Scotland’s Sensational Seven
By: Oliver McManus
Scotland has a proud history of fighters and I’m not just talking your modern day Ricky Burns, the last superfluous talent hailing from north of the border to hold a world title, but look back through the time-honoured history of boxing and you’ll see, again and again, the burning blood of a Scotsman – Benny Lynch, Ken Buchanan, Jim Watt, Alex Arthur, Jackie Patterson to name just a few – so who could be next to stoke the fires of such a fiercely patriotic nation?
Well the immediate choice that springs to mind, perhaps patently obvious to many, is Josh Taylor who, for a long time now, has had, not just Scotland, but much of the world set on notice as to his sublimely ridiculous boxing ability.
The Super Lightweight has a world title of his own firmly on the horizon with his participation in the 2018/19 World Boxing Super Series potentially resulting in three of the sport’s most prestigious rewards belonging to The Tartan Tornado come the end of 2019.
One of the purest talents in boxing at the moment, Taylor’s rise to the top of the 140lb division has been as quick as it was predictable and his ability to dictate the pace of bout from the centre of the ring, utilising the full area of the canvas, ensures that he always looks in full control – even against Viktor Postol when the Ukrainian rallied forward, Taylor was able to remain calm and collected.
And, talking of Viktor Postol, that fight seemed to be a potentially defining moment in the development of the 27 year old with the bout being a perfect display of timely match-making which, whilst far from the most complete performance, produced plenty of aggressive intent – Taylor kept his left foot on the outside of Postol’s lead leg, allowing him the freedom of movement not often allowed to southpaws and, indeed, a failure to do this from Terry Flanagan saw him embroiled in a firefight with Maurice Hooker earlier in the year.
Simple things but they don’t half make life easier when done well.
Looking towards Josh’s immediate future, specifically the WBSS, then you would say it is hard to see who, from the chosen eight competitors, has the capability of beating him. Regis Prograis is the one who would come closest but you’d still put good money on the 2014 Commonwealth gold medallist to do the job and, equally, to do it in style.
From the established contender to the emerging talent and I’m actually going to double up on this category with both Willy Hutchinson and Lee McGregor already looking like a couple of classy prospects with big futures ahead.
McGregor has had a torrid time out of the ring with three family deaths last year but, in spite of all that, the bantamweight is refusing to let his motivation waver with a renewed desire to fulfil his potential and make his family proud.
With Shane McGuigan in the corner it’s not hard to see where the 21 year old gets his grit and determination from with McGregor taking his, relatively, limited amateur experience and continually learning on the job but learn he does with each fight marking a clear progression in his ring maturity.
Against Goodluck Mrema in June we saw a calculated display against a vastly more experienced competitor as Lee immediately controlled the bout with a peppering left jab from his crouched stance before piecing together some well-thought-out three, four punch combinations to stop Mrema in the fourth round – a fourth stoppage from four fights – to claim the IBF Youth title.
Evidently still in the early phase of his career, you’d like to see him cut off the ring a bit more and press the tempo a bit more but that’s something that will come when he gets in the ring with a higher of calibre of opponent so it’s more of a nitpick than any major concern but, certainly, it’s all looking good for Lightning as he looks to make a flashing impact on the bantamweight scene.
If we then move up to the light-heavyweight division you’ll find Hutchinson campaigning under, Frank Warren’s, Queensbury Promotions banner with the Carstairs-resident possessing a five and 0 record just 10 months into his career.
Having started life in the paid ranks as part of the, ambitious, Hayemaker-Ringstar platform, the move to Warren coincides with a readiness to start challenging for titles of some sort or other and, like with many, his biggest learning fight came against the experienced Adam Jones.
Jones, 7-32-6 at the time, is one of the durable, awkward journeyman in and around the division and has caused issues for more than a handful of prospects – Dan Azeez, Andre Sterling, Charlie Schofield, Fred Evans, Paul Upton, the list goes on and on – but the, relative, threat of Jonesy was nullified pretty easily by Hutchinson who swept his way to a 40-37 decision win.
Freakishly lanky for a 175lb campaigner, Scotland’s most successful amateur boxer, has the requisite skill-set to enable him to box successfully at range as well up close and in the pocket but tends to start in a blistering fashion with an immediate flurry of punches being thrown in the direction of his opponent.
Strong punch variety, mixing up the shot selection and working the angles with a ramrod left jab followed by protruding shots to the head and body, Hutchinson has the firepower to finish off many an opponent and with many years ahead of him, he’s only going to get better.
Rising up the rankings across multiple weight divisions in the women’s game is, aptly named, Hannah Rankin who has already been making huge waves just seven fights into her professional career.
A former white collar boxer, Rankin made the transition into the professional game in May of last year and has had more than her fair share of issues when it comes to finding opponents – a shot at the Commonwealth title in April had to be cancelled due to visa issues but in the back half of 2018, Rankin’s stock has risen immeasurably.
Up against Saana Turunen, for the WBC Silver title, Rankin went 10 rounds for the first time in her career and did so with ease, picking off her Finish opponent comfortably and stamping her authority on the bout.
A world title shot followed a mere seven weeks later, again going up in weight, as she challenged Alicia Napoleon for the WBA Super Middleweight belt and – outrage about it not being shown on the Fox broadcast aside – despite losing the contest by a margin of six, eight and six rounds on the scorecards, Rankin put in one hell of a fight to emerge with a bolstered reputation.
Mentored by the great, Sweet D, Derek Williams and managed by Sam Kynoch, the professional bassoonist has invigorated a whole new demographic into the women’s boxing scene and with a comparatively small pool of fighters, the 28 year old has the class and pedigree to compete at the top for a long, long time.
Always producing fireworks, Rankin may very well be the spark that ignites a whole new generation of boxers to take risks, refuse to believe supposed limitations and just take the dive into the deep end.
It is curveball time because this next man isn’t Scottish but, well, rather a Congolese heavyweight based in Airdrie and coached by “Scotland’s most successful professional boxing gym” with Billy Nelson – so whilst Martin Bakole doesn’t strictly count, I wanted to include as much for how much Nelson rates him as anything else.
Those that have seen him spar Anthony Joshua repeatedly declare that Bakole is “a handful for any heavyweight” and Dave Alllen is one of those guys that think the IBO Inter-Continental champion has the attributes to go all the way to the top.
A fixture on Channel 5’s broadcasts, Bakole has hit his stride as of late with two successive first round knockouts – over Ali Baghouz and DL Jones, namely – and whilst a fair few are quick to denounce those wins as bums, nobodies, journeyman (Twitter is a wacky place), the manner in which Bakole has dispatched of the two was nothing short of destructive.
Indeed what’s more impressive is that he managed to beat Baghouz and Jones in a quicker fashion than two of the more hyped world heavyweight prospects in Daniel Dubois and Tony Yoka. Despite that, Bakole has a distinct lack of attention being shone his way which, in part, is down to his quiet and humble demeanour.
Heavy-handed from the opening bell, Bakole comes out firing punches with bad intentions, immediately settling into a rhythm and looking to detonate the, almost, rhythmic right hook of his with consummate ease.
Martin Bakole is next out on October 13th, in London, with his proposed opponent being a former world title challenger – a chance, presumably, for Bakole to test himself against somebody of note.
Back from that minor detour to a full-blooded Scot and, quite possibly, the most Scottish boxer there is in Gary Rae and the bantamweight has found his a delightful consistency with his trainer, Mark Breslin, who has overseen his progression from an amateur all the way back in 2010.
A relationship that Gary describes as “like father and son”, the 30 year old thinks their bond is something that separates him from his rivals –
“For me it’s so important, the continuity, I need that and Mark has looked after me ever since I started… I’ve got a really good bond with Mark, there’s a mutual trust and a genuine care for each other. Not many others have that relationship with their coach, other than when they train with their dad, but I trust him completely and, hopefully, it’ll stand me in good stead”.
At 5ft9, Rae has had to adapt to punching downwards in the 122lb division but likes to stick to the basics, keeping his distance, landing some nice body shots before jumping into the inside and landing a quick 1, 2, 3. It’s this pattern of his that he uses to keep the fight flowing and in his control before the time comes to crank up the pressure.
As good as he is in the ring, for Gary the key strengths lie outside of it, in his mentality and the people around him and it’s his slightly obsessive personality that gives him the edge –
“I always want to do the best job and I will always give 100%, blood, sweat and tears. If I don’t win I want to be able to say it was by the better man not because I didn’t give everything and I will never cut corners, I need to know I’ve given myself the best opportunity.”
Fighting on October 6th, in Paisley, against Scott Allan for the vacant Celtic Bantamweight title, the full-time painter is looking to get the title under his belt in order to fulfil his aspirations of turning fully professional by the end of next year; with a desire to move through the weights and a determination stronger than iron, Gary “Bueno” Rae is the one guy you’d put your money on to deliver the goods.
And as if to bring this whole article full circle, dare we even rule out Ricky Burns? 50 fights as a professional and still going strong, in a division where one or two good wins can earmark you for a world title shot, Burns is well placed to chase those legacy-defining marquee fights as he enters the final stage of his career.
Looking at the landscape of Scottish boxing, you’d be hard-pressed to say the future doesn’t bode well with experienced wise guys and blazing young challengers carving their own paths through the divisions – some are seeking one last shot at glory, some are building to an ever-lasting legacy whilst others, well others, are just doing it for the love of the sport but every fighter starting out, winding up, has the proud blood of Scotland running through their veins with the knowledge that, win or lose, they’re giving it their all and doing a nation proud.