The onset of the global pandemic early last year put life on hold. Sports may be a minor aspect of our lives, but we certainly missed them during their forced hiatus.
Boxing had a number of potential matchups on tap that fans had been clamoring for, not the least of which was the 140 pound unification bout between Josh Taylor (18-0, 13 KOs) and Jose Ramirez (26-1, 17 KOs).
On Saturday, May 22, 2021, we finally got that fight. A showdown between two undefeated champions in their primes. Each with two belts—each with a legitimate claim to 140 pound supremacy. A throwback fight in the middle of a year which promises to deliver a number of instant classics.
Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez entered their bout on ESPN with the entire boxing world tuning in. They delivered on their primetime expectations.
The first round began in a tense chess match. The southpaw vs. orthodox battle for position with the lead foot was on full display. Taylor, ever the speedy outside fighter, won the jabbing contest early. Ramirez flurried briefly to the body, but was met in kind by Taylor on the way out. Action closed with Taylor baiting Ramirez in with feints, which led to some telling left hands from Taylor, sealing the round. In the second, Taylor picked up where he left off, baiting Ramirez into left had counters. Ramirez’s attempted volume to the body was being effectively negated by Taylor’s footwork.
Ramirez initiated action in the third stanza by forcing his way to the inside, opening up to the body. Taylor was forced to the ropes, but rebounded well, landing his own crisp straight left. They fought back and forth in resounding 10-second bursts, with Ramirez closing strong by bulling Taylor to the ropes.
The fourth started lowly, with Taylor attempting to deaden the pace from the outside with feints. Ramirez’s body work looked to be showing up in a big way. The Scottish fighter was far less mobile than he had been in the first few rounds and got buzzed badly towards the end of the round. The right hand from Ramirez froze him for a second before Taylor finished strong. In boxing, however, one fighter being visibly hurt during a round carries all of the scoring weight.
38-38 on my card after four rounds.
Ramirez began the fifth round stalking his man. He wanted to double down on the advantage gained in the previous round. Fighting off his back foot, Taylor went shot for shot with Ramirez. The battle of straight shots appeared even, as long as Ramirez was the aggressor. Taylor clinched less when the fighting devolved to inside exchanges, which ultimately lost him the round.
The sixth round began with a brilliant left hand pull-counter from Taylor to Ramirez’ chin, sending him to the canvas. Ramirez, whose legs looked gone as he sunk to the canvas, resumed and responded well. Taylor came forward and pressed his hurt opponent, but received as good as he gave. The Scot backed off a bit in the final minute to seal the two-point round behind the jab.
The seventh started with Taylor fighting at his pace, flicking jabs and lefts to the body and head, before stepping around Ramirez. His opponent showed his remaining strength with hard body shot flurries, but Taylor took them well. In the closing 30 seconds, the two got into a clinch. They wrestled a bit on the inside, with referee Kenny Bayless telling them to fight out of it. Ramirez left himself exposed for a split second, which allowed Taylor to land a perfect left uppercut to drop his man again. The fighting resumed with a few seconds to go, but the bell still saved Ramirez from being stopped. The eighth revealed a still-hurt Ramirez, who was powerless to stop Taylor’s pursuit.
77-73, Josh Taylor.
Ramirez came out knowing he had to make a statement. He pressed and flurried, but with a markedly lower intensity and speed. Taylor took it well and gave back when he had to, but ultimately got back to the outside. He won the remainder of the round with crisp uppercuts and right hooks as Ramirez made his way in. The 10th was a similar see-saw battle. Taylor began on the attack, then quickly yielded to Ramirez’ renewed aggression in the middle minute. Taylor seemed to catch a second wind after absorbing the flurry, and looked poised to press for a stoppage. He finished with a hard left counter after Ramirez had landed two crushing shots of his own.
Taylor took a little of the first minute off in the 11th, as Ramirez pursued. That he was still dangerous in the final rounds after absorbing such definitive knockdowns was telling of his championship level heart. Taylor still showed a willingness to exchange so late, and with a lead. Unfortunately for the Scot, it led to Ramirez buzzing him a little with a hard counter to take the round.
The final frame began with the feeling that it was a close fight. No matter what the scorecards may have read, the two men in the ring knew they had unfinished business. Ramirez opened up, while Taylor picked his spots to openly exchange. The Mexican-American was trying to crack a chin that had never failed his opponent before. He was fighting like he suspected he needed a stoppage to win. Taylor’s feints did little to negate the aggression down the stretch, as Ramirez closed the fight with winging shots against the ropes. None landed, but Taylor had lost the round.
He had not, however, lost the fight. My own card read 115-111 in favor of Taylor. The three judges scored it slightly closer at 114-112 (x3). All in all, it was a fitting fight to crown the sixth undisputed champion in the four-belt era.
Jose Ramirez should be proud of the effort he gave. By the official scorecards, only the knockdowns or a single round separated him from a draw.
Josh Taylor is free to pursue whichever challenge he pleases. It could be a move up to welterweight to take on former 140-pound undisputed champ, Terence Crawford. Or, he could opt for a lengthy stay at the current weight to stamp his legacy on the division in the mold of an Aaron Pryor or Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
Time will tell. For now, let’s enjoy the fact that we got to watch a modern classic. High-level, high-intensity fights with an element of real boxing skill on each side do not come along often.