The signature moment of Saturday's undisputed junior welterweight clash between Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor occurred in the seventh round. During a clinch, Ramirez turned his head away from Taylor and signaled toward referee Kenny Bayless to step in and separate them. With Ramirez looking away, Taylor maneuvered his body, pushing Ramirez off him. Taylor then unfurled a hellacious left uppercut that sent Ramirez to the canvas. Ramirez beat the count, but he was badly hurt. Although Taylor had already knocked Ramirez down in the sixth from a short counter left hand, it was the knockdown in the seventh that significantly changed the tenor of the fight.
That seventh-round knockdown stopped whatever momentum Ramirez had earlier in the match. Even after getting dropped in the sixth, Ramirez pressed forward and had good moments toward the end of the round. But after the second knockdown, Ramirez needed to marshal all of his forces just to survive. It wasn't until later in the ninth round when Ramirez was finally able to go on the offensive again.
Consider the ramifications of that second knockdown: The seventh round was a clear 10-8 round for Taylor. Ramirez didn't attempt much offense in the eighth; that was an easy 10-9 round for Taylor. Those three points made the difference on the judges' 114-112 scorecards for Taylor.
|Taylor (center) celebrating his knockdown|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank
Now it's not just as simple as that. Taylor certainly coasted during the final third of the fight, believing that his victory was already secure. It's possible that if Taylor and his team thought that the fight was closer, he would have worked harder during the last three rounds.
If we're being honest, how Taylor finished the fight was problematic. It speaks to the lack of experience in his corner and perhaps some overconfidence. I'm sure that the 114-112 scores reflected a fight that was closer than his team believed (I had it for Taylor 115-111), but we've all seen atrocious scorecards in Vegas over the years. Why would Team Taylor assume that the fight was done and dusted by the tenth round? That's too early in a competitive fight to be taking a victory lap. I'm not downplaying the magnitude of Taylor's win or the quality of his performance in the first nine rounds, but overall, one has to be concerned with his team's naivete and/or arrogance.
Josh Taylor has cleaned out a talented group of fighters at 140, with wins over Postol, Baranchyk, Prograis and now Ramirez. He clearly is among the best fighters in the sport. And yet I can't help thinking that he has another level to ascend to if he properly applies himself. What's been missing in his victories has been dominance. Some of that can be attributed to the level of his opposition. But, if you watch his fights closely, Taylor himself deserves some blame for this lack of separation from his opponents.
Not stopping a capable champion like Ramirez isn't a crime, but Taylor certainly could have done more in the fight's final third to leave no questions unanswered. Taylor's fight against Prograis followed a similar pattern, where Prograis, although outgunned in the trenches, found success late in the fight from the outside. Credit to Prograis for winning those late rounds, but Taylor didn't close like he could have. It wasn't enough for Prograis to win the fight; however, those scorecards sure got tight by the end of it.
In Taylor's last three fights against notable opponents (Ramirez, Prograis and Baranchyk), the majority of the judges for each bout didn't have him winning more than seven rounds. That seems like a small margin of error to me. Fight enough of those type of bouts and you are bound to lose one of them. Again, I'm not claiming that his opponents have been incapable; they certainly were fine boxers, but in each of these bouts Taylor made decisions that directly made the fights closer than they needed to be.
|Taylor and Ramirez working at close range|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank
Let's end with some positives. Taylor's comprehensive skillset was enough to beat Ramirez and referee Kenny Bayless, who seemed determined not to let Taylor get any work done at close range. With clever boxing moves, Taylor created both knockdowns. His quick counter in the sixth was an excellent example of turning defense into offense. His ability to work in the clinch before Bayless could intrude ultimately led to his victory. Taylor was faster, he had more punch variety, his legs looked excellent and he had more ways of winning the fight.
Ramirez also had some solid passages in the fight. His body shots clearly bothered Taylor. And Ramirez landed enough clean power shots, whether rights to the body or head, or left hooks to the body, where Taylor never seemed fully comfortable in the fight. Even during Ramirez's worst moments in the fight, in the seventh and eighth rounds, Taylor didn't press for the knockout; Ramirez's power punching was enough to keep Taylor honest.
Taylor deserves all the praise for his victory. Becoming an undisputed champion is a rarity in boxing, and a wonderful achievement. I've been a fan of his in the ring for many years. I picked him before the tournament started to win the World Boxing Super Series and I thought he would have a little too much for Ramirez.
And as exciting and special as Taylor has been, once he stops making unforced errors, there is a possibility that he could arrive at an even higher level, one in which opponents are intimidated before they enter the ring, where they can't see clear paths to victory. For now, Taylor is elite, but he leaves enough food on the table to give opponents hope. At this point, if a guy can stick around, he will have an opportunity.
Let's hope that Taylor and his team realize that their work isn't done yet. Taylor has the skillset to become a generational-type fighter, but if we are being honest there's a self-sabotaging streak of his that needs to be eradicated.
Boxing is hard enough as it is without providing extra opportunities or motivation for opponents. When Taylor finally gets to that next level, you will see more corner stoppages, mentally defeated fighters sitting on their stools, and foes uneager to get up after a knockdown. Taylor's not there yet. For now, his opponents all believe that they will eventually get their chance. Taylor's final test as a professional will be if he can remove hope.