Boxing will always have a place on the Scottish sporting landscape. While it will never compete with the number one sport, football, in terms of participation or viewership, the sweet science is ingrained into the working class communities that make up the majority of the towns and cities here.
A small nation, Scotland has historically enjoyed success at boxing's top table. Well-known world champions from the past can be referenced as ways to motivate and inspire new generations of Scottish fighters. There have been periods of time where pickings have been slim but, at this moment, it may be the case that Scotland has as many potentially great boxers as we ever have had in one generation.
Of course making it to the very top in boxing is extremely difficult. Talent is not enough. It needs to be matched with an unbelievable work ethic as well as a willingness to listen and learn. Opportunities arising at the right time, good coaching and structure within the Scottish setup and a little luck are also factors that will make a difference.
This article aims to introduce some of the current boxers who are giving rise to this feeling of optimism here while looking back at some of the famous names they will be aiming to emulate.
Leafing through the pages of Scotland's boxing history there have been some exceptional Scotsmen who became world champions. Perhaps the very best from here to ever lace up the gloves was Ken Buchanan.
Other observers may regard Benny Lynch or Johnny Hill as the greatest. Walter McGowan, Jim Watt, Pat Clinton and Paul Weir all won world honours and kept Scotland on the map before more recently Scott Harrison, Alex Arthur and Ricky Burns all claimed their own world titles.
Ricky Burns has flown the Scottish flag on his own at world level for the last several years. As Burns now approaches the end of his career perhaps some of these names will take over and fly the flag together in the coming years.
Leading the way is Josh Taylor (11-0). Taylor has been written about extensively by myself (more to come in next week's “Scotland's Finest” preview) as he looks ready to fight for a light-welterweight world title in the not too distant future.
Joining Taylor as a Cyclone Promotions/Shane McGuigan trained fighter is 20-year-old bantamweight Lee McGregor. McGregor surprised many by turning pro at the end of last year, instead of waiting to represent Scotland at April's Commonwealth Games in Australia. Now that he has turned over he looks perfectly suited to professional boxing. Currently 2-0, McGregor will have a busy 2018 as his handlers fast track him towards a British title shot, possibly before the summer.
Jason Easton (11-0) from Edinburgh will be looking to keep the Commonwealth 140lb title in Scotland's capital. The belt was recently vacated by fellow Edinburgh man Josh Taylor and Easton will fight for it on March 3. An exciting action fighter, Easton is improving with each outing.
I'm not sure if there has ever been a Scottish heavyweight of note but that may be about to change. Martin Bakole hails from Democratic Republic Of The Congo but is now living and training just outside of Glasgow. His career is being navigated by manager/trainer Billy Nelson from Glasgow. Bakole can consider himself an honorary Scotsman. He has assembled a 10-0 record and has been enhancing his reputation since he has been here by giving more highly touted and experienced fighters tough times during sparring sessions. Regularly travelling down to England to spar with names such as Dereck Chisora, Daniel Dubois and Anthony Joshua, Bakole is now struggling to get opponents to face him. He can't be avoided forever though. Televised fights under his new promotional deal with Cyclone are in his immediate future, hopefully title fights won't be too far behind.
Scotland's only amateur world champion turned pro towards the end of 2017. Willy Hutchinson signed a deal with promotional outfit Ringstar/Hayemaker and is currently 3-0 in the light-heavyweight division. The 19-year-old is highly regarded by those within Scottish boxing circles.
The MTK Global management stable also have a stack of Scottish boxers signed to their label. MTK Scotland run regular cards here, keeping their boxers busy. The increased number of shows is another positive for Scottish boxing. The fighters are more active and, as long as the wins keep piling up, stand a better chance of getting into title contention. Some MTK fighters to keep an eye on; Paul Kean (6-0) at middleweight, Tommy Philbin, a 10-0 super-middleweight and welterweight Lewis Benson (10-0).
Two final names to remember. Southpaws Connor Law (12-0) and Lewis Paulin (11-0) are quietly going about their business in the middleweight and featherweight divisions respectively.
All of these boxers are aged 27 or younger. As mentioned already nothing in boxing is guaranteed but as long as they keep working all of these fighters will continue to improve as they approach their prime years in the sport.
As well as naming names I wanted to get some opinion from someone who has been there and done it all. I spoke with Alex Arthur, a world champion during his career and a respected pundit since he hung up his gloves. Arthur told me: “Scotland just now is in a very good place. There has been a real resurgence since myself and Scott Harrison. Not long after we had won our world titles Ricky Burns did the same so the gap between Scottish world champions wasn't that large. This gives young guys confidence that they will get a chance on TV, along with the publicity and financial rewards that brings. We have great talent coming through right now – Lee McGregor, Jason Easton, Willy Hutchinson and I really like Lewis Paulin.”
While it remains to be seen just how much this group of Scottish boxers achieves there certainly are plenty of fighters here now for fans to get behind and support. The great names of the past have their place in boxing history, there may be one or two more names joining them soon.
To finish it is worth returning to my conversation with Alex Arthur. Alex is optimistic that the amateur boxers preparing for the Commonwealth Games can make some progress when they turn pro. Having recently opened his own gym, The Alex Arthur Academy, Alex is willing to help nurture even more Scottish boxing talent in the years to come: “The amateurs coming through now are excellent. Fighters like Aqeel Ahmed, John Docherty and Reece McFadden will hopefully show that in April. I'm willing to help out in any way I can with fighters just coming into the pro ranks. Success breeds success and boxing works better with boxing people involved in the infrastructure. We haven't always had the best national structure in Scotland, get that right then there is potential to be even better.”