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Josh Taylor’s incredible path to the top includes a near-death experience and a few motorcycle crashes



Josh Taylor’s journey to being one of boxing’s most respected world champions included a near-death experience, plenty of white-knuckle rides and heartbreak at the Olympics.

Those life experiences were significant in the making of ESPN’s No. 2 boxer at 140 pounds.

Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs), from Edinburgh, Scotland, makes a second title defense of his IBF junior welterweight world title, and first of the WBA belt, against Thailand’s Apinun Khongsong at the York Hall in London, England, on Saturday (ESPN+, 2:30 p.m. ET).

A win, and Taylor moves closer to one of the biggest fights available in boxing today: a world title unification clash with rival Jose Carlos Ramirez, from California. A clash between Taylor and Ramirez, the WBC-WBO titleholder, would be a rare boxing event to decide an undisputed world champion with all four major world titles on the line.

At 29, Taylor is at his peak after winning the IBF title via a unanimous decision over Ivan Baranchyk, of Belarus, in May 2019. The Scot added the WBA belt to his waist with another UD over American Regis Prograis in the World Boxing Super Series junior welterweight final nearly a year ago.

Saturday is a key moment in Taylor’s career, a chance to elevate himself to a different level of recognition and earnings with a megafight against Ramirez in 2021.

Here, in his own words, “The Tartan Tornado” relives some of the pivotal moments which have made him the fighter he is today.

Boxing wasn’t even my first love growing up in Prestonpans [just outside Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh]. I’ve been into my motorbikes my whole life. That was my first love. I was going to races with my dad [James], he used to race at club level.

I’ve been on bikes since I was 5 years old. I went to the Scottish Minimoto Championship, I think I came sixth there one year, and then moved into motocross. I had a couple of seasons in the Scottish Motocross Championship and did pretty well, I was finishing in the top three or five out of a field of 40 for my age.

I had a couple of bad crashes — but I don’t think you can say you are a motorbike rider until you have had a crash. My mum and dad never had the money to buy all the equipment, so one time I was a little bit light for the bike and the suspension wasn’t right. I was racing, and I was going flat out and hit a couple of bumps, and then I went flying over the handlebars at 60 mph. I landed on a big rock, and ended up badly bruising my kidneys and back. I was lucky I had all the protectors on … but I was still left coughing blood, and passing blood. I couldn’t stand up for a while. I was about 13, 14 at the time, but it didn’t put me off motorbikes one bit. I learned from my mistake, that my suspension was too hard.

I’ve not been banged up like that in boxing before, although I was left passing blood in the urine after I beat Ivan Baranchyk for the IBF title, because he hit me a couple of times in the kidneys.

But it’s a very expensive sport so to compete with the guys that were winning you need a lot of money for the bikes, repairs and place to ride. We never had the money to keep it going and stay competitive. It’s an endless money pit. Plus, I started to get into boxing in my teens.

I still have a bike to this day though. It’s my passion, I couldn’t imagine being without it. The sense of freedom and the adrenaline rush — there’s nothing quite like it. The only thing that comes close to it is boxing for the adrenaline rush. The excitement is just brilliant when you are going fast or over a jump. The need for speed is big within me, I guess.

Every time I’m away from boxing I still go to motorbike race meetings, I have some friends that are racing, and I love watching it and meeting people there.

I still have bikes to this day, but I’ve put them away because it’s not worth risking my boxing career at the moment. Occasionally I will go for a little run down the countryside, but I have to be sensible with my boxing career. I’ve just bought a super Suzuki 450.

I love watching MotoGP as well. I’m a big fan of Valentino Rossi, who is a multiple world champion. To still be competitive at the top level of MotoGP with guys half his age is unbelievable, plus he’s a great character.

I didn’t start boxing until I was 14 or 15, which is quite late really, but I was always fighting growing up because I was always the little kid being picked on by the bigger guys. Plus, I had a bad temper!

I also did taekwondo, and I had hundreds of contests at taekwondo. I got a black belt aged 12, 13, I was junior British champion and competed for Scotland at the European Championships.

So, I’ve always had that will to win, whether it was motorbikes, taekwondo, football or boxing.

But one sport I’m not so keen on is golf. I had a horrific accident when I was playing golf with my cousin. I was about 10 years old and I was standing behind her showing her the swing when she scalped me right in the face with the club on the follow through. My jaw was shattered in five places, and the skin rolled up so you could see my tongue and teeth. My ears just wouldn’t stop ringing.

When I put my hand on my face it was covered in blood. It was only when I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, when the adrenaline started to wear off, that the pain started to kick in. I was operated on and stayed in the hospital for a week or so. I needed facial reconstruction and was feeding through a straw for a bit after it. I needed 30 stitches on the outside, 60 on the inside.

The doctor said if it was half an inch to the side, and to the temple, I would have been killed. I was very lucky.

What it did show me is that I could take a good blow because I was still standing strong, I had a good jaw.

I got into boxing by chance after I saw Alex Arthur training at a local sports center in Edinburgh where my mum worked [in 2005]. I used to go down and watch him train, and eventually he asked me to join in. I picked it up quickly because of the taekwondo and I had natural talent. I got the bug for boxing so I joined Lochend Boxing Club. I started late, but I always had that will to win and won the Scottish amateur title in only my seventh fight; five years after I started, I won a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in India. I had over 100 international amateur fights for Scotland and at 21 boxed for Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics. I shared a flat in London with Anthony Joshua [now WBA-IBF-WBO world heavyweight champion] and Luke Campbell [now top lightweight contender], who were also on the Team Great Britain squad, and I thought I could win it.

But I boxed at 60 kilos, which wasn’t my weight, and I was weight drained. It was an achievement just to make 60 kilos as I had been competing at 64 kilos. At the Olympic test event I beat Jeff Horn [former WBO world welterweight titlist], Jamel Herring [now WBO world junior lightweight titlist], Anthony Yigit, Robson Conceicao [2016 Olympic gold medalist] at 64 kilos but was then asked to drop down to 60 kilos because no one was competing at that division for Team GB. I was frustrated with the results [Taylor was eliminated in the last 16, without a medal] because I felt I was capable of winning the thing, or at least a medal. After the Olympics I went into the World Series of Boxing at 61 kilos, it was the wrong weight for me again, and then I turned professional in 2015. I went all over the world as an amateur, so I saw a lot of different styles, and improved all the time, so I was more than ready to turn professional.

Beating Baranchyk for the world title in front of my home fans and family in Scotland was a dream come true, then unifying the titles against Regis Prograis in London last year was another step up.

The aim now is to fight Ramirez for all the belts. I want to become undisputed champion, to say I’m the best in the division, to become Scotland’s first undisputed world champion since Ken Buchanan [in the 1970s]. It’s a massive fight for boxing given I get through my next fight against Khongsong. In my opinion it’s the biggest fight in boxing outside of the heavyweights Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, and for all four world titles.

But I’ve not been thinking about Ramirez since I watched his last fight [a majority decision win versus Viktor Postol on Aug. 29]. I’m expecting a tough 12 rounds from Khongsong, I’m looking to go out and put on a dominant performance and show I’m No. 1 in the division.


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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