Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor worked for decades to achieve this moment. On Saturday in Las Vegas, one of the two undefeated and unified champions will add another “u” word to his résumé: undisputed.
Ramirez and Taylor will compete for all four major junior welterweight titles at Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas (ESPN and ESPN +, 8:00 p.m. ET, with preliminary rounds on ESPN + starting 4:45 p.m. ET). Both fighters are 2012 Olympians who turned their failure to win gold into a career in which they now own gold of a different kind, in the form of two belts each wrapped around their waist.
Taylor (17-0) made his way into this fight through a talented World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) welterweight tournament that featured Regis Prograis, Ivan Baranchyk and Ryan Martin. Ramirez (26-0) recently made a statement with a knockout win against Maurice Hooker to unite two of the four belts.
Your goal in this struggle is the same, but achieving that goal involved challenges, disappointments, and ultimately glory. Both fighters told ESPN their stories and wondered what it would mean to be in the ring at such high stakes this weekend.
Editor’s note: content has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Beginnings and the Olympic Games
Taylor: The Olympics were a real disappointment. I got on and left 60 kilograms behind as I was really struggling to support the weight. But I just missed qualifying for Team GB at the 2012 London Olympics at 64kg, and then Rob McCracken, the Team GB coach, told me that no one qualified – wanted to qualify for 60kg do I choose? I remember thinking, “I’ll never do this weight.” I did it, but I was exhausted.
I was the first person from Scotland to qualify for the Olympics for that long, and I beat Robson Conceicao of Brazil in my first fight. But then I lost in my next game against Domenico Valentino from Italy. I was really upset that I missed out. I really felt like I could win a medal.
I always wanted to continue as an amateur after the 2012 Olympics because I hate losing at anything. I am so competitive in everything I do that I would always go on after that. I won a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and it was a really proud moment for me – in front of my home fans in Glasgow.
After that, it was the perfect time for me to get a pro deal.
Ramirez: The 2012 US Olympic team, most of us became world champions – Jamel Herring, Errol Spence Jr., Rau’Shee Warren, Claressa Shields, Marcus Browne (tentative list of titles), Joseph Diaz Jr. – but we didn’t win a medal in the men’s team. I was only 19 years old and had only started boxing internationally in 2011 – and we also lacked the experience of fighting with the point system.
My professional career started pretty soon after the Olympics. I signed a very good deal with Top Rank and my pro debut was on the same bill as Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez – the fourth time they met when Marquez took Pacquiao out in December 2012. I boxed three or four. From then on I gained experience several times a year and I moved very quickly, facing undefeated fighters and fighters who had not been stopped before.
Taylor: I won my first title in my seventh fight in October 2016, the Commonwealth title, against a good pro in Dave Ryan. It was at the Meadowbank Sports Center in my hometown of Edinburgh and that was special. That was the place that helped me box in the first place.
Meadowbank was the first boxing club I went to – we boxed in a gym under the stadium, and this is where I first took inspiration from training and sparring with Alex Arthur. My mother was a receptionist at Meadowbank and she knew Alex who was training there and one day I went to train with him.
He was great with me because back then I was just learning. When I fought Ryan there was [3,000] or 4,000 there. I came across Black Box’s “Ride on Time” and the place was absolutely bouncy. I put in a good performance against a good local fighter and it’s a great memory. I took it apart, won in the fifth round and that’s when people noticed me.
Ramirez: When the fight against Mike Reed came in November 2017, he was undefeated and believed he was the better fighter. I remembered seeing him from the amateurs – he was a junior welterweight and I was a lightweight then – and I remember he was a good boxer. But I knew I was a better fighter than he thought, and I was a lot taller than the amateurs, too.
I got a knockout in the second round and that gave me a lot of confidence to believe that I was on a different level than some of these other fighters who were unbeaten after about 20 fights. After fighting Mike Reed, I knew I was ready for a world title fight.
First big title
Tim Bradley breaks off the upcoming settlement battle between Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor.
Taylor: The World Boxing Super Series was a breeze for me. It was three fights, the chance to win two world titles, and we were all paid well for it. I went into the Viktor Postol fight (a unanimous decision win for Taylor) in 2018 because I knew the WBSS was on the rise, but we took the Postol fight to get a shot at Ramirez for the WBC title back then to get. So I had a lot to do in this Postol struggle, no matter which way things turned.
I beat TKO’s Ryan Martin in my first fight in the WBSS in November 2018 and it was a great feat. He was known as the “blue chip” and a lot of people rated him, but I blew him away with my boxing skills. It went into its shell after I started unpacking it.
Then I unanimously beat IBF World Champion Ivan Baranchyk in the WBSS semifinals in May 2019, but looking back I could have done it easier than it was. I thought I was halfway ahead so I started moving around the ring a little and noticed the crowd suddenly fell silent as if they were concerned. It made me want to bring the fight to him. I could have done it without getting hit so bad.
It felt great to win my first world title, but I wasn’t surprised or overly excited. I just thought, “This is my goal, what’s next?” and set myself new goals. It was a short-lived celebration because I had already scheduled a fight, the WBSS final and the union fight with Regis Prograis, the WBA champion. It wasn’t long after the Baranchyk fight that I was back in the gym and preparing for prograis.
Ramirez: I’ve boxed since I was 8 years old. I’ve had around 200 amateur fights and along the way I’ve made so many sacrifices and invested so much time in the sport. I was always afraid of falling short and not becoming a world champion, but the sport paid me back everything I had worked for and all the dedication I had put into the sport in this fight against Amir Imam.
That little, little worry motivated me to really, really push myself hard, and helped me remember why I am doing this and how I was really close to making something that would affect both my life financially and my career as a fighter will change.
Imam had beaten people like Yordenis Ugas, who is now welterweight champion, and he had good, good strength. He was lanky and strong, with a good right hand. At that point he had only lost to Adrian Granados, and according to his team, that was because he caught a cold the week of the fight. He was a good boxer, but I managed to break him and become world champion when I won the WBC World Super Lightweight Belt in March 2018.
It was one of the most amazing feelings of my life to know that I had fulfilled my dream since I was a little boy. Holding the WBC belt, the green and gold belt, that was the belt I had dreamed of since childhood.
Another piece of gold
In 2018 Taylor competed in the World Boxing Super Series welterweight tournament, which featured eight fighters (Taylor, Regis Prograis, Kiryl Relikh, Ivan Baranchyk, Terry Flanagan, Ryan Martin, Anthony Yigit and Eduard Troyanovsky) in a singles eliminating round to compete for the Muhammad Ali Trophy.
Taylor: Prograis was the WBA champion and he became better known than me before our fight in October 2019, even though he was from America and the fight was held at the 02 Arena in London. In the lead up to this fight, there were more cameras around him that felt bigger than any of my others.
I thought I had won the first two rounds, then I got caught in his head a couple of times because the styles clashed so I changed it up a bit and started boxing more slowly. He came in and my eye closed completely so I had to box with one eye for the last three rounds – but I won the fight anyway. Tactics went out the window because I was blind for those three rounds; it was heartfelt and determination. It was a combination of working speed and a multitude of strokes that convinced me overall.
Prograis was very good, very strong, and had good timing, but I knew I could reach him inside. I don’t think he expected me to be able to toggle it that easily.
I think we saw the best of me in this fight. Prograis was a great champion, but the best man won.
It felt amazing to be an unified world champion in just 16 fights, but after Prograis victory everything quickly revolved around Ramirez and my focus was on becoming the only champion in the division and winning the other two belts. That hasn’t been done in Scotland since Ken Buchanan’s lightweight in 1971 – he was the last undisputed champion from Scotland and he’s also from Edinburgh.
Ramirez: The Maurice Hooker fight in July 2019 was probably my best performance. He was an undefeated world champion and I proved what a fighter I am by using every opportunity I saw to stop him in round six. I was happy with it because I was able to become a uniform world champion, and also because of the fans … they become believers when you beat an undefeated world champion like Hooker.
There have been no moments in my career when I looked like I was going to lose, where people said, “Jose was saved by the Bell this round” or there were concerns. And any doubts that might have been there were removed. The Hooker fight may have surprised a lot of people, but it didn’t surprise me.
Fight for undisputed
Taylor: Years ago it was a dream to be the undisputed champion – an unrealistic dream. Because when you think of uniform champions, they were the superstars of the sport – people like Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, and big names like Canelo Alvarez. When I thought about doing it I thought it was a bit of a stretch for a little guy from Prestonpans, Scotland, to reach this level. But one thing has passed and here we are.
Did I think I was fighting like that would ever get in my way? Probably not. It happened so quickly. Without the WBSS, I might still be waiting for Ramirez – it might have been like Mayweather-Pacquiao and just dragged on for years.
Undisputed world championships in Las Vegas are rare and special. I am really happy and privileged to be in this position and to land a fight of this magnitude. But I turned around to get into that position. I didn’t get here by luck and I’ll do my best to make sure I get the most out of the May 22nd opportunity.
Ramirez: My struggles have gotten bigger, my paydays have increased. I was able to invest outside of sports and really take care of my family with some privileges that we have never had before.
We come from very humble beginnings with very few options. Knowing that I could give my family and children a better life was a nice feeling. When I became world champion, I felt like a lot of weight had loosened on my shoulders and my confidence was growing. I wanted more – more big fights, more fame.
This fight will be different from Postol’s – it’s a big fight for boxing and it’s an honor to be part of such a big fight.