Josh Taylor and José Ramírez collide with boxing history on the line

“It’s a great, great fight for boxing, a real pure fight,” Josh Taylor said as anticipation intensified before he faces José Ramírez in a compelling world title unification bout in Las Vegas on Saturday night. Unless the bout ends in a draw, one of the world champions will make history by becoming the first fighter from either a British or a Mexican-American background to hold all four major titles at the same time. Even more powerfully, the winner of their junior-welterweight contest will join a select group of undisputed world champions.

The fragmentation of boxing escalated in 1988 when a fourth governing body, the WBO, came into existence alongside the more established WBA, WBC and IBF organisations. Since then it has usually been impossible to establish the identity of the real world champion in each weight category. But either Ramírez or Taylor will join Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford and Oleksandr Usyk as men who can make the distinctive claim of being undisputed world champions in the four-belt era.

This fight arrives at the end of a week when the shambles of boxing was laid bare yet again. On Monday morning the world heavyweight unification fight between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury was confirmed after the Gypsy King posted a message on social media saying: “This fight is 100% on… this is going to be the biggest sporting event ever to grace planet earth. Do not miss it. All eyes on us.” Later that same day the lucrative bout was in ruins after a court ruling that Fury had to fight Deontay Wilder for a third time rather than face Joshua in August.

There is less money in the lighter divisions and more serious intent and so Saturday’s contest will be a powerful antidote to the depressingly familiar mess of boxing. Taylor holds the IBF and WBA belts while Ramírez is the WBC and WBO champion. Twelve rounds, or less, will decide the definitive champion. “I have dedicated my whole adult life to this moment,” Taylor said. “I am so confident it’s unbelievable.”

Taylor is an exceptional champion with hard-nosed grit to match his highly skilled boxing attributes. At the age of 30, and with a 17-0 record, the Scot is in his prime. But his respect for Ramírez is plain. The Mexican-American is two years younger and he has won all 26 fights of his professional career. Ramírez is lauded for his social conscience and the work he does on behalf of his community in the Californian farmlands and in defending the rights of immigrants.

But, in the ring, Ramírez is immensely strong and durable. He might not be as skilful as Taylor but he is driven by a fierce resolve which he showed in July 2019 when he went into the Texan backyard of the undefeated Maurice Hooker and stopped him in the sixth round to add the WBO belt to his WBC title.

Regis Prograis is ranked the world’s third-best fighter in this division and he lost a narrow decision to Taylor in an epic contest in London in October 2019. Prograis recently told me he expects Taylor to shade another tense fight against Ramírez: “Taylor’s a real good boxer and that’s how he beats Ramirez. Just don’t get in a war with José because he is strong and he’s going to keep coming. It could be close but I favour Josh.”

Ramírez, however, made a calm observation to me when we spoke. He pointed out that his boxing skills have been underestimated and that he might surprise Taylor with his ring craft. Ramírez is trained by the venerable Robert Garcia who brings a depth of knowledge and experience that Ben Davison, in Taylor’s corner, cannot match. He also spars in camp with brilliant world champions such as Mikey Garcia and Vergil Ortiz and that higher calibre of training explains Ramírez’s serene confidence.

It has been a bad year for leading British boxers as Josh Warrington and Billy Joe Saunders suffered catastrophic defeats to Mexican fighters. In February, after giving up his IBF featherweight world title in pursuit of a bigger fight later this year, Warrington was knocked out shockingly by the unheralded Mauricio Lara. Two weeks ago, Saunders endured a potentially career-ending stoppage against the imperious “Canelo” Álvarez.

Taylor was much more aggressive on Thursday. His previous respect dropped away as he stared intently at Ramírez and tried to taunt his fellow world champion by implying he had struggled to make the 140 pound weight limit. “You don’t look well,” Taylor said. “You’re dry as fuck. It’s like a peanut. It’s gonna be dry. I am going to belt it all over the place.”

“We’ll see,” Ramírez said in a quiet reply which echoed the interest and expectation of boxing purists who still love this dark old business despite its enduring disarray. “We’ll see.”