By: Hector Franco
Tomorrow night in Las Vegas, the two best fighters in the junior welterweight division will attempt to do something special.
Unified WBC and WBO champion Jose Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) will face off against IBF and WBA champion Josh Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs) to determine the undisputed champion in the division.
Less than four years ago, Crawford became the first undisputed junior welterweight champion in the four-belt era when he knocked out Namibia’s Julius Indongo in the third round with a body shot in July 2017.
Unfortunately, even the term undisputed in the sport of boxing can be disputed.
This week, current WBA super featherweight and lightweight champion Gervonta Davis held a press conference to formally announce his move up to junior welterweight to take on Mario Barrios. That fight will be for a version of the WBA junior welterweight title.
The WBA’s insistent on having interim, regular and super champions in each division has caused the world title scene in boxing to become exponentially convoluted.
In 1983 when the International Boxing Federation (IBF) was first established, the man known as arguably the greatest junior welterweight in history, Aaron Pryor, became the inaugural IBF champion for the division in the summer of 1984.
A few years later, the WBO was established in 1988; however, that title took years to be taken more seriously. Fighters like Oscar De La Hoya and Marco Antonio Barrera gave the WBO title prestige and eventually joined the WBC, WBA, and IBF as one of the four major titles in the sport.
Whether a belt counts or doesn’t, is often held in the context of the era.
Jamaica’s O’Neil Bell is an often forgotten undisputed champion. In 2006, he stopped Jean-Marc Mormeck in 10 rounds to win the WBA, IBF, and WBA cruiserweight titles. He was the division’s first undisputed champion since Evander Holyfield ran the division in the 1980s.
Five years earlier, Kostya Tszyu took out Zab Judah in the second round to become the undisputed junior welterweight champion. On both occasions, the WBO title wasn’t needed to determine undisputed status.
The fighters themselves can’t do much about the number of titles in the sport. All they can do is step in the ring and perform.
Luckily over the last few years, boxing has seen more fights that had all four major titles on the line in men’s and women’s boxing with Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields, and the upcoming junior middleweight clash between Jermell Charlo and Brian Castano.
The sports most significant current superstar Saul Alvarez may fight for the undisputed super middleweight championship should he meet Caleb Plant this upcoming fall.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the world title scene in this era, the winner between Ramirez and Taylor will have set a legacy for themselves at junior welterweight. They will join fighters like Antonio Cervantes, Julio Cesar Chavez, Aaron Pryor, and Kostya Tszyu as the best the division has produced in its history.
The bout also has nationalistic implications as Ramirez would become Mexico’s first undisputed champion with a victory, and Taylor would become the first from Scotland.
The current betting odds as of this writing have Taylor as a -264 favorite and Ramirez as a +200 underdog.
Both men have a similar resume with Ramirez being the better-known amateur winning the gold medal at the 2010, 2011, and 2012 United States amateur championships.
As a professional, Ramirez holds wins over Maurice Hooker, Viktor Postol, Jose Zepeda, Antonio Orozco, and Amir Imam. Against Taylor, his experience won’t allow him to be intimidated.
“I’ve never been a fan of opinions of who is the best fighter out there,” Ramirez stated at the final press conference. “Sometimes people don’t understand that, especially at this level, each fight is going to be tough. I always train like I’m the underdog.
“I always train like each fight is the biggest fight of my career. I can’t afford to lose. That’s always been my mentality. I always find a way to win.”
For Taylor, his resume backs up any bravado that he exudes. He was also a successful amateur with over 150 fights winning the gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth games.
Most notably, as a professional, Taylor won the World Boxing Super Series tournament in 2019, defeating the likes of Ryan Martin, Ivan Baranchyk, and Regis Prograis in the finals.
Taylor’s ability to switch between orthodox and southpaw, utilizing his footwork while maintaining a high work rate, makes him one of the toughest matchups in the sport.
“This fight means the world to me,” said Taylor at the final press conference. “Puts my name in the history books as one of the best Scottish fighters in history. I have trained so hard for this fight. I dedicated my whole life to the sport.
“I’m so confident. This is a pure boxing fight. I’m confident I’m getting the KO on Saturday.”
The world title landscape in boxing is confusing, but this Saturday night, none of that matters. Two men who have proven to be the best in their division, undefeated and in their prime, will face off for legacy.
Boxing at its best is the greatest show on earth. Ramirez-Taylor has the potential to be boxing at the highest level, and none of the world title organizations can change that.
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