Regardless of the exact year in which you consider the four-belt championship era of professional boxing to have begun, undisputed champions of a particular weight division have become a rare phenomenon within the sport.
For clarity sake, the WBO didn’t launch until 1988 yet wasn’t widely accepted on the same level as the incumbent WBC, WBA and IBF sanctioning bodies until 2004, although even that footnote is somewhat debated among historians.
Either way, the modern era of the past two decades in boxing have produced just four men and three women to hold all four recognized world titles in the same weight class simultaneously.
Middleweights Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor, who fought each other twice, were the first to do so followed by Terence Crawford (junior welterweight) and Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight). On the women’s side, where a proliferation of vacant titles has somewhat watered down the accomplishment, Claressa Shields (middleweight, junior middleweight), Katie Taylor (lightweight) and Jessica McCaskill (welterweight) all joined this exclusive club in recent years.
On Saturday, the newly rebranded Virgin Hotels Las Vegas plays host to a matchup between unbeaten unified champions when Jose Ramirez (WBC, WBO) and Josh Taylor (WBA, IBF) square off to decide the second undisputed four-belt champion at 140 pounds in boxing history.
Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs), the reigning WBO welterweight champion, knocked out fellow unified titleholder Julius Indongo with a third-round body shot in 2017 to collect all four titles. Coincidentally, with just months to go on his Top Rank promotional deal that reportedly expires in October, Crawford could be in line, per Bob Arum, to fight the Ramirez-Taylor winner next.
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Luckily for fans, Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) and Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs) are expected to put on a show that’s far more competitive than Crawford’s dealings with the unheralded Indongo as boxing’s hardcore community continues to buzz regarding the bout’s potential to deliver skill, action and drama.
“This fight probably should’ve happened about a year ago. Obviously, with everything that has been going on it has been put back and put back. It’s finally here,” Taylor told “Morning Kombat” last week. “I know he comes in and brings the heat and I come to bring the heat. We both leave our heart and soul in the ring.
“It can go 12 rounds but I really don’t think it will. I think it ends up with him on his back side and me with the four belts. That’s how I think it ends up.”
Taylor, a 30-year-old native of Scotland, is a southpaw boxer-puncher who proved in his career-defining tangle with Regis Prograis in the 2019 finale of the World Boxing Super Series tournament that he’s far more grittier than he looks in taking home a spirited majority decision.
Ramirez, 28, the pride of Fresno, California, passed a similar test with flying colors during his own 2019 unification against fellow unbeaten Maurice Hooker when Ramirez bit down on his gum shield to deliver a sixth-round TKO in a shootout.
Although the Hooker win remains the calling card of Ramirez’s career to date, he has also been pushed in two close decisions wins over Jose Zepeda and Viktor Postol sandwiched around that fight. Some felt Ramirez could’ve (or, in some cases, should’ve) tasted defeat for the first time in either fight and so did Taylor, who scored a much wider decision win over Postol two years earlier.
“[Ramirez] hasn’t blown all his opponents away but he has won all his fights,” Taylor said. “He has done well although I always thought there were a couple decisions he was very, very, very, very fortunate to come out on the right side of. So I don’t know. I believe I have boxed the better position but styles make fights. This fight has the making to be an absolute cracker.”
While Taylor’s history of handling his competition in a more definitive manner certainly speaks for itself, it doesn’t tell the complete story of who Ramirez is by comparison alone. Ramirez has carried a bit of a “little engine that could” aura surrounding him, which has routinely allowed him to elevate his game at just the right moment to edge past his competition.
That’s why Ramirez hasn’t batted an eye at being listed as a 2-1 betting underdog by oddsmakers.
“I’ve always been the underdog. That’s my mentality,” Ramirez said during last week’s media day. “I am fighting for my place in boxing history. No boxer of Mexican descent has ever held all four world title belts. I’m aware that most people are picking against me, but that only fuels me further.
“In my mind, I’m supposed to win this fight. I don’t let the outside noise get to me. No matter what you do, or who you beat, there’s always going to be somebody else out there. At this moment, that person is Josh Taylor.”
Elsewhere on the card, Jose Zepeda is back in action when he faces off with Hank Lundy in the co-main event. Zepeda has long been a fixture of the 140-pound division while holding secondary titles in the weight class. Now, he’s coming off a Fight of the Year winner in 2020 against Ivan Baranchyk in which both fighters were dropped numerous times. The California native is hoping to get a shot at the undisputed champion and winner of the night’s main event with a victory over the unheralded Lundy.
Fight card, odds
- Josh Taylor -240 vs. Jose Ramirez +200, junior welterweight unification
- Jose Zepeda -2200 vs. Hank Lundy +1100, junior welterweights
- Elvis Rodriguez -2000 vs. Kenneth Sims Jr. +1000, junior welterweights
- Date: May 22 | Location: Virgin Hotels — Las Vegas
- Start time: 8 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN/ESPN+
- Live stream: fuboTV (try for free)
In a fight this close on paper between boxer-punchers who are technically sound but love to throw down, something will have to give in order for one fighter to surge ahead. That wild card may very well be the characteristic that best separates them: power.
Ramirez only knows one speed when it comes to applying intelligent yet very direct pressure. His aggressive style often leaves him openings for his opponents to counter and that’s where Taylor’s power advantage might be too much in the end.
Even though Ramirez enters with a nearly three-inch reach advantage, it’s one he typically gives away from the start by being so willing to enter into the phone booth and out will the competition. That’s a strategy that could get him in trouble provided the southpaw Taylor is able to establish a bit of range to get his power shots off.
Most of the categories from speed to technique and guts are so even that Taylor’s punching advantage could be the very thing that either leads to a stoppage or, at the very least, sways the judges against Ramirez’s activity level should the fight go the distance.
Either way, prepare for a thriller between two fighters who refuse to take a backward step.
Pick: Taylor via TKO10
Who wins Taylor vs. Ramirez? And which plus-money prop is a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see Brandon Wise’s best bets for Saturday, all from the CBS combat sports specialist who was all over Jamel Herring’s win, and find out.