-fight novice when his mum asked Raymond Buchanan to watch a video of her son’s bouts.
He spotted several flaws which were a hangover from Taylor’s decade practising taekwondo, but he also saw plenty of promise and took the talented teenager under his wing with regular training sessions – at the local pub.
“His feet were off the ground; they told me he was into taekwondo so his feet were bouncing off the ground,” says Buchanan.
“If your two feet are off the ground you’re going to go on your back. He wasn’t bobbing and weaving, he was ducking too low, he wasn’t maximising his punches; there was lots to work on.
“I asked a guy called Davie Fisher if I could use the room above the Johnnie Cope. It just had tables and chairs and a small dance floor but it was enough to work on.
“The first day Josh came into the hall I set a string line up at shoulder height to get him to go just low enough. I strapped on two kilogram weights to his ankles to keep his feet down.
“I gave him two kilogram weights for his hands so he could slip under the rope and throw a punch. He moved across the rope under the rope, slipping and throwing.
“While that was going on I was setting up the CD. We always played James Brown; I did a mean impression of James Brown so while he was doing that, to make him concentrate I used to dance about singing James Brown at the top of my voice to try and put him off.
“That’s how it started. He said to me, ‘I’ve watched the Rocky films and saw the last one last night. I’m going to call you Mickey’. So he called me Mickey after Rocky’s trainer.”
Buchanan also took Taylor on brutal runs up punishing local hills as well as spending time with him at Meadowbank Boxing Club.
But their plan to fulfil Taylor’s first boxing dream – winning the Eastern District title – was blown off course.
“I went down the night before and he was eating a Chinese,” recalls Buchanan. “I said, ‘What are you doing, Josh? You’re not going to make the weight’. We went to the championship the next day and he didn’t make the weight.”
Unperturbed, Taylor went on to win the Scottish Junior title and reached the semi-final of the British Championship where he was beaten by Jazza Dickens, who himself is now preparing for a world title shot.
But there remained a nagging doubt in Taylor’s mind as he considered returning to taekwondo to make a comfortable living as a trainer.
It was up to Buchanan to convince his protege that his future lay between the ropes.
“I spent half the time training him and half the time talking him into doing boxing,” he says. “I said, ‘Josh you can see the world, there is nothing to think about here, I can see it in you’.
“After a few months I could tell I could make this guy a world champion. I was telling everybody I met in the pub, the street, anybody who would listen, I was telling them Josh Taylor is going to be world champion.”
Taylor’s apprenticeship with Buchanan would last little more than a year before he joined first Gilmerton and then Lochend Boxing Club, where Terry McCormack guided him until he turned professional.
And his former coach remains aggrieved at the breaking of what he believes was a life-long handshake agreement.
“We said we wouldn’t sign a contract, we would just shake hands,” he says. “His dad said as long as you take my laddie to what he wants to achieve, you can always train him and I was happy with that.
“He was like a son to me; I was his trainer, I was his bodyguard, I was everything.
“In one season he won the Scottish and got to the British finals after just eight fights; I don’t know how much more I could have done.
“It could have been me in the corner in Las Vegas. I was going to apply for a professional trainer’s licence so I was thinking about the future.
“I was angry for a while but it was a long time ago and there’s a lot of water under the bridge. Best of luck to him and I hope he unifies the world titles.
“I just wish I’d gone to a bookies and put £100 on him winning a world title. I wouldn’t mind seeing what the odds were, it would have been a tidy sum.”