JOSH TAYLOR turned away and raised one hand when Jose Carlos Ramirez went down in a heap at the start of round six. The fight was over, one punch had changed it all.
It was the type of moment, a flash of brilliance that never leaves the mind; Taylor was falling behind, not by much, but there were enough signs that Ramirez was causing Taylor a lot of problems.
Five rounds down, a couple of rounds behind and the bell sounded for round six and the four belts, the place in history, the fight to become only the fifth man in the modern era to hold all four belts was forgotten. Now, it was just a fight.
Ramirez came at Taylor at the start of the round, pushing him back and then, under a canopy of lights, behind a wall of smart seating and in the middle of the intensity, Taylor dipped to his left, avoided the first lazy right of the night and put a life of boxing dreaming and fighting into the most perfect counter. It was textbook, brilliant, breathtaking. Ramirez knew, he knew he had the made the mistake he swore he would never make, but it was too late and the left connected clean and he was down heavily.
Kenny Bayless, the ageless referee, was there, his hands out and his mouth behind the mask counting and he was too fussy, took too long asking questions and keeping his eyes on Taylor, who wanted to leave the strict confines of the neutral corner. We had a fight. Ramirez had the wild eyes of a frightened and confused man – he also has boxing’s most basic of instincts. Taylor was hunting, make no mistake.
It had started with a mobile, easy twenty or so seconds in the first round. The body shots came early from Ramirez, who was faster than Taylor had expected. In the second, Taylor got a bit closer, Ramirez looked comfortable. Two rounds and not a lot to separate them, one each seemed about fair.
In round three and four, Ramirez put the pressure on a bit more, got closer, ducked under counters, closed down the ring. Taylor caught him on the back of the head, Ramirez complained to Bayless, Taylor missed, Ramirez looked happy. He smiled at the bell to end the fourth. It could have been 3-1 to the Californian fighter. There was a real edge, a feeling that something special was happening, a sense that Taylor had to get back into the fight. Not a panic, just a need to stop Ramirez winning by hustling.
Ramirez cut Taylor by the left eye in the fifth, he hit him to the body, he was busy, he was happy, he was connecting. Still no panic, but 4-1 down at that point was not cruel. It was a fight and it was going to be a hard, hard night if Ramirez kept the pressure on; Ramirez only knows how to keep the pressure on. A reminder that both were unbeaten at the end of round five; Taylor in 17, Ramirez in 26. Why did anybody doubt that there would be magic?
And there was, this was not going to be an ordinary fight.
In the opening seconds of the sixth, the left connected and Ramirez was down, face and shoulder first, falling like a man suddenly switched off, a puppet in shorts with his strings cut; he was up too quick, wild-eyed in confusion. It was a moment to savour, a moment of purity. Time stopped; it always does in fights like this. Bayless looked flustered, Taylor calm, real calm and bouncing in the corner, Ramirez hurt, the cornermen screaming different songs, hitting the canvas desperate, the crowd up. I love that moment in a big fight.
Ramirez was badly hurt, but his instincts took over. Taylor tried to finish it clean. It was hectic stuff and then it was round seven, the fight was close, even.
With less than 30 seconds left in the seventh round, with both men marked and tiring, Taylor timed the most perfect left uppercut and Ramirez was down, on his back, out of his head. Taylor had 24 seconds left to finish the drama; Ramirez was a poor sight on the canvas, Bayless was in again, his own eyes above his mask wide with shock. The punch was exceptional, a perfect partner to the short left in the sixth.
This time, Bayless was very messy. Ramirez was up, unsteady, reeling and Bayless was talking to him. Taylor was getting closer during the slow-motion ritual and the clock ticked down. Taylor was losing crucial seconds; fighters like Ramirez always recover and Taylor needed to get to him and stop Bayless holding the fight up. It was just a few seconds, but those seconds, in moments like that, can make or end a career. It might sound brutal, but Taylor needed to finish Ramirez at that point, at the point when Ramirez was most vulnerable. Sorry, but that is our business and Bayless got in the way. If Ramirez was too confused to fight, then it should have been stopped – if his eyes were clear, then it needed to continue quicker. The ref is there to protect, sure, but those seconds could have also denied Taylor a finish. It’s a tough debate, I understand.
When Bayless did finally let them continue at the end of the seventh, there were just a few seconds left and Ramirez stumbled to the ropes, Taylor tried to find one last punch. The bell sounded; the fight had changed in two rounds. Surely, Ramirez had no chance.
Taylor tried to finish the fight in the eighth, he was not settling for points, not taking any risks and Ramirez was certainly still hurt from the knockdowns. Ramirez survived the round and Taylor was tired. It had been a long and emotional stay in Las Vegas, hard days, a lot of pressure in the isolation of camp. At the start of round nine, Taylor was in front. He was marked, getting tired, but a place in history was there. He could join the four men, the four that held all four versions of the recognised belts: Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford and Oleksandr Usyk. The fight was already the finest of the six so far where the four belts had been the prize. Taylor and Ramirez never needed the gaudy baubles and when the bell sounded to start the last four rounds, nobody was bothered about their engraving duties on the latest fake-diamond, fur-lined belt. Keep your trinkets, I’m here for the quality of the fight.
In rounds nine and ten the pace dropped, Taylor was smart, Ramirez recovered and they were close rounds.
At the start of round eleven the fight was in the balance still; Taylor in front with the knockdowns, but the final verdict was still not settled. Ramirez tried to put pressure on, his punches and movement a lot slower, but then Taylor was also fatigued. The pair had fought to that stage where both knew that one punch connecting clean and precise would end it. That is a heavy burden to carry with six or more minutes left and a body screaming for calm.
In the last round, during a clinch, Taylor looked up at a screen, his eyes searching for the time. Both finished with a glare, a tiny moment of respect. There were no wide grins and loving hugs and kisses; they did what is decent and no more, I have no problem with that, the fight had been personal.
They had their faces wiped, the bruises iced and then they joined Bayless for the verdict. I was convinced it was Taylor, but it was tight, real tight. The scores came in fast, a combination delivered at a ringside table by men from the four sanctioning bodies. There was a silent moment as we waited. The MC was blunt, that is for sure.
He named the officials – Tim Cheatham, Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld – and read the scores: 114-112 times three. And all for Josh Taylor. Tight, make no mistake: Six rounds each and the two beautiful knockdowns won him the fight. That is boxing at its most dramatic and heartbreaking, make no mistake. Ramirez dropped his head, they finally embraced with a bit more care. It is unforgiving, this business we worship and that tiny Las Vegas ring had every extreme of despair and joy.
Two men with nothing left to give, nothing left to offer.
Ramirez left his loved ones in tears at ringside and that is never a nice sight. The few Taylor fans howled, waving their Scottish flags. He is a hero now and this week when he gets back to Edinburgh, he will take the four belts for a private meeting with Ken Buchanan. That is class, wonderful.
Two men with a shared history and combined devotion to a tough game.
It’s now 6:08am on Sunday morning. The fight finished hours ago, it happened, Taylor is the champion, the fifth man. In Las Vegas he is still up and there is no chance of him closing his eyes anytime soon. He has too much to see and do and he might just start with a sombrero sunrise.
The Verdict Josh Taylor shows the world how it’s done.