Despite the lingering effects of a global pandemic, it is hard to argue 2021 has been a bad year for boxing. May could yet be the best month of the lot. What began with Sunny Edwards’ flawless wrestling of the flyweight crown, reached its supposed peak with Canelo’s eventual dismantling of a red-hot Billy Joe Saunders, now has its compelling crescendo.
Josh Taylor, the Tartan Tornado, Scotland’s WBA and IBF Super Lightweight champion of the world takes on Jose Carlos Ramirez for the WBC and WBO belts. And for the opportunity to become Scotland’s first undisputed World Champion in half a century. In doing so he faces his fifth unbeaten opponent in a row, a sequence of fights that has included Regis Prograis, Viktor Postol and Ivan Baranchyk.
That trio rank 1, 5 and 10 respectively in Boxrec’s current super lightweight rankings and Ramirez number 2, though it is hard to argue against Saturday’s headliners being the divisions top two.Embed from Getty Images
Ramirez comes into the contest his own resume glistening. First winning the vacant WBC crown in 2018 he has gone on to outwork Jose Zepeda, be the first man to defeat Maurice Hooker and most recently edge Viktor Postol.
In each of these contests his opponents have enjoyed success, sometimes punishing before being outworked and ultimately made to pay. Ramirez is a Hispanic fighter in the classic mould, his work rate one of the best in the business and his chin so far impermeable to hardened fists and eight-ounce gloves. Against Hooker he took two successive left hooks to the chin at the end of the fifth. Each should have troubled him, neither did. One round later the referee had waved off the contest, Hooker dazed by a flurry of punches that the commentators didn’t see coming.
Taylor has been in dog fights before. You only need look back to his unification bout against Regis Prograis. You have the sense that though we could get the same fireworks this will be a different proposition. Early on in that fight Taylor asserted his physicality, trying to dominate the centre of the ring and outmuscling the American. Against Ramirez such a tactic may struggle. Not only is Ramirez a bigger man but he has already said he won’t allow Taylor the time others have and will be the one applying the pressure.
The Scotsman says to an extent that has given away the game plan and backs his ability to box on the counter. Ramirez will come, Ramirez will miss and Taylor will make him pay. It is a tactic all who have studied Ramirez will have deduced. It is also one none so far have been able to execute, his workrate and power being matched by an unheralded skillset that has always found a way.
It is a contest that could have occurred nine years ago, both fighters hotly tipped and on course to meet each other in the semi finals of London’s Olympic Games. Both fell far short, being defeated in the last 16 and from there their careers went separate ways.
Jose Carlos Ramirez would turn pro that winter, barely twenty years old, making his debut in the MGM Grand and taking on credible opponents right from the off. No easy touches the Olympic disappointment put an urgency into Ramirez’s early years in the paid ranks and it was demonstrated with eight stoppages in his first ten fights.
Taylor meanwhile would stay an amateur, and though eighteen months older would still enjoy success at a young age. After exiting the World Champs of 2013 in the second round to the eventual champion Merey Akshalov he was the poster boy for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and duly delivered, bettering his 2010 silver at the tender age of twenty-three.
Like Ramirez, Taylor himself grew impatient. A hand injury receiving surgery, bone from his hip was grafted to two joints cut out and a series of staples. One year had passed by and in 2015 Taylor himself turned pro.
With the Scotsman’s win in his tenth professional contest, overcoming Ohara Davies in a fight many saw as a 50/50 before the bell, the paths of Ramirez and Taylor began to converge. As Taylor knocked out Miguel Vasquez, Ramirez did likewise with the unbeaten Mike Reed, earning himself a shot at the vacant WBC belt.
While Ramirez became a World Champion, Taylor disposed of one, outclassing Viktor Postol in a performance which carries even greater weight with Ramirez’s own later struggles.Embed from Getty Images
Ramirez’s decision to not take part in the World Boxing Super Series drew critics at the time, though by beating Hooker and seizing the WBO crown he answered them as soon as those shots were fired. Taylor’s own dismissal of Ryan Martin, unpicking of Baranchyk for the IBF title and outhustling of Prograis to unify has put to bed any critics he himself may have had.
What it has done more than that, however, is cement an irresistible clash, one only inevitable due to its two champions inability to back down.
Two fighters, tested but undefeated, the uncontested best in their weight class adamant that by heading to Las Vegas on Saturday night they grant themselves the right to say once and for all, they are the world’s best. Next in line for the victor surely a clash with Terence Crawford, the Super Lightweight’s last undisputed king and an opportunity to label themselves one of the best in the history of the sport.
Featured image by ESPN/Top Rank.