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Just one punch changed the fight and delivered Josh Taylor to boxing’s promised land in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Taylor was trailing on points after five rounds against Jose Carlos Ramirez in their old-fashioned, old-school unified showdown for all the light-welterweight titles: Taylor was unbeaten in 17 fights, Ramirez in 26. They each held two versions of the world title. They were in their primes, not dead at the weight, had no injuries - it was a perfectly wonderful storm, the one where the boat comes in.
It was the type of fight that Las Vegas nights at ringside are made for, a heady mix of glitz, fame, desperation and desire. The business, so often abused by its finest operators, stood and watched the rarity unfold as Taylor and Ramirez fought like two men possessed. It made me smile and miss the unforgiving city of lies.
It was only the seventh fight for all four titles, Taylor is only the fifth man to hold all four belts and, obviously, the first man from Scotland. The collapsed Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua fight, now added to the impressive list of Las Vegas illusions, was also for all four of the recognised titles, the quartet sanctioned by the WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF. Promoters, fixers, schemers, frauds and television executives having being trying to make fights like this for 33 years and have managed just the seven - this was without doubt the finest so far.
This classic, held at the Virgin property off the Strip, was an instant marvel, hard, technical, savage, fast and nasty from the first bell. They had fallen out of love in the days before the fight, each adding a bitter note to the functions they are obliged to attend, and each getting more and more angry with the other. It was personal, too much pride and it showed.
Ramirez talked of pressure, Taylor insisted that would be ideal, but after five rounds, the Californian was in front and, alarmingly, seemed to have enough strength to hold Taylor back. It was tight, ferocious, Taylor was not fluid and by the start of the sixth, Ramirez was close to having control. I swear he smiled at the end of round five. And then, one magical move and fast second later, and the fight changed.
In the opening seconds of round six, Taylor sent Ramirez down heavily from a sublime counter. Ramirez missed with a right, Taylor slipped the punch, steadied his feet and countered with a perfect southpaw left. Ramirez had panic in his eyes in that frozen moment when a boxer knows he has made a mistake. It connected, boom and he went down. It was a punch of purity and it saved the fight, it changed the fight and it made Taylor boxing’s latest history man.
Ramirez beat that count, beat another sickening knockdown in the seventh, but the momentum in the fight changed with that first perfect knockdown. Ramirez had a look on his face of utter despair as he struggled up from the canvas in the sixth, his survival helped by some annoyingly fussy refereeing by Kenny Bayless.
In the seventh, Ramirez was saved by Bayless again; the veteran ref took far too long to check the stunned and unsteady boxer was fine and able to continue. And in the seconds of wavering, Taylor was denied the chance to finish his man. It was brutal, heartless stuff, make no mistake; a fight so far removed from the carnival pairings of celebrity brawlers and sad relics.
By round eight, Taylor was in control, in front on points, but Ramirez was not finished. I gave rounds nine and ten to Ramirez, his eyes and legs now obeying his commands after round six and seven when he was in turmoil. Could there be another twist or could Taylor survive the last six minutes and make history? Both rounds eleven and twelve were close, both boxers drained and bruised.
There was a cold embrace at the end, no apologies necessary, they are both big boys. Taylor gave the impression of a winner, Ramirez still looked a bit annoyed at being dropped twice. The wait for the final scores was remarkably quick; the crowded table of officials, members from all four of the sanctioning clans gathered in a huddle to tally the verdict. A cabal of boxing men with too many dark secrets and power.
Bayless stood in centre ring, a bell tolled, he held a wrist each and waited. Taylor acted like he knew, Ramirez like he never wanted to know. The master of ceremonies delivered the news. All three judges scored it the same: 114-112 for Taylor. He jumped up, Ramirez dropped his head, they tried another embrace. The scores meant they each won six rounds, but the fight was decided by the two knockdowns; Ramirez lost a point in rounds six and seven when he was dropped. It was that close, it was that good. Ramirez wants a rematch, naturally.
Taylor wants to fight at Edinburgh Castle, he wants a tearful, tartan-crazy homecoming. And he deserves it. However, he will first visit in private Edinburgh’s great fighting icon, Ken Buchanan. Big Ken is the forgotten man of British boxing, who in 1970 won the two available world titles in epic fights in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Los Angeles. Taylor will take the four belts and sit at Buchanan’s feet, an act as gracious as Saturday’s fight was savage.