Ahead of Josh Taylor’s historic undisputed world title shot, former amateur opponent Andrew Smart tells the P&J what it’s like sharing a ring with “The Tartan Tornado” and how a Taylor win could inspire a generation of pugilists.
Moray boxer Andrew Smart is no mug.
The 27-year-old has fought more than 50 times with Elgin Boxing Club over the years and is unbeaten in his three fights as a professional.
He was also Northern Sporting Club’s headliner in the first pro event staged in Elgin, his hometown, for 80 years.
As an amateur, Smart was one step away from the 64kg Scottish championships final in 2014.
That’s when he ran into a Tartan Tornado.
Mixing it with the elite
Taylor, by this point, was already a force to be reckoned with.
A 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallist and 2012 Olympian, just months later Taylor would strike gold as a leading light at a second Commonwealths.
“I remember seeing him entered into the same category as me going into the championships,” said Smart.
“I knew he was an Olympian and already a Commonwealth silver medallist — and also that there was a good chance I would end up fighting him.”
There’s no doubt the Prestonpans man was the favourite, but Smart had already gone to Glasgow and beaten a home hope before.
The Moray fighter eliminated Duries ABC’s Gary Glover to reach the last four; he had proved he belonged in elite company.
And what company it was.
These championships decided who made the Commonwealth Games squad later in the year and four of the competitors — Taylor, Charlie Flynn, Reece McFadden and Stephen Lavelle — went on to medal in Glasgow.
‘Incredibly accurate and so elusive’
Smart is a man who does his homework.
He and coach Paul “Ratch” Gordon studied video clips of Taylor in the run-up to their semi-final and thought they had pinpointed a weakness in his considerable armour.
“We watched footage where he seemed to struggle under pressure, so we decided we were just going to constantly walk him down with continuous attacks,” Smart recalls of the Scotstoun bout.
Most expect Taylor’s opponent this weekend, Jose Carlos Ramirez, to employ those same tactics.
It did not work for Smart, however. Taylor stopped him in two.
“The thing I remember most was his straight rear hand,” Smart adds. “It was incredible, so accurate and fast.
“He had obviously worked on it (dealing with a pressure fighter), because I was throwing everything at him with limited success. That’s probably what I struggled with most.
“He’s the sharpest fighter I’ve ever fought.”
After beating Smart, Taylor conquered Greenock’s Sam Ball in the final at the Emirates Arena. The rest, as they say, is history.
Inspiring the next generation
And history is exactly what Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs) could make if he wins in Las Vegas on Saturday.
The now 30-year-old will become the first British boxer to be crowned undisputed world champion in the four-belt era if he defeats Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs).
That’s something Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua have been striving towards for a couple of years now — but the Scot can beat them both to it.
Smart reckons such a momentous accomplishment could potentially create a ripple effect in the boxing community.
“I think, if he were to win, it would inspire so many people to get into the sport,” he said.
“He has already won the Muhammad Ali trophy (given to the winner of the prestigious World Boxing Super Series).
“But even just seeing someone so close to home headlining a massive undisputed world title fight in Vegas (could inspire people).”
Smart’s backing his former foe — who he reckons has now become a “complete fighter” — to walk away from Vegas with all the winnings.
He said: “I think Taylor wins pretty clearly on points. He is a brilliant technical boxer, and he can fight as well.
“I don’t really see any holes (in Taylor’s arsenal), but occasionally he stands in front of his opponent and tries to fight it out a bit too much, leading to him taking unnecessary blows.
“It will be competitive, but I think Taylor will be a clear winner.”