In the vivid dreams of boxing boys, they walk down the Las Vegas strip and see their name in lights for a fight that coming Saturday.
Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez, two wonderful fighters from the same side of the tracks, both had that dream when they were boys and they have both gazed up at their giant faces and grinned in the last few days.
On Saturday night at the Virgin property in Las Vegas, Josh Taylor defends his WBA and IBF light-welterweight belts, and Jose Carlos Ramirez defends his WBC and WBO versions in an extremely rare meeting for all four of the recognised modern belts. There will be 3,000 fans, lucky witnesses to a fight that deserves a grander stage than an obscure hotel ballroom off the Strip.
Taylor is unbeaten in 17 fights, Ramirez in 26 fights; they can both talk, they are ring artisans and still the fight has slipped behind the coverage of carnival fisticuffs, circus negotiations and endless threats of old men dusting off their jockstraps for one final scrap. It is a disgrace in a city where shame is often as transparent as talent.
Taylor was an Olympian in London, a Commonwealth Games champion two years later in Glasgow and was fast-tracked and matched extremely hard from the very start of his career; it was an apprenticeship that never even existed in the “good-old-days.” Taylor is on a great sequence of three world title fights, including two wins against unbeaten champions. There are no fighters in British history - even in crazed epochs where memories are blurred by time and desire - with a record to match Taylor’s after just 17 fights.
In 2019, Taylor beat Regis Prograis in front of 20,000 at the O2 and he was meant to lose; Prograis was going to be the next American star, that was the script, that was the pandered narrative and that was ruined on a night of extremes. Taylor was brilliant in the fight, Prograis lost without complaint on the night, but has since moaned. It was a privilege to be ringside. Most of the finest British boxers in the last sixty years lose to men like Prograis, lose to unbeaten and fancied Americans. That is just the reality of our business and on that night, Taylor rejected history. Yes, it’s a bold claim, but he is that good.
Ramirez was working in the vegetable fields in the fertile but troubled Central Valley of California at 14, fighting for the same parched fields to get water by the time he was 21, won his first world title in 2018 and he remains an idol in his hometown. He was very active last year during the pandemic, paying for 1,000 care packages and 10,000 masks. “The pride falls on all of us,” he said, a declaration of solidarity with the workers he left behind when his fists started paying dollars.
He has been in good world title fights since 2018. However, he was not great in his last fight when he struggled with distance and the skills of Victor Postol, a clever former world champion. Ramirez got the vote last August, with one judging scoring it a draw; in 2018 Taylor dropped and cut and gave Postol a boxing lesson in Glasgow in a virtual shut-out. It is true that studying form lines in boxing can be misleading, but the Postol fights are close enough together to lend veracity to the wobbly science.
Taylor will have been in Las Vegas for one month when the first bell sounds, part of a British invasion having shared the gym in recent weeks with both Tyson Fury and Billy Joe Saunders. Taylor also went on the road for extended stays when he was part of the same gym as Carl Frampton. He fought on Frampton bills in New York, Texas and Las Vegas. It was perfect preparation for the isolated life he is living now, a private boxer’s life in a large house on the edge of the twinkling city. The seclusion, luxury and loneliness can hurt a fighter, unsettle a boxer’s happy routines. Boxers are often creatures of habit, the best dislike change, the very best like order in the weeks, days, hours and minutes before the first bell. The days with Frampton helped him.
Taylor finished his final sparring session last Wednesday; his body is ready and his mind is right for the fight of his life. Ramirez is an accomplished pressure fighter, fearless and relentless and not as easy to read as he looks. Taylor is a very smart operator and he knows just how difficult his Las Vegas mission is. They both do, to be fair.
It’s a fight of decency, honesty and totally lacking in the false glamour that covers the cracks on so many bad fights, just like a dirty skirt on a skinny poodle. Please, enjoy this one – it matters.