Good, bad, worse: Josh Taylor’s ascendance, Fury-Joshua-Wilder saga

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A critical look at the past week in boxing

GOOD

Boxing doesn’t have much clarity these days.

We have a pretty good idea who the best fighters are but the word “champion” means little because there are so many – too many — of them, courtesy of greedy sanctioning bodies driven solely by the bottom line.

One thing is abundantly clear now, though: Josh Taylor is the best 140-pounder in the world.

The 30-year-old Scot outpointed Jose Ramirez on Saturday to become only the sixth male boxer to win all the belts in any division in the four-belt era, a distinction that clinches his place among the best fighters in the world.

And he earned it, putting Ramirez down in the sixth and seventh rounds to seize control of the fight and then holding on in the closing rounds to win a close, but unanimous decision. All three judges scored it 114-112 in his favor, as did Boxing Junkie.

One can now argue that Taylor is among the greatest Scottish fighters of all time because he owns an entire division. And he might be the best boxer produced in the U.K. overall since Joe Calzaghe was at his peak in 1990s and 2000s.

Does that sound like an exaggeration? Well, consider the fact he has beaten Regis Prograis and Jose Ramirez in a span of three fights. Also, his last six opponents had a combined record of 136-1 going into his fights with them.

Yes, Josh Taylor special.

Could it get even better? Possibly. It looks as if he will defend his titles against fellow Briton and WBO mandatory Jack Catterall in a homecoming fight in Scotland next, which he deserves in light of his accomplishments.

After that could be his most-daunting challenge: welterweight champion and pound-for-pound No. 1 Terence Crawford. Where would a victory over Crawford leave Taylor?

***

BAD

Ramirez certainly didn’t turn in a perfect performance. And neither did Taylor, as great as his victory was.

Ramirez let his guard down a number of times when the fighters broke from clinches, including a crucial moment in a pivotal Round 7 when Taylor knocked Ramirez flat on his back and hurt him with a left uppercut.

Ramirez assumed referee Kenny Bayless intended to stop the action. Instead, Taylor fought out of the break and did damage.

The American kicked himself afterward for not recognizing the trend during the fight and adjusting but he was reminded of a lesson all boxers learn early in their careers: Defend yourself at all times.

Meanwhile, Taylor almost gave the fight away after building a solid lead through eight rounds. He inexplicably took his foot off the gas beginning in the ninth round, which turned what appeared to be a clear victory into a close fight on the cards.

Why did he do that? Did he feel he had an insurmountable lead? Did his trainer, Ben Davison, tell him to cruise? Was Ramirez’s body attack taking a toll on his punch production?

Whatever the reason, Taylor’s passivity almost resulted in disaster for him. The fight would’ve been a draw had Ramirez remained on his feet or simply won one more round.

Like Ramirez, Taylor and Davison will have learned a valuable lesson that will make the Edinburgh native a better fighter: Never, ever take scoring for granted. When you do, it can come back to bite you.

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WORSE

Speaking of clarity … we finally have some in the heavyweight division. The problem is that fans won’t get the fight they want most, at least not immediately.

The handlers of Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua – as well as the fighters themselves – forced us to endure endless negotiations and teasing updates that, in the end, added up to nothing when an arbitrator ruled that Fury must fight Deontay Wilder a third time.

It was a colossal waste of time, energy and emotion. And now we’re stuck with a matchup that wasn’t our first choice.

I don’t think a third fight between Fury and Wilder is a disaster. Fury probably will duplicate his performance of their second fight in February of last year, in which he brutally stopped Wilder in seven rounds. Wilder has that punching power, though. Don’t look away.

That said, the world was looking forward to a fight that would’ve produced a rare undisputed heavyweight champion. Joshua holds three of the four major belts, Fury one.

And you have to ask: Will we ever see Fury-Joshua?

Their handlers have said that we could see that matchup as early as December if the principals win their interim fights. However, Wilder could land that big shot and spoil the party again. And it appears that Joshua will face Oleksandr Usyk, who I believe has the ability to upset Joshua and the apple cart.

Heck, we could end up seeing Wilder fight Usyk for the undisputed heavyweight championship.

That would be fine with me. I liked the idea of a single heavyweight king, which would be a throwback to a better time in the sport. I don’t care who that king is or where he comes from.

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RABBIT PUNCHES

Manny Pacquiao and welterweight titleholder Errol Spence Jr. announced on social media a few days ago that they’ll meet on Aug. 21 in Las Vegas. My head is still spinning. The 42-year-old Filipino icon could make good money by fighting anyone but he chose to face an enormous challenge head on. That decision alone underscores his greatness. I fear for his safety but I applaud his fortitude. … Taylor was appalled at the scoring on Saturday, describing the fact the fight would’ve ended in a draw had Ramirez remained on his feet “an absolute joke.” I don’t agree. I gave Ramirez three of the final four rounds, as did two of the official judges. The third gave the loser all four. That means he would have to win three of the first eight. And I think he did. I gave him Rounds 3, 4 and 5, although 4 and 5 were close. Bottom line: The 114-112 scores were reasonable. … Jose Zepeda (34-2, 26 KOs) defeated veteran Hank Lundy (31-9-1, 14 KOs) by a wide decision in a 10-round bout on the Taylor-Ramirez card to remain in the junior welterweight title hunt. Zepeda’s performance was solid at best. Of course, it will always be difficult for him to top his spectacular knockout of Ivan Baranchyk in their eight-knockdown Fight of the Year in October. … Kenneth Sims Jr. (16-2-1, 5 KOs) recorded the biggest victory of his career on the Taylor-Ramirez card, defeating previously unbeaten junior welterweight prospect Elvis Rodriguez (11-1-1, 10 KOs) in an eight-round bout. Sims, who has trained alongside Crawford, doesn’t have much punching power but he’s an excellent boxer with quick hands and feet. He could be a nightmare for many of the top junior welterweights. Rodriguez, who is trained by Freddie Roach, will be a better fighter as a result of the setback. … It keeps getting better for Jake Paul. The YouTube personality-turned-boxer has moved on from Triller and signed a multi-fight deal with Showtime, which should give him even greater exposure. And it doesn’t matter whether he continues to face opponents with little to no boxing experience. His fans, it seems, are hooked.

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