Josh Taylor became Britain’s newest boxing star with a sensational points win over unbeaten American Regis Prograis at the O2 Arena.
Taylor is not only the World Boxing Super Series winner, but now unified champion in the super-lightweight division, holding both the IBF and WBA world titles, as well as the Ring Magazine belt.
The pair could barely be split by pundits before the first bell and this was reflected in a fight which was decided by very fine margins.
One judge was unable to separate them, scoring the contest 114-114, with the other two giving the nod to the Scot, 117-112 and 115-113 respectively.
Ever since the tournament began back in October 2018, there had been much anticipation amongst boxing fans over a potential final involving the pair.
Both made it through the opening two stages with relative ease, each picking up their maiden world titles at the semi-final stage, setting up a mouth-watering clash for the Ali Trophy.
Not all fights of such magnitude live up to the hype they receive, but this London bill-topper undoubtedly did.
The early build-up was in part overshadowed by comments from heavyweight Dereck Chisora, who claimed he should be headlining the show in his fight with Joseph Parker, who later pulled out due to a spider bite.
“I’m not going to sell out the O2 for them guys to be the main event,” the Londoner exclaimed at the announcement press conference. “I’m being serious, you want me to sell it out to the London crowd, my London fans, then put these little guys that no-one knows about on my show and mug me off.”
However, any suggestion that the wrong fight was heading the card was put to bed almost as soon as the first bell rung.
The atmosphere in the O2 was electric. There were many Scots in attendance, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were at Hampden Park with “Flower of Scotland” being belted out around the arena.
Pure heart and desire from both men, a great example of why boxing needs the best to fight the best.
It was all action right from the off. You could tell straight away that it was going to be a tough one to score – the opening rounds could’ve gone either way.
Prograis impressed early on with his fast hands and slick head movement, showing off the skills which earned him a record of 24-0, with 20 of those coming by way of knockout.
However, it was the less experienced Taylor, boasting a record of 15-0 pre-fight including 12 KOs, who dominated the middle rounds. He appeared to be throwing considerably more punches than his opponent, and although Prograis was evading many, the ones that landed certainly did enough to win him rounds.
“In my 31 years as a ref that is the best fight I’ve ever been involved with.” – Referee Marcus McDonnell with high praise
The American finished strongly but it wasn’t enough to stop the 28-year-old from Edinburgh etching his name into the record books.
It was all action, pure heart and desire from both men, and a great example of why boxing needs the best to fight the best.
It was a fight so good, referee Marcus McDonnell said: “In my 31 years as a ref that is the best fight I’ve ever been involved with. It was an honour to share the ring with two great champions.”
There was no protesting from the New Orleans native following the announcement of the result, as he admitted: “He won, I can’t make no excuses. The best man won tonight. I’ll be back.”
It almost seems unfair that someone had to lose. Taylor walks away the victor, deservedly so, but Prograis gained far more than he lost. He won the respect of everyone watching and can certainly come again. Far too many boxers fear getting that first ‘L’ on their record, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when it comes against the best.
Road to undisputed?
For Taylor, his next goal will ultimately be becoming undisputed champion at super-lightweight. The man who stands in his way is Jose Ramirez, who became unified champion earlier this year, beating fellow American Maurice Hooker to retain his WBC title and win the WBO strap.
A fight between the pair certainly seems realistic and likely to happen sometime next year, once Ramirez has dealt with his next mandatory challenger.
Should the Scotsman win, he would become Britain’s first ever four-belt undisputed champion. Lennox Lewis was the last fighter from Britain to hold all the belts in a division, securing the three belts in existence back in 1999 to become undisputed champion at heavyweight.
Should Taylor manage this achievement, he would undoubtedly go down in boxing history as one of Britain’s greatest-ever fighters, and one of the greatest overall in his weight class.
Chisora marches on
The highlight of a packed undercard was undoubtedly Chisora securing a third successive win over David Price, whose corner threw in the towel at the end of the fourth round.
It was an entertaining scrap while it lasted, with Chisora landing several nice shots before being buzzed by a lovely uppercut from Price right at the end of the third.
But it was a knockdown, delivered by the man from Finchley in the fourth which ended the night for Price. The brave Liverpudlian got up and wanted to carry on, but his corner took matters out of his hands.
‘Delboy’ will be hoping to secure one final shot at the heavyweight world title before he finally calls it quits, although that seems unlikely
For Chisora, a fight with Joseph Parker seems likely to finally happen next year. Having been talked about for months, it was finally set to happen on this bill, before the Kiwi was forced to pull out.
‘Delboy’ will be hoping to secure one final shot at the heavyweight world title before he finally calls it quits, although that seems unlikely unless he is able to work his way up to a mandatory position.
Amongst the other fights, Welshman Lee Selby got the better of the other Scotsman on the card, veteran Ricky Burns, in an entertaining lightweight clash which went the distance. The British derby was not short of controversy; it spilled over at the end of several rounds, with Selby accusing Burns of punching him after the bell. The man from Barry has now moved himself back into world title contention.
Laurence Okolie picked up the European title, knocking out previously unbeaten Belgian Yves Ngabu in the seventh round of their cruiserweight scrap. Okolie is now set for a world title challenge at some point next year and looks well placed to become the latest British world champion.
Nigel Benn might be set for a comeback, but it was his son Conor who shone in the first televised fight of the evening, moving to 16-0 with a fourth-round stoppage of tough Belgian Stephane Jamoye.
Overall it was a fantastic night of boxing, topped off by a sensational main event which delivered beyond expectations. Britain now has a new boxing superstar, and you can only see Taylor’s career going from strength to strength.
Photo by Harry Currall