Taylor is ready to deliver a 'nasty surprise' to Lopez in New York

Josh Taylor has been scrapping all his life and now the ‘wee-man’ from a Scottish mining village is ready to deliver a ‘nasty surprise’ to local hero Teofimo Lopez in New York

  • Josh Taylor will defend his WBO and Ring magazine light-welterweight belts 
  • The Scot weighed in at 139.8 pounds, with Teofimo Lopez on the 140 lb limit 
  • Taylor warned Lopez that he is facing a huge challenge on Saturday night

The spark which ignited the world championship fire in Josh Taylor came when the bullying of him as a small boy escalated to a menacing climax as an older gang tried to tie him by the neck to a wire fence.

‘That was the first time I snapped,’ he says. ‘My dad kept telling me the day would come when I’d have to fight back. This was it. I broke free and turned on the chief culprit, who was older than me and the biggest of them. Battered him to the ground. Then I went after two more and they were scared. In shock.

‘They’d been picking on me and my pals for weeks, when we played football on a rough pitch at the site of the closed pits. Taking our ball off us. Threatening. Pushing me round. The little one. After that, they stayed clear.

‘I was still under 10, but I’d learned first-hand the lesson dad had been teaching me. That unless you stand your ground, bullies will keep going after you.’

Prestonpans, population 10,460, is a former mining village and fishing harbour on the East Lothian coast of Scotland.

Josh Taylor enjoys the high life during a visit to the Empire State Building in New York

Taylor will defend his WBO and Ring magazine light-welterweight belts on Saturday night 

Not only a thousand miles away but light-years distant from Manhattan, where Taylor will defend his WBO and Ring magazine light-welterweight belts against the dangerous native New Yorker of Honduran origin, Teofimo Lopez. Yet the task for Taylor remains much the same as when he was a schoolboy. Madison Square Garden can be a daunting place to box a local boy wonder, but the flame which burned through his formative battles will be blazing again.

‘Prestonpans was a tough old place to grow up,’ says Taylor. ‘The mines which employed so many had shut, with Thatcher and all that. The brickworks, soap factories and salt works followed them. All gone. Hard times. Not much for people to do. Except there was always fighting.

‘I was never the one looking for trouble. Not when I was tiny with friends who were all bigger than me and had hair on their chests. I didn’t have any big brothers or cousins to help me out.

‘But it was a good place for me growing up. We had the beach, golf courses all around us. We would go out in the fields on our bikes. Make hay bales and dive into them when not jumping into the sea. Steal golf balls. Play soldiers and make huts in the woods. Set fires. Just boys being boys.

‘And I developed wee man’s syndrome. Mess with me and you’ll get a nasty surprise. Like every opponent I’ve faced. Like Teofimo will this weekend.’ Prestonpans was also where he learned to defy potentially life-threatening agony. He is torn between nostalgia and emotion when explaining such dramatic incidents: ‘The links at Royal Musselburgh were just up the road. We were proud that for many years it was recorded as the oldest golf course in the world.

‘My grandfather sometimes took me and my cousin to learn how to play. One day, when I was 10, my cousin demonstrated the correct way of swinging the club but didn’t see me standing behind him. He caught me with his follow through and struck me with full power on the side of the head.

‘It smashed my face to smithereens. Multiple fractures to the cheek bone. One of the surgeons told me I was lucky it didn’t connect an inch or two higher; the bleeding on the brain would have killed me. Lower and I would have been paralysed by damage to the nerves in my neck.

‘I was covered in blood and the sound in the ear was more deafening than the buzzing fighters get when we’re slapped on the side of the head. It was horrific but I was still upright and conscious. I was in hospital for weeks. Lots of operations. The surgeon did a fantastic job.

‘Not until I started boxing a few years later did it occur me that I’d proved I could take a punch! No opponent is ever going to hit me as hard as that.

‘It was tested in street fights. There was a massive scar right across my face from the surgery. You can still see it on the left cheek and behind the ear.’

Josh Taylor looked in terrific shape ahead of Saturday’s showdown at Madison Square Garden

American Teofimo Lopez scaled exactly at the 140 lb light-welter limit on Friday in New York

There is humanity within one of the ring’s iron men. Never more so than in his memory of the recently deceased Ken Buchanan, Scotland’s ring legend. Taylor will pay tribute tonight by wearing trunks in the same no-frills design as Buchanan’s. He says: ‘The only difference is the shorts will be in my clan’s tartan instead of Ken Buchanan’s tartan.’

As will the replica robe he wears to enter the building in which Buchanan enjoyed massive New York popularity.

The pair became close as Buchanan took Taylor under his wing. The 32-year-old says: ‘The last time I saw him was not long after I beat Jose Ramirez in Vegas two years ago. The dementia before he died was sad and I wasn’t allowed to visit his care home because of Covid. But his carers let him come out for one last visit to my house. He remembered who I was. That I’m following in his footsteps. And gave me cuddle. We laughed a lot. It was a fond goodbye.’

Compassion runs through Taylor. Not that Teofimo Lopez is likely to be a recipient here. Not after threatening to kill the pride of Scotland. Not when Taylor warns him: ‘There’s a lot of that fire still inside me. Be sure of that.’

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