“NOBODY gives a f**k about the little guys anymore.” That’s the view of heavyweight pay-per-view B-side Derek Chisora, someone who two years ago ridiculed the idea of a super-lightweight unification fight between Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis being placed higher on a bill than his own non-title heavyweight fight against David Price. That decision, the correct one, led to Chisora sulking at a press conference, demanding either headline status or more money, and then going on to explain: “I’m not going to sell out the O2 [Arena] for those guys to be the main event. I’m not going to be chief support to these guys. These guys wouldn’t sell [Sky Sports] Box Office by themselves, so f**k that. You want to put these little guys that nobody knows about on my show and try to mug me off. Nobody gives a f**k about little guys anymore. They only give a f**k about the heavyweight game and the big guys in the top 10.”
The latest in a long line of Chisora outbursts, it was, for starters, typically Chisora; a stunt fuelled as much by sheer greed as any supposed moral indignation. It was also petulant and insulting to both Taylor and Prograis, both of whom were sitting alongside him at the top table.
Finally, it was, in its own special way, kind of prescient, for there can now be no doubt that heavyweights – specifically, known heavyweights – are again enjoying the kind of attention and wealth they used to enjoy; the kind of attention and wealth these days only pound-for-pound superstars and novices boasting big social media and YouTube numbers can expect to receive.
This month, in fact, we saw Chisora and Parker at last share a ring, following the postponement of that original date in 2019, and, lo and behold, it not only headlined a pay-per-view event but headlined arguably the poorest pay-per-view event Sky Sports have ever offered. The fight was then somehow even less interesting in reality than it had appeared on paper and was, quite poetically, trumped in every conceivable way by a thrilling chief-support contest between females Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas.
Josh Taylor, meanwhile, since defeating Prograis in what was maybe the best fight witnessed on British soil in 2019, has continued trying to build his name and reputation the old-fashioned way – which is to say, by testing himself against the cream of the super-lightweight division. Unlike Chisora, Taylor cannot rely on size, past defeats, or swear words to deliver him opportunities. Instead, he must take risks, genuine risks, and resign himself to the fact he will only receive a fraction of the attention given to men like Chisora and Parker, neither of whom possess a fraction of the Scotsman’s talent.
Perhaps, in the end, Chisora was right. Perhaps nobody cares anymore. Perhaps, according to the game’s new rules, there is more to bring to the table than merely a world title, an unbeaten record, and world-class skills.
Regardless, the high-achieving Taylor still appears to care and Jose Ramirez, his next opponent, also appears to care. They care less about being the centre of attention, thankfully, and more about winning all the world titles available in the super-lightweight division. Better yet, they care more about leaving a lasting legacy than maximising every second of a possible 15 minutes of fame.
With only legacies in mind, then, Taylor and Ramirez collide in Las Vegas this Saturday (May 22) in what is easily one of the standout matchups of 2021. Stylistically, it is a great matchup, with their respective attributes destined to create a perfect blend, and it is a great matchup, too, in terms of what is at stake, what it means, and the answers it will provide. It actually counts for something, this fight, unlike so many others of late, and deserves better coverage, particularly in the UK, where it can only be seen on the streaming site FITE.
To put it in context, while much has been made of several British boxers taking risks and daring to be great in recent times, it is Josh Taylor who is going the extra mile. He, after all, won’t be lucky enough to be gifted a Canelo Alvarez-type payday for taking a risk and daring to be great. Nor will he have the eyes of the world on him or any assurance that he can, if defeated, still use his increased profile to secure additional paydays down the road.
Instead, Taylor’s version of taking a risk and daring to be great will require him travelling to Las Vegas, meeting a fellow undefeated belt-holder in a 50/50 fight, and doing so knowing the fight will get nowhere near the attention or recognition it deserves. This, in turn, means that any potential victory probably won’t get the credit it should, either (which, when broken down to its root, is pretty much the definition of risk).
The threat, in this instance, is Jose Ramirez, an American of Mexican descent who, at 28, is in his absolute prime as a super-lightweight. Ramirez, since winning the WBC title against Amir Imam in March 2018, has completed four successful defences and also added to his collection the WBO belt, which he won when stopping Maurice Hooker inside six rounds in 2019.
The Hooker win was undoubtedly Ramirez’s breakout performance and was considered by most to be one of the better fights of that calendar year. Throughout it Ramirez demonstrated a pace and ferocity Hooker was unable to match and the manner of victory – stopping a man at the time never before beaten, let alone stopped – put the rest of the division on notice.
Now, as was the case when he fought Regis Prograis, Taylor elects to fight Ramirez when Ramirez, 26-0 (17), is firing on all cylinders and can match Taylor, the WBA and IBF champion, for both ability and ambition. Likewise, Ramirez, having recently outpointed Viktor Postol over 12 rounds, makes his step up against Taylor, his equal in terms of world titles held (two plays two) and defeats suffered (zero).
“He would be the first American-Mexican fighter to become an undisputed four-belt champion, so he’s going to have the bit between his teeth,” Taylor, 30, told BBC Scotland. “He brings a massive challenge. He’s a unified world champion and unbeaten like myself. He’s a strong, come-forward pressure fighter who tries to overwhelm his opponents and leaves it all in the ring.
“I’m going to give him the respect he deserves because he’s an outstanding fighter, but I just believe I do everything better than him. Every fight I’ve watched of his, he does the same things over and over; the same patterns, same movements.
“I feel really confident in this fight. I feel like I have not got anything to worry about. I don’t think he’s going to have anything that I haven’t seen before.”
Josh Taylor may not act the way promoters would like him to act but most who know what they’re watching can see he has a strong case for being the UK’s best pound-for-pound boxer at present. More than just eye-catching ability, which is something even untested fighters can tease, Taylor has shown an ambition and aggression, both in the ring and when selecting opponents, at odds with just about all of his current domestic counterparts.
As well as the Prograis fight, which was the final of the World Boxing Super Series tournament, Taylor has also stepped over potential banana skins in the form of Ivan Baranchyk, an undefeated Russian, Ryan Martin, an undefeated American, and Viktor Postol, the former WBC champion whom Taylor boxed in just his 13th fight. Not only that, Taylor burst onto the scene, initially, with a star-making turn against bitter domestic rival, and fellow unbeaten fighter, Ohara Davies in 2017, which was again, at the time, deemed a sizeable risk. That he easily beat Davies inside seven rounds should not gloss over the fact it was viewed as a competitive battle between prospects going in. Nor should the way Taylor then dealt with Miguel Vasquez, a former IBF lightweight champion, in his next fight detract from the size of that task, either. (Three years later Vasquez was extremely unlucky not to win a decision against another Brit, Lewis Ritson.)
In short, Taylor, 17-0 (13), isn’t just really good but is determined to find out exactly how good he is relative to the contenders and champions around him. That’s a trait rare to find in a fighter these days, especially when there is an undefeated record to protect, yet it is one Taylor possesses and manifests as a hunger he needs to satisfy.
He has this craving, for one, because he seems an inherently competitive character with no small amount of self-belief. But also, there is a real sense that Taylor knows he needs to be tested because Dereck Chisora was ultimately right: the little guys, through no fault of their own, are easy to ignore unless they are attempting to do something spectacular.
In other words, given the direction in which the sport is moving, fighters like Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez now need each other just to be noticed; meaning, without fights like this, the little guys are in danger of becoming niche attractions playing second fiddle to recycled heavyweights and social media personalities.
Moreover, such is the emphasis placed on striking it rich nowadays, these fights – fights like Taylor vs. Ramirez – are always on the cusp of going out of fashion. Indeed, not long ago it seemed that the new path for a fighter was as follows: win any old version of a world title, use this title as a bargaining chip, and jump headfirst into the biggest fight against the biggest name, no matter how ill-prepared for it you might be. (In this scenario, the fighter with the world title would then effectively sacrifice this title as a peace offering, aware they were well out of their depth, in order for them to earn a life-changing amount of money.)
With the likes of Taylor and Ramirez, however, there is a genuine feeling that they are going back to how things used to be done. They are desperate to win belts, plural, rather than just nab one wherever they can find it, and they are equally desperate to be crowned the number one, rather than content to be called yet another champion in a division full of them.
Best of all, when the time eventually comes for Taylor or Ramirez, or both, to appear in a so-called ‘mega fight’ against a name worthy of a life-changing payday, they will be more than ready for it. Their skills will have been honed the right way, in the right place, and at the right time, and they will carry the confidence of a fighter who knows they have encountered every possible style, and conquered every possible challenge, in their own weight class. There will be no smoke and mirrors where these two are concerned. There will be no predictions based on potential, nor any ifs, buts and maybes. By then, we will know everything there is to know about them and know the full extent of their capabilities.
Come Sunday morning, in fact, we will know considerably more about both of these champions than we did the day before. We will know, for instance, whether or not Jose Ramirez is as devastating a puncher as he appeared during his victory over Maurice Hooker in 2019, and we will know whether or not Josh Taylor is as tough and as unrelenting as he appeared during the 36 minutes he spent standing toe-to-toe with Regis Prograis that same year. We will also know, once and for all, the identity of the world’s best 140-pound fighter, which, at a time when the importance of competition has become secondary to that of content, is a welcome development.