Glasvegas – a blend of Glasgow and Las Vegas – was a popular term last decade, but it never really rang true. It was more of a playful, ironic nod to the differences between the two cities: Glasgow’s cultural life burst through from its gritty industrial tradition; and Vegas, of course, is a hedonist’s spectacular neon-lit paradise. Yet, perhaps for the first time, Glasgow can boast of an evening of quality and prestige that matches, surpasses even, the mega fights experienced in the luxury boxing venues of The Strip.
On Saturday 18 May at Glasgow’s Hydro Arena, the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) delivered one of the most memorable nights of boxing in our country’s history. Listening to fans leave the venue as they waited for taxis, puffed on cigarettes or huddled in the nearest bar, there was a sense that we had all experienced something special.
Our man, Josh Taylor, in only his 15th contest, had been crowned world champion at home in front of thousands of Scots. His opponent, Ivan Baranchyk, was brave, dangerous and relentless. His nickname The Beast was not misplaced, as the muscular Belarusian continuously pressed forward unleashing shots with little care for what was returning. But nothing was going to stop Taylor from achieving his dream of lifting a world title in Scotland.
Taylor was superior in every sense. We could highlight that his skillset was more mature, there was greater variety, better footwork and sharper combinations. But what truly separates Josh Taylor from other world class fighters, such as Baranchyk, is the mix of mental and physical. The exquisite boxing ability is peppered with more than a pinch of spite. There is a fighter and boxer in one man; a genius and a brawler that derives pleasure from outclassing and then hurting his opponents. Taylor enjoys risk – the ride would be far easier, though more boring, if he was faithful to his boxing intelligence and pedigree. But Taylor doesn’t do easy or boring, he wants to engage, trade and prove that he is the tougher, as well as the more skilled, man in the ring.
That was highlighted perfectly in the sixth round when Taylor punished Baranchyk for having the audacity to land some clean shots minutes before, drawing blood from Scotsman in the fifth. Taylor dropped Baranchyk with a crisp right hook before following up with a flurry of lefts to send him to the canvas for a second time. Baranchyk was vulnerable and relieved to hear the bell echo. He would commit to further attacks, and have some success, but in truth it was a comfortable win for Taylor, who celebrated the final bell raised aloft by his team, convinced of victory well before the official scorecards were announced.
As punters sang and applauded thunderously, there was genuine emotion in the ring. Craig Stephen’s declaration that Scotland had a new world champion set the hall alight. Taylor was flanked by two of the most influential figures in his career; Terry McCormack who laid the foundations as an amateur schoolboy; and Shane McGuigan, the mentor guiding him in the professional ranks. That stability – the developed relationship between fighter and trainer, a most pivotal component in a boxing career – further separated the two men. Baranchyk was trained by the world renowned Freddie Roach, but their seven week courtship paled in significance to Taylor and McGuigan’s long term association. Though, it must be said, that all the time in the world would unlikely bridge the gulf in class.
Taylor’s attention now turns to Regis Prograis in the WBSS super lightweight final scheduled later this year. Prograis, like Taylor, has the potential to be an elite, multi weight world champion. But before Taylor returns to the gym to consider that challenge, he will savour Saturday night; remember the atmosphere and elation that he and we all experienced.
Whilst some main events are forced to wrestle back the audience’s attention after a lacklustre undercard, Taylor-Baranchyk was preceded by an elite display. As a co-main event, in front of an impressive travelling support, Japan’s Naoya Inoue bludgeoned IBF bantamweight world champion, Manny Rodriguez, within two rounds. A solid opening round by Rodriquez was punished with a merciless second, as Inoue floored him with a perfect straight left, crashing the Puerto Rican to the floor and stunning his senses. A brutal shot to the solar plexus minutes later shook Rodriquez to the core. He bravely rose back to his feet for a matter of seconds before further brutal onslaught.
It’s difficult to reconcile Inoue’s boyish looks and diminutive stature with his outrageous physical strength. He mingled with fans during fight week, taking selfies and smiling, as charm easily defeated linguistic differences. A less intimidating man you could seemingly never meet. But in a boxing ring he is transformed from innocent to executioner. Inoue had reduced what was meant to be a competitive world class bout into a bloody assault. The winces of pain on Rodriguez’s face confirmed The Monster’s mythical power. It was a privilege to witness him perform in Glasgow.
Scottish boxing fans were also delighted to welcome back Tommy Philbin after a year out of the sport. Philbin looked back at home in the ring, using the rounds as an exercise to shake off rust as he comfortably outclassed Henry Matthews. Philbin’s support was impressive considering that he was fighting after the main event, testament to the Edinburgh man’s popularity. Philbin will be eager to be back out again as soon as possible, working towards some huge domestic fights in the super middleweight division.
Elsewhere, Lee McGregor defeated Brett Fidoe over six rounds as he prepares for a title contest with rival Scott Allan in June. Reece McFadden outpointed Georgi Georgiev to improve his perfect record to three wins, and John Docherty kicked off the evening with another early stoppage, knocking out Wilmer Gonzalez in round one.
Report by Jamie Sokolowski | Photographs by World Boxing Super Series