Unified junior welterweight champions Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor meet on Saturday in a rare opportunity to crown an undisputed champion. The fight will take place at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas. Scotland's Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs) impressed during his winning run in the 140-lb. World Boxing Super Series Tournament where he beat notable fighters such as Regis Prograis and Ivan Baranchyk. Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) didn't enter that tournament, but he was able to unify titles with an emphatic knockout victory over Maurice Hooker. For Ramirez, a U.S. Olympian, the Hooker win was his most comprehensive performance on the world-level.
Going into this matchup, I have significant questions and concerns regarding both fighters. This bout will be Taylor's second fight with trainer Ben Davison after leaving Shane McGuigan. Taylor and Davison did have a fight together last year, but that was just a one-round walkover against an overmatched opponent. Davison is relatively new to the world boxing scene. He was instrumental in getting Tyson Fury into shape for his first fight with Deontay Wilder. Davison and Fury executed a stellar game plan of boxing on the outside and movement for that fight. Despite receiving an official draw on the scorecards, Fury should have been the rightful victor according to most observers.
|Image courtesy of Top Rank|
Davison and Fury parted ways after Tyson's harder-than-anticipated fight against Otto Wallin. Recently, Davison assisted Mark Tibbs in Billy Joe Saunders' corner against Saul Alvarez, and he will be helping prepare Devin Haney for his upcoming fight against Jorge Linares.
It's fair to say that Taylor, who is just one boxer, may have more meaningful rounds and tougher fights in his entire career than Davison, his cornerman, has. Whereas McGuigan has established himself as a trainer with creative game plans and one who issues incisive advice in the corner, Davison has yet to reach that level. It's possible that he may turn out to be a great trainer, but there are still unknowns as it relates to him, especially as a cornerman. McGuigan helped guide Taylor through tough fights against Postol, Baranchyk and Prograis; can Davison do the same?
Coming into Saturday's fight, Taylor has had one professional round of boxing in 17 months. That's a real concern. Not only is he essentially working with a new corner, but ring rust could be a factor. Taylor is a fighter who relies on timing and sharpness in the ring. If it takes him a few rounds to find his form, that could be a strong opportunity for Ramirez to pick up points.
Taylor has gone 12 rounds on three occasions: Postol, Baranchyk and Prograis. Despite winning all of his fights, and winning them without controversy, he has yet to put together a comprehensive 12-round performance in my opinion. Meaning, I think that there have been lulls in his energy level. He takes small breaks where his punch volume and focus can drop. He can let opponents come back into fights.
Another concern for Taylor is his ring demeanor. He can get a little too greedy in the pocket. There is a macho streak in him and he often slugs it out more than he needs to. He is an excellent boxer on the inside, but he takes some unnecessary shots sometimes. For this fight, staying in the pocket too long will play into Ramirez's hands, who does much better when an opponent is right in front of him. Taylor can box and bang, and against Ramirez, the more he boxes, the better off he will be.
I was asked on a recent British podcast why Jose Ramirez isn't more popular in America. I answered that boxing fans have seen his fights, and they haven't always been impressed with his performances. In two of his three biggest fights he looked far from convincing. Ramirez won majority decisions over Zepeda and Postol and I won't say that he deserved to lose either, but he certainly could have dropped both with different judges. It's not just that those two fights were close, but there were large stretches in each where he looked ordinary.
It's clear that Ramirez struggles with movement. And while he can box, his power is far less of a factor when he can't set his feet. Perhaps more concerning is that when things haven't gone smoothly for Ramirez in the ring, he can look befuddled; he doesn't switch to a Plan B instinctively.
Ramirez does have Robert Garcia in the corner, one of the truly best trainers in the sport. Garcia can make great adjustments during fights, but in the ring, during those three minutes of a round, Ramirez isn't one to experiment or improvise. Ramirez may lack Taylor's intuitiveness when it comes to righting the ship.
Prediction: I believe that if both are at their best, Taylor is the better fighter, with more comprehensive skills. He has weapons at every range. He also makes better adjustments during fights.
However, boxing is not fought in a vacuum. There are travel and time zone considerations in which to factor. Who knows if a fighter is injured or how good a camp was? How will a new trainer respond in a corner? Will there be ring rust? Is a fighter outgrowing the weight class? A number of these considerations could be in play for Ramirez-Taylor.
Let's also not forget that this fight will be contested in America. The three judges for Ramirez-Taylor (Tim Cheatham, Steve Weisfeld and Dave Moretti) were the same three who didn't believe that Postol beat Ramirez. I'm not saying that their scores were outrageous in that fight, but in a close matchup, Cheatham and Weisfeld had Ramirez edging it.
The pick for me, by the thinnest of margins, is Taylor – something like 115-113 on my card, with a possibility that we could see a split or a majority decision victory in his favor. Taylor has a number of small edges in the fight, but he will have to apply them throughout the entire 12 rounds. It's going to be vital for him to keep his punch volume up, without forcing too fast of a pace. He will need to be strategic when he decides to go inside. When he does march forward, he has to keep exchanges short and not linger in the pocket. If he fights to his strengths, he has a very good shot of winning.
A Ramirez victory would not surprise me. He will have good moments and win a number of rounds. He throws a sneaky right uppercut in close quarters that is damaging. His right hand to the head and body can be a weapon. The crowd will most likely be on his side. His punches are easy to see and score well with judges. His work is clean.
Ultimately, I don't think that we will see a definitive winner on Saturday. I'm picking Taylor to have his hands raised after 12 rounds in a fight where nobody is too sure of who actually won. Both will have moments. Both will do good work. Perhaps Taylor will do a just a little bit more.