Obscure fighter of the week: Paul Taylor

UFC 126: Taylor vs Ruediger
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Paul Taylor was the UK’s version of Chris Lytle. His career was shortlived, but the memories of his fights are not.

Everyone and their Affliction shirt remembers Gabriel Gonzaga knocking out Mirko Filipovic in one of the sport’s all time upsets. But the card was more than just the viscera of seeing Mirko eat his own medicine, and waking up with his ankle tucked away in his upper back. It also had a fun undercard with names that included Terry Etim (a hot prospect at the time), Matt Grice, Junior Assuncao, Alessio Sakara, and Dennis Siver. And welterweight prospect, Paul Taylor.

2007 was the year Dana White moved aggressively towards expansion. UFC 70 took place just a month after Dana swallowed Pride. Now the UFC was looking to conquer Europe. With Michael Bisping looking like a decent prospect, the Zuffa plan was coming together to get the most out of talent in otherwise unmined areas.

Taylor himself had a solid rep coming into the UFC. He had wins over decent then-prospects like Jess Liaudin and Zelg Galesic, only one loss — to long time veteran Yuki Sasaki, and a WTF Moment: originally submitted by Che Mills in 2006, the loss would be overturned because Taylor was distracted by an air horn from a spectator (interesting how Mills couldn’t make the same case; funny that).

On paper, Taylor was just another action fighter. You know the type. We’ve talked about them before: the fighters who are good enough to put on a show, but not good enough to be the show. Taylor, after all, wasn’t anything special per se. To put things into perspective, he would later get submitted by Marcus Davis (although he also nearly had Davis out in an absolute barnburner). He ended his UFC run with a 4-5 record. So why write about him? Simple. I mean just look at this.

Taylor’s fight against Paul Kelly at UFC 80 was one for the books. A lot of these Backyard Brawl fights tend to have lulls. Not this one. Unfortunately Taylor would run into another problem after losing to Kelly: at welterweight, he was undersized. Fighting advantages don’t come down to having size versus not having size, so Taylor’s eventual move down to lightweight would prove mixed. In addition to not being a big welterweight, he didn’t have any big skills beyond whipping combinations inside the pocket.

What I consider special about Taylor is less about who he was, and more about what he represented. For example, let’s all hold hands, and close our eyes. Let’s forget about Dana’s rants, or the way he has treated a once-in-a-generation pandemic like a common housefly. Remember when it felt like the UFC really would go global? Remember when it felt like the UFC was setting the stage for something big? When the UFC might have its own Ricky Hatton, or Lennox Lewis? Because that’s what made Taylor so much fun. Getting to see fighters like Taylor play the role otherwise left for Chris Lytle, Robbie Lawler, and Phil Baroni — made the division feel fresh, as well as the UFC itself: like all the ingredients were finally coming together for the ultimate fight souffle.

Technically, we got those things. Middleweight went from the musical chairs of U.S. versus Brazil to seeing the U.K., Nigeria, Canada, and Australia all represent gold over the last four years. Welterweight was once home to the communist conspiracies of Pat Militech, until it became the throne of a French-speaking Quebecer. And that’s cool. But it’s also hard to appreciate. Not only did the UFC end up sacrificing quality for quantity, but Dana and company abandoned decency and ethics (well, moreso than usual).

We’re off topic of course. My apologies. For some reason I find myself thinking about the UFC’s problems when I think about Taylor. Not for any specific reason. Taylor’s end was ultimately incidental more than anything. Not only did he have to cancel multiple fights due to injury, but his injuries weren’t even all self-induced. His booked fight for UFC 138 was cancelled after he got rear-ended, and experienced whiplash. He retired pretty soon after.

I guess that’s the thing. Paul Taylor was a fun fighter to watch. How could you not love him? But I can’t help but wonder what might have been: what might have been if Taylor didn’t suffer an ill-timed string of injuries. Or what might have been if the UFC truly wanted more than just British Chris Lytle, but British Demetrious Johnson? Maybe that’s not on the UFC. I’m not convinced it isn’t. It’s hard to grow a garden when you’re only invested in one beet.

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