By Alan Hubbard
‘I don’t know what they’ll do to the enemy, but by God they frighten me!’
So declared the Duke of Wellington on Sunday 18 June 1815 as he watched battalions of Scottish soldiers, their kilts swirling in the Belgian breeze, bagpipes wailing, drums beating and the wee warriors bellowing ‘Scotland Forever’ as they marched through the mud to assist the Duke’s Anglo–Allied army overcome Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
The Scots have always been handy fighters, whether on the battlefield or in the boxing ring. The sort of guys you want alongside you in the trenches, but not in front of you when the bell sounds for the first round.
There have been a multitude of brave Scottish soldiers – and sluggers – in the past and as far as boxing is concerned quite a few are still at the forefront of the sport in Britain.
The latest general of what you might call the modern day Highland Fight Brigade – even though he hails from Edinburgh – as one of the finest boxers to cross the border, 29-year-old Josh Taylor, aka the Tartan Tornado, who holds a unified (WBA/IBF) world super-lightweight championship.
He makes boxing history by becoming the first Briton to appear in a world title fight behind locked doors this weekend (namesake, but no relatation Katie Taylor has also done so but is Irish of course).
Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions have snapped him up for their sixth crowd-less pandemic punchfest to defend his belts against the mandatory challenger, Thailand’s Apinun Khongsong – now there’s a tonsil twister for MC Thomas Treiber when he introduces the combatants from the custom-built ring housed at York Hall on Saturday evening.
You can be certain this is no hand-picked pushover for the southpaw Scot. I have yet to see a poorly prepared fighter come out of Thailand or one who isn’t valiant, tough as old boots and unflinchingly ambitious. As they have identical records (16-0) with almost the same number of ko’s (12 and13 respectively) they seem a pair perfectly well-matched, with real power in their punches and sound defensive qualities.
So it should be a fascinating and closely-fought encounter to watch. And possibly a hard one to score, But I expect Taylor to emerge as the more resilient and eventually superior of the two.
He is already seen in his homeland as one of their all-time favourite and most accomplished fighting sons.
Now here’s a funny thing: Scotland has produced many British and even world champions but nearly all are below the 135 lb super lightweight limit.
A veritable galaxy of greatness over the years ranging from the wonderfully dextrous lightweight Ken Buchanan, arguably Britain’s finest post war fighter, through to flyweight Benny Lynch who, they will tell you in any Glasgow pub is Britain’s best pre-war fighter. And you don’t want to argue with anyone in a Glasgow pub, Jimmy.
Among these lighter weight luminaries are many celebrated champions, among them Jim Watt, eloquent on both sides of the ring apron, wee Walter McGowan, Alex Arthur, Evan Armstrong, Jackie Paterson, Ricky Burns, Peter Keenan, Pat Clinton Scott Harrison, Willie Limond, Tancy Lee, Charlie Hill and Johnny Hill (Scotland’s first world champion). Not forgetting my good friend, featherweight Bobby Neill, who at 86 is now Britain’s oldest surviving champion.
Not only was Neill a fine fighter with an incomparable left hook back in the sixties, also a superb coach to young boxers.
Of course, there are some who have acquitted themselves well in the higher weight divisions but these can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Only one, the late tall light-heavyweight Chic Calderwood, challenged for a world title. Then British and Commonwealth champion, he was knocked out in two rounds by Jose Torres in Puerto Rico.
John ’Cowboy’ McCormack was a decent middleweight as is Willie Hutchinson. Jake Kilrain wasn’t a bad welterweight just after the war but was once banned for clumping a referee.
Ironically, he later became a Board of Control official.
Now here’s another funny thing. Scotland has never had a British heavyweight champion. England and Wales have had bucket loads between them and Northern Ireland has even had one – Danny McAlinden.
The last Scot to chance his arm in the top division was the likeable but limited ‘Highlander’ Gary Cornish who lasted less than a round before being upended by Anthony Joshua.
Scotland has a record of producing mainly small (but perfectly formed) fighters. Yet there are quite a few larger laddies in the glen. Go to any Highland Games and you will witness mountainous men built like Ben Nevis tossing cabers twice their size. Yet these big blokes never seem to gravitate towards boxing. Odd that.
No matter. The flying Scotsmen will be happy to make light of it while. And , even though the doors may still be locked, when home viewing fans can be treated to such a meaningful world title fight it shows a that boxing itself is punching its weight against the pandemic.
Saturday’s action-packed bill, also featuring Charlie Edwards in his Queensberry debut ,is live and exclusive on BT Sport 1rom 7.3opm