LAS VEGAS — Slowly, the tide seems to be changing in boxing. Just like the avalanche of no-hitters in Major League Baseball so early in the season, it’s come as somewhat of a surprise, but a pleasant development nonetheless.
For decades, it was hard to get fighters to agree to a unification bout, let alone to fight for an undisputed championship.
But as boxing emerges from the constraints of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a flurry of bouts scheduled for all four of the major sanctioning body belts.
For Josh Taylor, the IBF-WBA super lightweight champion who will attempt to unify the 140-pound championship on Saturday at the Virgin Hotel when he meets WBC-WBO champion Jose Ramirez in the night’s main event, it was a no-brainer.
Taylor entered the World Boxing Super Series tournament for precisely the reason to prove he’s the best. He beat the great Regis Prograis in a spirited finale to become a unified champion.
That, though, wasn’t good enough for him. It’s guys like Taylor and Ramirez who are helping to push the sport forward despite its myriad problems and bringing it more and more into the mainstream.
Ask him why he’s seeking out the biggest challenges when many of his peers aren’t doing the same and you get a simple but perfect response.
“I’m a fighter,” he said, seemingly shocked that anyone would even consider doing otherwise.
Taylor, who is 17-0 with 13 knockouts, has pushed himself for as long as he could remember. There’s no point in being a champion if you don’t prove that you’re the best.
And the only way to do that is to do what Taylor is doing: Get into the ring and take on the greatest fighters they can line up for you to face.
“I’m a bred fighter,” he said. “I’m not in the game to beat around the bush and fight people I’m supposed to overwhelm and win. I turned pro at 25, so it’s not as if it was like I turned pro when I was 18, 19 and had time to build a record fighting 10, 12 journeymen and things that built up a padded sort of record.
“I didn’t want to do that. I knew I was world class. I knew the talent that I had. I knew that my amateur career and experience was enough to take me to the world level. So since I was 25 years old when I turned pro, I wanted to progress quickly and push myself as quickly as possible and take the hardest fights.”
He’s done that and finds himself standing on the verge of history. Another win would make him just the second undisputed champion in the division’s history, following Terence Crawford.
He’s in the process of not only unifying the title — and at BetMGM, he’s a 2-1 favorite to defeat Ramirez — but of perhaps becoming the greatest fighter in his country’s history.
He’s from Scotland, which isn’t known for producing the greatest fighters but has brought to the world greats like flyweight Benny Lynch and lightweights Ken Buchanan and Jim Watt.
Taylor still has a long way to go and accomplishments he could add to the list, but he already has to be considered one of the best. It’s a matter of how high on the unofficial list he winds up.
He’s made a dramatic switch, too. After defeating Prograis in a pitched battle, he parted ways with Shane McGuigan and hired Ben Davison as his trainer.
It was a risky move but one that Taylor believed in. Davison has essentially reminded him to do things that he’d gotten away from, Taylor said.
“You’ll see on Saturday the things we’ve been working on, the things we’ve been doing in the gym and the nuances that we’ve been working on,” he said. “It’s just being more well-round. I’m doing things that I’m good at but that I was neglecting a lot. I’m back to the things I was neglecting.”
Undefeated unified champions headed into the biggest fight of their lives don’t usually admit deficiencies or make massive changes like that. It takes a great deal of confidence and self-belief to do that.
And it takes the same to go out and seek out the best time after time. Even Ramirez, who has a similar attitude, loves that trait in Taylor.
“He believes in himself and so he wants to prove it by fighting the best,” Ramirez said. “That’s how you make these kinds of fights that the fans and everybody wants to see.”
On Saturday, Taylor will seize on that opportunity to hit the pinnacle of the sport, one which so many of the modern boxers don’t even seek.
Taylor, though, never gave it a second thought.
“If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?” he said. “I can say I’m the best, and I believe I am, but you have to prove that and that’s what I intend to do.”
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