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 June 18 in 1815 as he watched battalions of Scottish soldiers, their kilts swirling in the Belgian breeze, bagpipes wailing and their drums beating. The wee warriors bellowed "Scotland Forever" as they marched through the mud to help 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 – is one of the finest boxers to cross the border. Twenty-nine-year-old Josh Taylor, AKA the Tartan Tornado, holds a unified World Light Welterweight Championship.

He made boxing history by becoming the first Briton to appear in a world title fight behind locked doors last weekend.

Frank Warren's Queensberry Promotions snapped him up for their sixth crowd-less pandemic punch-fest on BT Sport to defend his belts against the mandatory challenger, Thailand's Apinun Khongsong. On paper this was no pushover for the southpaw Scot. Fighters who come out of Thailand are invariably as tough as old boots and unflinchingly ambitious.

But here's a funny thing. Boxing being boxing, it was inevitable that there should be a huge controversy with the bout ending in almost farcical fashion. 

The Thai was knocked out by a left hook which landed just below the rib cage in the first round – or 15 seconds from the end of it to be precise.

Boxer Josh Taylor has been excelling in the ring for Scotland ©Getty Images
Boxer Josh Taylor has been excelling in the ring for Scotland ©Getty Images

It was a flabbergasting finish and one which raised a few eyebrows, with Khongsong staggering back from what appeared to be not too hard a blow, writhing and wriggling on the floor while he was counted out. 

He then proceeded to roll across the ring several times before being treated for some five minutes by medics, while wincing in apparent agony.

He was then hauled to his feet, and sat breathlessly on his stool while Taylor's hand was raised. Amazingly, he lay flat on the floor again, easing himself under the bottom rope to get out of the ring and on to a waiting stretcher which carried him from the arena.

It all seemed very dramatic – or was it simply amateur dramatics? Ringside commentator John Rawling described it as "a bit theatrical" and it certainly appeared so. London theatres may be closed but here seemed a performance worthy of the Old Vic.

"He swallowed it," I was assured by someone close to the promotion. But did he really?

Here was a young man – only 24 and unbeaten in a 16-fight career as equally an impressive as the Scot's, with even one more knock-out.

He was world ranked and as the mandatory challenger had a very profitable future ahead of him should he have beaten Taylor and become a double world champion. He was was more than holding his own in the opening moments. Indeed, the left hook to which he succumbed was the first real blow landed by Taylor.

Of course it could be that he was genuinely hurt. Body shots sometimes can be more damaging than blows to the face. But he certainly made a meal of it.

Intriguingly, there had been murmurs on social media about a betting coup in Asia on a Khongsong defeat, even though British bookmakers had made Taylor a clear favourite. What is puzzling is that the Thai did not go to hospital and there has been no medical bulletin, although I understand no ribs were cracked or broken.

No-one should ever say any boxer is lacking in courage. You have to be brave to get in the ring anyway. But once there, sometimes the knees do start knocking.

It was so when British heavyweight Brian London faced Muhammad Ali at Earl's Court. London slumped to the floor after a flurry of blows which barely touched him and admitted later he had no desire to get up to endure the inevitable slaughter.

Similarly Sonny Liston, who went down from the so-called "phantom punch" in his second fight with Ali.

Ali scared the life out of him by standing over him and screaming: "Get up you bum, get up you bum and fight!" 

The photo of that moment adorns my study wall.

I remember as a kid reading the succinctly brilliant headline in the Sunday Mirror back in 1948 when American heavyweight Lee Oma blatantly took a dive rather than a beating from British champion Bruce Woodcock. It read: "Oma, coma, aroma."

Sonny Liston famously went down after a
Sonny Liston famously went down after a "phatom punch" from Muhammad Ali ©Getty Images

Not that I am suggesting that the Thai similarly decided discretion was the better part of valour when he found himself up against one of the finest fighters and hardest hitters in the world.

Taylor is already seen in his homeland as one of their all-time favourites and one of the most accomplished fighting sons.

Now here's another funny thing: Scotland has produced many British and even world champions but nearly all are below the 135 pound super-lightweight limit.

A veritable galaxy of greatness over the years has ranged 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, do you 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 1960s, but he was 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 was not a bad welterweight just after the war but was once banned for clumping a referee.

Ironically, he later became a Board of Control official.

Gary Cornish was the last Scot to attempt to win the British Heavyweight Championship  ©Getty Images
Gary Cornish was the last Scot to attempt to win the British Heavyweight Championship ©Getty Images

Now here's yet 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 a couple – Danny McAlinden and Gordon Ferris.

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. 

And, even though the doors may still be locked, when home viewing fans can be treated to such drama in a world title fight it shows that boxing itself is punching its weight against the pandemic.