LAS VEGAS — Josh Taylor gingerly held a microphone in his left hand, which was swollen about 50 percent more than its normal size and appeared to have been broken, as he spoke Saturday about the biggest night of his professional life.
Taylor won the undisputed super lightweight championship and stamped himself as one of the greatest fighters in the world by capturing a unanimous decision in a pitched battle at the new Virgin Hotels Las Vegas over Jose Ramirez.
The reason Taylor’s hand was grotesquely swollen was evident on Ramirez’s face when he spoke about the fight moments earlier.
Both Ramirez and Taylor met the moment, putting on a sensational battle befitting their roles entering the bout as undefeated unified champions.
Taylor wound up with all of the belts after winning a 114-112 decision on all cards. The difference in the bout turned out to be knockdowns Taylor scored — with his left hand — in the sixth and seventh rounds.
There was a little bit of controversy surrounding the bout. Taylor felt the scores were far too close, and the bout would have been a draw without the knockdowns. The Ramirez team was unhappy with referee Kenny Bayless for several reasons, but most notably about the seventh-round knockdown.
They were exchanging blows on the logo in the middle of the ring. They briefly clinched and Bayless tapped Taylor’s left glove, as if to let him know not to hold. As he stepped back, Taylor ripped a massive uppercut that dropped Ramirez.
The Ramirez team felt Bayless should have broken the fighters, but Ramirez was gracious.
“You have to learn how to lose,” Ramirez said. “I don’t want to take anything away from the fight.”
Taylor was humble and soft-spoken throughout most of the post-fight news conference. He said he had apologized to Ramirez for all of his trash talk before the bout. The two also had gotten into a shoving match on Friday by the hotel elevators.
Taylor said he was just trying to get into Ramirez’s head and get him out of his game plan.
“I have nothing but love and respect for Jose Ramirez,” Taylor said.
The only time he changed from that stance was when he discussed the scoring. Judges Steve Weisfeld, Dave Moretti and Tim Cheatham each had the bout six rounds to six.
That appeared to raise the new champion’s ire just a bit. Had Weisfeld given Ramirez the 12th, which Moretti and Cheatham did, he would have had the bout a draw, 113-113.
“Basically, without the knockdowns, that fight was a draw,” Taylor said. “Really? That’s a farce.”
The bout was sensational from start to finish, but Taylor did his best work in the middle of the fight. Ramirez was aggressive and scoring well to the body early. He hurt Taylor in the third round with a body shot and followed with a combination to the head. At one point during the flurry, Taylor’s knees appeared to buckle.
But the bout turned in Taylor’s favor in the middle. He won Rounds 6 through 8 on the cards of Moretti and Cheatham and Rounds 5 through 8 on Weisfeld’s. He built a five-point edge in those three rounds, according to Moretti and Cheatham and had a six-point edge from Rounds 5 through 8, according to Weisfeld.
It was game, set and match at that point, though few knew it.
In the early part of the fight, Ramirez was able to get inside, but had punching room. In the middle stages, Taylor was either all the way in, where Ramirez was smothered, or all the way out, where he then had the edge boxing.
“He didn’t want to sit at that range, which at times Ramirez was able to [get to and] let his hands go,” Taylor trainer Ben Davison said. “There were also times Josh nullified that.”
The fight was contested in front of a crowd of about 1,000, but deserved to be in front of 50,000 or more, given its significance and the heart and soul the fighters poured into it.
There were momentum changes throughout and each fighter landed big shots. Ramirez, though, wasn’t able to overcome the two knockdowns, which he referred to repeatedly as “flash knockdowns.”
“Those knockdowns made the difference,” Ramirez trainer Robert Garcia said, explaining what went wrong for Ramirez. “Jose is a warrior, but a few of those rounds went in the other direction and the knockdowns were a two-point swing.”
What’s next for Josh Taylor?
Taylor said he could fight anywhere from 135 to 147, but said he’d like to meet WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford. It was Crawford, on Aug. 19, 2017, who knocked out Julius Indongo to become the first undisputed champion at 140 pounds.
Some on Taylor’s team mentioned Garcia’s younger brother, Mikey Garcia, as a potential next opponent.
But Taylor wasn’t thinking that way in the immediate aftermath. He’d poured his heart and soul into this process for years and was overcome when he’d finally reached his goal.
“You know, hard work and dedication pays off,” Taylor said, echoing one of Floyd Mayweather’s favorite phrases. “This has been 13 years in the making, of hard work and dedication. I dedicated my life to the sport. I put everything on hold, all my social life, things I wanted to do with my friends, my family, with my fiancée back home. I missed a lot of things I wanted to do, and it was all for this moment.”
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