He doesn’t need any of them. “The Tartan Tornado” picked up every meaningful junior welterweight title, and so he no longer has use for them. They bring financial value, of course, and carry a price. The ability to adorn oneself with such gaudy trinkets has real significance—what champion boxer does not identify as such? Josh Taylor’s goal was to prove himself the best junior welterweight in the world, and he has succeeded. Were his hardware splintered and scattered throughout the division, no fighter could accumulate sufficient pieces to challenge Taylor’s claim. He won it the right way, too: taking three titles from the two sternest challenges in his weight class. The division is likely his until he leaves.
Taylor became the undisputed junior welterweight champion Saturday, winning a unanimous decision over Jose Ramirez at the Virgin Hotels at Las Vegas. The scores were unanimous, reflecting in those three 114-112 tallies a close fight with only one winner. What separated Taylor from Ramirez on the cards was a pair of knockdowns. What separates Taylor from Ramirez as fighters explains how he scored them.
Roughly ten kilometers from the Brazilian city of Manaus is the Encontro das Águas, the “Meeting of the Waters.” A confluence of the clear, dark Rio Negro and the sedimentary Rio Solimões, this nearly four-mile stretch of fresh water where the two rivers exist in fluid conflict. Their composition and characteristics prevent either river from being invaded by the other.
Quick and dirty, Taylor is the Rio Solimões. It was quickness that Taylor used to first take control of the fight. Following his corner’s instructions to take a quarter-step back and use Ramirez’s aggression against him, Taylor dropped Ramirez with a perfect counter left in the sixth round. To that point, Taylor seemed willing to spare Ramirez the trip, meeting the volume fighter wherever Ramirez wanted to engage. Perhaps that concession was tactical, meant to show Ramirez that Taylor could outfight him. Perhaps Taylor’s disposition explained it—there is no one, thinks Taylor, he cannot outfight. And why wouldn’t he feel this way?
But this machismo gave Ramirez the fight he wanted, and if Ramirez wasn’t winning it, he at least welcomed the terms of engagement. But then Taylor changed the fight with that counter left hand, one Ramirez never seemed to fully recover from and never forgot, spilling him as it did from what was supposed to be a safe distance. Quickness also allowed Taylor to take rounds off when he needed to, allowed him to turn a fight into a boxing match when it suited him.
The knockdown Taylor scored in the seventh, though, the one that took much of the fight from Ramirez, Taylor owed not to speed but to his dirty opportunism. A boxing match is a fight with rules, and Taylor consciously probes the referee’s threshold for enforcing those rules. He fights as though he knows that whatever penalty he is to suffer for his fouling will likely be preceded by a half-dozen warnings and that before those warnings are exhausted Taylor’s rough work will have served its purpose. Even when Taylor conforms to the rules he fights with a nastiness that seems to threaten fouls. Taylor wants to hurt opponents in the best way: to savor the sight of them hurt, and their awareness that he, Taylor, hurt them. If something other than his fist is responsible for that pain, his satisfaction is hardly diminished.
Taylor didn’t foul Ramirez to drop him in the seventh, but not for lack of effort. When referee Kenny Bayless appeared ready to separate the fighters, Ramirez relaxed. Taylor responded by trying to shoulder Ramirez’s head into position for an uppercut. The shoulder missed (as did the elbow Taylor employed trying to finish Ramirez), the uppercut did not. Ramirez got off the canvas but left his knack for violence on it.
Ramirez is the Rio Negro: clearer, colored by the environment it travels through. He is a Robert Garcia fighter, and he fights like one. Until the left hand that tucked his chin into his left shoulder, Ramirez was finding Taylor consistently enough to believe that success would compound over time. But when Talyor changed strategies, and no simple amplifying of his efforts was going to alter the fight, Ramirez was solved. That he fought with some success after the knockdowns is a testament to Ramirez’s determination. How much consolation he might get from that likely depends on how determined Ramirez believes he is. But while that determination might have helped Ramirez secure half the rounds, it was Taylor’s versatility that carried the fight.
At times, that versatility betrayed Taylor’s limitations. He spoke forcefully about stopping Ramirez and yet abandoned that pursuit after dropping Ramirez in consecutive rounds. Odd that he would choose, then, to outbox Ramirez—even giving away the eighth round—and in a manner that deadened the action. What satisfaction could Taylor find in that? If he was marshaling his energy for an incendiary finish that finish never came. Even if Ramirez proved too good to put away, what happened to the snarling mocking Taylor of the middle rounds?
Taylor will reveal the answer if gets the fight he wants: one with the previous undisputed junior welterweight champion, Terence Crawford. In some ways, Crawford is a better version of Taylor: long, versatile, nasty, a southpaw (though only when he chooses). Indeed the footwork and timing that Taylor used to drop Ramirez in the sixth are both things Crawford has mastered. But Taylor has made himself into a worthy opponent for Crawford, something the rudderless welterweight hasn’t shared the ring with in some time. A second confluence looms.