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COMMISSIONER’S CORNER: A Tale of Two Divisions

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There is a lot more separating the heavyweight division from the middleweight division than some 40 pounds. It’s called talent.

On paper, Saturday night’s bash at Madison Square Garden should have been one of the sport’s biggest nights of the year. On paper, the heavyweight matchup between undefeated heavyweights Bryant Jennings (18-0) and Mike Perez (20-0-1), looked to be a phenomenal one. On paper, the matchup in a middleweight title fight between WBO champ Gennady Golovkin and former IBF champ Daniel Geale also looked to be a splendid matchup. Only the middleweight fight turned out to be a thriller, albeit a short one.

Going into Saturday night and on paper, both of the above fights looked like “Can’t miss” events. But fights take place in the ring, not on paper.

The Jennings-Perez match was supposed to be part of the rejuvenation of the heavyweight division. That same day, 3,300 miles away, in England, another heavyweight match was supposed to begin the rejuvenation: Tyson Fury vs Dereck Chisora II.

Then came last Monday. Chisora allegedly broke a hand during his last sparring session. We say “allegedly” because we were never shown an x-ray with his name on the film of the break. Bad break for Chisora. Bad break for the heavyweight division.

Some news of salvation of sorts for the heavyweight division followed. Alexander Ustinov–all 6′ 8½” and 305 pounds of him, along with his 29-1 (21 KO’s) record, would step in to replace Chisora.

All looked good until a day before the fight, when Tyson Fury’s uncle and former trainer–Hughie–was rushed to the hospital in serious condition. With that on his mind, Tyson pulled out of the fight.

While the heavyweight division still had lost a Tyson Fury fight, it was still getting the Jennings-Perez bout. It was a scheduled 12-rounder and billed as a title eliminator. The loser would go home, lick his wounds and regroup. The winner would go home and party. His next fight would be a promised title shot. Against who? Wladimir Klitschko? Bermane Stiverne? Klitschko, the IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight Champion is in heavy training for a September 6 defense against Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev. Stiverne is closing in on announcing a late Fall date for a defense against 31-0 (31) Deontay Wilder.

Mike Perez is the same Mike Perez who faced Magomed Abdusalamov last November 2 in New York’s Madison Square Garden. This was Perez’ second outing since that tragic night, a night which has left Abdusalamov with brain damage and in a Westchester, New York, rehab center. A few months after the fight, Perez fought to a draw against Carlos Takam. He looked listless in the fight. It often happens to fighters coming off tragic endings in their prior bout. Sometimes, the fire never rekindles in their fighting spirit. It was wondered if it would rekindle in Perez. It doesn’t look that way. He was 20 pounds above his prime fighting weight and wore the weight around his middle.

Still, fans anticipated a slugfest between the two unbeaten, Jennings and Perez. The only problem is, neither heavyweight came to act like a heavyweight. Neither man was willing to throw punches with, as Mike Tyson used to say, “Bad Intentions.” Jennings and Perez were more desirous to hold, maul, head butt, move and pose than they were to fight like heavyweights, the biggest, strongest, hardest-hitting men in our sport. Jennings-Perez was this years’ “Wladimir Klitschko-Alexander Povetkin fight…12 rounds of little action. Klitschko-Povetkin made Mike Tyson-Bonecrusher Smith–another clinch-filled heavyweight 12-rounder–look like a slugfest. During the course of the bout, the crowd—an announced 8,572—was so quiet and still that they looked like a watercolor painting. A cheer went up when ring announcer Michael Buffer’s voice boomed over the MSG P.A. system, “THIS is the 12th and final round.”

In that final round, referee Harvey Dock took a point away from Perez for continuing to punch after his command of “Stop!” The one-point loss was crucial to the outcome of the fight. Judge Tom Schreck had it 114-113 for Perez. Judge Joe Pasquale had it 115-112 for Jennings. Judge Glenn Feldman had it 114-113 for Jennings, but it would have been 114-114 on his card without the point deduction, making the fight a draw instead of a split decision win for Jennings.

Don’t blame Dock for taking a point from Perez as the reason for Perez losing, however. Perez lost because his fire is gone, perhaps and probably extinguished forever.

Following the forgettable heavyweight match came the middleweight title fight and a view of the rapidly-growing-to-legendary-status Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.

I had no doubt GGG would win, but not this fast, not this easily, not this impressively. I thought he’d be tested–even a little bit–by Geale, a world class fighter.

GGG is in a league by himself. With every outing, against every world-class talent he is put in with, you will see it more and more.

On Friday, I spoke to our esteemed Editor, Michael Woods, following the official weigh-in. He noted that, for the first time, GGG was not his usual, jovial self. There was no joking with reporters. There was no posing for the cameras. There was no warm handshake for Geale–just a look of a stone-faced killer.

“Could Golovkin be feeling some nervousness?” I asked Woodsy.

“You never know what’s going through a man’s mind,” said our Editor. “But I will say this–I have never seen this side of him before. Maybe because, as a pro, Triple G is facing one of his toughest opponents.”

Once the bell rang, you would have never known it.

GGG toyed with Geale. He measured him from the start, felt his power and felt his strength. HE sized up his speed and timing. It didn’t take long.

The fight was over 10 minutes and 47 seconds after the opening bell (and that includes the rest periods after the first and second rounds). The undefeated GGG had notched his 30th victory, his 27th knockout, his 17th consecutive knockout and his 11th defense of his WBA Middleweight Championship. In a sport where championships are handed out like hors’ doeuvres at a wedding, GGG’s title is one which truly means something.

The power-packed 3rd round TKO–which left Geale standing like a drunk outside Madison Square Garden at 3:00 a.m.–also sent the 8,572 fans in attendance out of The Garden talking glowingly about the performance they had just seen.

“This Triple GGG is for (expletive) real,” said a fan who had spent $400 for a ringside seat. “I had to be close. I wanted to feel the power, which I’ve been told you can, if you’re close enough,” said the fan. “So I got close enough.”

So, did he feel the power?

“I absolutely did!” he said. “I absolutely did! The guy is incredible!”

Another fan felt the same way about Golovkin.

“He is the best champion in boxing, bar none!” said the fan as he departed The Garden with a few friends. “Bar none!”

The fans just may be right.

On September 1, 2012, we–the North American boxing fans–got our first look at Golovkin. I had known about him and had seen some videos on him, so was somewhat prepared for what to expect. My friend Charlie Fitch was selected to be the referee for Golovkin’s U.S. debut on HBO. His opponent was rugged Gregorz Proksa, from Poland, who brought a 29-1 record into the fight and a reputation as an iron-jawed slugger who had never been dropped. Charlie and I spoke about the fight, which was held at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. He said he knew about the toughness of Proksa and the high skill level of GGG. He said he was ready for anything. He was. He handled GGG’s five-round, one-sided shellacking and breakdown of Proksa magnificently, finally waving things off in the fifth round.

Afterwards, Fitch told me, “Maybe it’s too early to say this, but I have a feeling I just reffed a guy who is going to go down in history as a great fighter.”

It wasn’t too early, Charlie. GGG is indeed a great fighter. The best from him is still yet to come…and it will. Golovkin, who has said he will fight from super welterweight (154 lbs.) to super middleweight (168 lbs.), now has some of boxing’s mega-fights to talk about. How about GGG against Carl Froch? Julio Cesar Chavez? Peter Quillin? Then, of course, are fights bigger than any boxing has seen in years: GGG v Andre Ward…against Miguel Cotto…and against Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Against Mayweather or Cotto, let’s just select Yankee Stadium as the venue. The place will be sold out. Configured for boxing, the capacity would be around 60,000.

So, it was GGG on Saturday night who sent ’em home happy and talking of greatness and of how GGG owned the middleweight division.

Maybe GGG can become a heavyweight. Heaven knows that division could use some lifting up–especially after Saturday.

So, instead of getting two great heavyweight fights on Saturday, we got none. Instead of getting three great fights on the same night–two in New York and one in England–we got one great performance in New York and none in England.

That great performance came from a great fighter–a middleweight named Gennady. He has left us with so many possibilities that it’s mind-boggling.

The heavyweight division left us with nothing.

There may be 40 pounds between the middleweight and heavyweight divisions, but it seems like they are 40 years away.

Forty light years!

                                                                                ***

As I mentioned, don’t blame referee Harvey Dock for causing Mike Perez to lose to Bryant Jennings. What you guys don’t see is the elaborate pre-fight instructions given to each fighter in his dressing room by the referee. The ref goes over EVERYTHING. At the start of the fight, all you hear, when the fighters are brought to mid-ring, is the ref say, “Gentlemen, we went over the rules in the dressing. I expect you to obey them.” He may add a little something here or there, have the fighters touch gloves (which they do not have to do), send them back to their respective corners, get into the center of the ring, look at one fighter, turn and look at the other fighter, then look at the timekeeper and give the signal to ring the bell. He does NOT have to drop warning upon warning on them in order to take a point away. I hate to see a point taken away in the last round, but I felt the deduction was warranted. Both men knew the rules. Both men understood the rules. Then, why did Perez fall into that 12th round clinch, drive the top of his head into Jenning’s face, and punch witth his southpaw left as ref Dock repeatedly was yelling “STOP!”

I know. You’re gonna’ tell me Perez didn’t hear the command. Let me say that I heard it at ringside…and because I have spent much of my career wearing headsets, I don’t have the sharpest hearing in the world. If I heard it, Perez heard it. Then why did he head-butt Jennings? Why did he punch with the left after the command–which Dock said a few times–jarring Jenning’s mouthpiece loose? Perez didn’t lose the fight there. He lost it by his right jab-left cross-head butt and hold tactics throughout the fight. Harvey Dock is a damn good ref. He did a good job in a rough, physical fight. Perez didn’t need anybody’s help in losing the fight. He did that by himself. We can only hope he rests, searches his soul for some answers, perhaps talks to a guy like Ray Mancini, who lived through his own boxing nightmare, then either continues his boxing career with passion or moves onto another line of work with much success.

***

Lots of celebs were on hand at MSG on Saturday. Included were actors Tony Danza, Andy Karl and Margo Seibert. Karl and Seibert play the roles of Rocky Balboa and Adrian in the Broadway hit, “Rocky the Musical”…Promoter Lou DiBella has been filming a role in an upcoming movie…Prayers to former cruiserweight champion & now heavyweight contender Steve Cunningham and his wife, Livvy, as they await word–which can come at any moment–on a heart transplant operation for their daughter, Kennedy, who is 9. Kennedy was born with a condition called HLHS, which basically is a malfunctioning left ventricle. She has already undergone two heart surgery operations and now awaits a transplant. When the call comes from the hospital in Pittsburgh that a heart has been found, the Cunninghams have four hours to get Kennedy to the hospital and into surgery. They must then live in Pittsburgh for at least six months, the expected time Kennedy will be in the hospital and in follow-up care. Anyone wishing to make a donation–nothing is too big or too small–can do so by going on the internet to HeartbyFaith.com. Please help young Kennedy in any way you can.

***

BOOK NOOK: I just got “Friday Night Fighter,” the biography of Gaspar “Indio” Ortega, whose son, Mike, is currently one of the world’s top referees. Written Troy Rondinone, the book follows post-WWII boxing on TV, the “Gillette Friday Night Fights” and Ortega, who made so many appearances on those cards that his name was on the lips of every American who watched the show. Published by University of Illinois Press, you can find it in bookstores and at amazon.com. It’s a great read and tells us a lot about a great action fighter and a great family man–Gaspar Ortega.

***

Got a surprise call the other day from one of the most colorful characters in the history of boxing—Bruce The Mouse Strauss. Strauss served as an opponent for many promoters. His willingness to fight virtually anybody on a moment’s notice saved a show. His record was 77-53-6, but you can probably add on 20 more fights under assumed names. He fought in main events and undercards, against world-class fighters, future champions and local heros. He was as close to a WWE character as boxing has ever had. One time, he was stopped in Alabama. Three nights later, he was in a ring in Indiana. A reporter, who had been at the Alabama card, was also at the card in Indiana.

“Hey, weren’t you in Alabama the other night?” asked the reporter.

“No!” said Strauss. “I’m the Mouse. You saw my twin brother, Moose.”

The reporter bought it.

Mouse is doing great in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, and wants everyone to know he’s proud of localite Terence Crawford.

                                                                                 ***

Good luck to Sonya Lamonakis, the friendly voice on the phone at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, New York, as she’ll be fighting Carlette Ewell in the Caribbean this Saturday for the vacant IBO Female Heavyweight Title. The two fought to a draw two years ago in New York…Ring 8 had its yearly Summer BBQ in Glen Cove, L.I., The food was terrific and so was the turnout. Ring 8 is the largest Veteran Boxer’s Association in the world….David Berlin looks to be doing a great job in his new position as Executive Director of the New York State Athletic Commission. But have smiles been replaced by frowns. From press row, one of the writers turned and said to me, “Hey, Commish, look at that row of New York State Athletic Commission staffers. They don’t look too happy.” One glance at them showed him to be correct. Some looked almost sad. Some looked angry. Some looked indifferent. None looked happy. Smile, guys! It’s a fun job! Been there, done that!

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 135: Danny Roman and Super Bantamweights Perform in L.A.

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 135: Danny Roman and Super Bantamweights Perform in L.A.

The super bantamweight division was virtually unknown by most fans of prizefighting for the last decade.

Then Danny Roman arrived and re-booted the 122-pound division virtually by himself by challenging and defeating world champions from Japan and the United Kingdom.

Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) no longer holds the world titles but itches to regain his footing when he fights Ricardo Espinoza (25-3, 21 KOs) at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday May 15. Showtime will televise the battle on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

“Everything I do in boxing from here on out is to regain my status as a world champion,” said the normally ultra-reserved Roman, 31.

Ironically, both Roman and Espinoza turned their careers around with numerous battles at boxing shows in Ontario, California. They entered as boys and emerged as battle-tested men.

For the last 20 years Thompson Boxing Promotions has been pumping out world champions and contenders at a furious rate despite their small size in Southern California. They do not pamper or cajole their prospects.

Both Roman and Espinoza suffered their first losses as professionals at Thompson Boxing’s bloody battles at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario. But despite losing, they continued to learn and evolve. Now they meet in Los Angeles on the big stage.

When Roman lost to Japan’s Takashi Okada in 2011 and Juan Reyes in 2013, that could have derailed the Los Angeles-based fighter for good. Instead, he re-grouped and reloaded to become a unified world champion. Roman traveled to Japan and won the WBA super bantamweight world title by stoppage of Shun Kubo in 2017. A couple of years later after several defenses, he clashed with WBO super bantamweight titlist TJ Doheny to win an incredible battle by decision in Los Angeles. It was perhaps the Fight of the Year in 2019 and gained Roman the WBO belt.

Though Roman lost both the WBA and WBO titles to Murodjon Akhmadaliev, it was a disputed split decision. Many felt Roman was the true winner. So now he must battle back toward the top.

Espinoza also fought many bloody affairs at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario including his first two losses. He lost to Sam Rodriguez in 2016 and Christian Nieto in 2017. Then the power-punching fighter from Tijuana, Mexico knocked out 12 of 13 of his opponents to gain a world title fight that he lost in April 2019. Since then, he has returned to his winning ways and upset undefeated Brandon Valdes last year.

“Danny Roman has fought some really quality opponents that are high in the rankings, but this is my time. This is when I show that I can step up in competition and prove that I belong with the best,” said Espinoza who is very familiar with Roman.

The Tijuana fighter is a punching machine.

“This is not going to be an easy fight because I know my opponent is a tough fighter from Tijuana who is coming with everything he’s got. He’s got a lot of power, so I must be smart on how I throw my combinations,” said Roman who lives within 10 miles of the event. “I believe my experience in big fights is going to be the difference on May 15. I’m expecting a rough fight and I’m ready for an intense battle.”

Now the two veterans of the Ontario, California wars finally meet each other to see who advances toward a world title fight. They won’t have to look far. The main event pits two titleholders against each other.

Unification Battle for Super Bantam Belts

Mexico’s Luis Nery holds the WBC super bantamweight world title and faces Texan Brandon Figueroa who holds a version of the WBA super bantamweight title in the main event on the Dignity Health Sports Park card on Saturday. Showtime will televise.

Nery formerly held the bantamweight title too. But the Tijuana-based fighter had problems making weight and wisely moved up a weight division. So far, the extra pounds hasn’t been a problem.

The problem facing Nery is Figueroa has a solid chin.

Figueroa may look like a pretty boy but he fights like he’s ugly. The Weslaco, Texas native has firepower and a rock chin but does he have the skills to match Nery?

“I come forward. I bring the pressure and I’m definitely going to bring the power, the size and all the advantages I have to make sure that we give the fans a great show. I do respect him as a fighter but we’re just going to have to find out Saturday,” said Figueroa whose brother Omar Figueroa fought in the same venue two weeks ago.

Nery has quickness and agility to supplement his power. He also has experience in world class opposition and that’s something Figueroa lacks.

“Brandon’s style really fits with what I want to do in the ring,” said Nery, a boxer-slugger. “This is going to be an all-out war from the first round on. People are going to be talking about it for a long time after.”

The winner of this clash will hopefully meet the winner of Roman and Espinoza. That would really heat up the super bantamweight division to blue hot levels.

Some of my favorite fighters of the past occupied the super bantamweight division like Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Israel “Magnifico” Vazquez who twice fought in this same venue. His third fight with Rafael Marquez on March 1, 2008 was voted Fight of the Year for its brutal but spectacular display of super bantamweight power.

The winners of this quasi-super bantamweight tournament can equally achieve the same kind of greatness those former stars achieved. This is a good start.

Fights to Watch (All times are Pacific Coast)

Friday UFC Fight Pass 5:30 p.m. Heather Hardy (22-1) vs Jessica Camara (7-2); Melissa St. Vil (13-4-4) vs Olivia Gerula (18-18-4).

Friday Telemundo 11:30 p.m. Denilson Valtierra (14-0) vs Emanuel Lopez (30-12-1).

Sat. DAZN 10 a.m. Lerrone Richards (14-0) vs Giovanni De Carolis (28-9-1).

Sat. Showtime 7 p.m. Luis Nery (31-0) vs Brandon Figueroa (21-0-1); Danny Roman (28-3-1) vs Ricardo Espinoza (25-3).

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Charr vs Lovejoy: Better Late Than Never, or Not

Phil Woolever

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COLOGNE – There are many questions to be answered regarding Mahmoud Charr’s scheduled fight against Christopher Lovejoy this Saturday night at a training facility along the Rhine. The most primary point to be determined is whether the contest actually occurs.

Charr has been idle since capturing a WBA title belt against Aleksandr Ustinov way back in November 2017. Since then numerous delays and cancellations, many of them out of Charr’s control, have kept the erstwhile ranked heavyweight out of the championship picture and far from the international public eye.

The most recent of such situations found Charr unable to obtain a travel visa for a defense against Trevor Bryan in Florida last January. Machinations by Don King and the WBA in relegating Charr to “in recess” status further tarnished both the promoter and the organization’s already disgraceful reputations.

King has also had a hand in keeping Lovejoy off the rumbling radar, after the boxer previously claimed retirement as a way out of King’s contractual clutches. When Lovejoy attempted to face Dave Allen in London on the undercard of Usyk-Chisora, King contacted Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn with enough of a claim that Lovejoy’s appearance was cancelled.

According to Lovejoy, King has also attempted to block Saturday’s fight, so uncertainty remains until the first bell rings this weekend. That said, everything else about the relatively low key card seems to be well in place, and there is plenty to look forward to, questions and all. A subscriber-based live stream on German news outlet Bild.de will broadcast the bout.

How the long layoff, which began way before the coronavirus pandemic, has affected Charr is probably the most crucial factor, but what the rarely seen Lovejoy brings to the table is as compelling as it is curiously noteworthy. His record of 19-0 with 19 quick knockouts, compiled completely off-grid in frequent madhouse Tijuana could mean damn near anything.

Charr, 31-4 (17), has been stopped three times and in two of those KOs (by Maris Briedis and Alexander Povetkin) he was blasted into one-shot oblivion. Under Saturday’s scenario one of the few possible surprises might be if Lovejoy doesn’t try to get Charr out of there immediately.

Lovejoy, listed at 6’4”, looks substantially larger than 6’3” Charr, but not any taller. An uneducated guess indicates a strong possibility that the more proven Charr is capable of wearing Lovejoy down, especially considering how he did it against a respectable version of Ustinov.

When Lovejoy refused to shake Charr’s hand and insulted his courage during their press conference photo op, there was a slight but very significant twitch in Charr’s almost constantly upbeat countenance. If Lovejoy doesn’t indeed carry huge power in his punches, he may have inspired a painful night.

To put Charr’s simmering anger in perspective, it must be remembered that he still looked like he was calmly waiting for his food while being carried out on a stretcher after getting shot four times in the lower abdomen during a 2015 ambush in nearby Essen. When his assailant, a former boxing protégé, confessed by saying he only meant to shoot him in the leg, Charr told an emotion packed courtroom bygones were bygones, saying “I am a man who forgives.”

A refugee at five years old whose father was killed in the Lebanese civil war, Charr seems to clearly envision a bigger picture than just his boxing career, and he consistently posts positive motivational copy on social media, including an end of Ramadan message stressing nonpartisan hope for the current Gaza conflict.

The 10-round fight carries no title designation but whatever they may or may not step into the ring with, one thing Charr and Lovejoy share is the potential for a make-or-break performance.

If Charr wins, people will dismiss Lovejoy’s merit in the first place but it still keeps a bit of shine on his championship claims, increasing his leverage regarding Bryan or even bigger game. If Lovejoy wins, especially by dramatic KO, he has definitely upped his recognition factor marketability.

The only safe bet is that the winner will probably hear from somebody representing Don King.

And maybe even Fres Oquendo.

Questions, questions.

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The Tartan Tornado Invades Las Vegas, Harkening Back to Sugar Ray Robinson

Arne K. Lang

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On Sunday, Feb. 26, 1961, Sugar Ray Robinson arrived in Las Vegas for his match six days later with Gene Fullmer at the two-year-old Las Vegas Convention Center. Reporters on hand to greet Robinson at the airport were taken aback by his large entourage. With him were his manager George Gainford, his trainer and his trainer’s assistant, his mother, his traveling secretary, his personal physician, his dietician, his bodyguard, his personal barber and a sparring partner – eleven bodies in all including Robinson.

Flash forward 60 years. When WBA/IBF world super lightweight champion Josh Taylor arrived in Las Vegas on April 24, his party also numbered eleven. Arriving with him from Edinburgh were his trainer Ben Davison, his former amateur coach Terry McCormack (pictured on the right) and assorted others including a videoanalyst, a physiotherapist, and several longtime friends and gym mates including undefeated (10-0) European bantamweight title-holder Lee McGregor and sparring partner Chris Kongo.

Once he was settled in, Sugar Ray had less than a full week to finish off his preparation for his title fight with arch-rival Fullmer. By contrast, Josh Taylor and his team arrived in Las Vegas a full month before Taylor was set to square off against WBC/WBO counterpart Jose Ramirez in the biggest fight in Las Vegas since Fury-Wilder II, a lapse of 14 months.

There are other differences between Team Robinson and Team Taylor which touch on the way that boxing has changed from a promotional standpoint. Sugar Ray and his party stayed at the Dunes Casino Resort on the Strip where Robinson picked up some loose change holding afternoon pre-fight workouts in the hotel’s showroom at $1 a head. Team Taylor is staying as a group in a large, luxury home in the “burbs” where there are fewer distractions and when he is ready to spar at the Top Rank Gym, “foreigners” are shooed away. Which isn’t to say that Josh Taylor isn’t friendly. Quite the opposite; the Tartan Tornado has been very approachable and unstinting of his time with the few local reporters that have been hep to his whereabouts.

Taylor hails from Prestonpans, a town eight miles east of Edinburgh, Scotland’s second-largest city. His dad works as a landscape gardener and his mother as a receptionist. He has one sibling, a younger sister. This past December he became engaged to hairdresser Danielle Murphy, his longtime girlfriend. They have known each other for 10 years.

On Wikipedia, Prestonpans is portrayed as a small fishing village, but that is highly misleading. For a better reference, think of towns in the American rust belt that have been bruised by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Taylor and his neighbors will tell you that the policies of Margaret Thatcher, British PM from 1979 to 1990, compounded the damage.

At age 17, Taylor, now 30, found his way to McCormack’s Lochend Boxing Club in Edinburgh. At this humble gym — a little shack situated smack against a public housing project — he honed the skills that made him an elite amateur, a globetrotter who culminated his tenure with a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Taylor turned pro for Barry McGuigan’s Cyclone Promotions. McGuigan entrusts his fighters to his trainer/son Shane McGuigan. The McGuigans already had Carl Frampton in the fold. Under the McGuigans stewardship, Frampton became a champion in two weight classes.

Taylor’s fight with Jose Ramirez will be his fourth in the United States. Josh made his pro debut in El Paso and also fought at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The common thread in all three fights is Frampton who also appeared on those cards, the last two as the headliner with Leo Santa Cruz in the opposite corner.

As a pro, Taylor is undefeated (17-0, 13 KOs). Ramirez, the pride of Central California’s vast San Joaquin Valley, home to more than 4 million people, is also undefeated (26-0, 17 KOs), but the Scotsman is considered to have fought the stronger schedule. Taylor’s last five opponents were collectively 110-1 at the time that he fought them with the lone blemish inflicted by Terence Crawford.

Taylor’s signature win was his Oct. 26, 2019 conquest of Regis Prograis at London’s O2 Arena. Both came in undefeated, both owned a share of the world super lightweight title, and the match had the added allure of being the final round of a World Boxing Super Series tournament with the coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy, an impressive piece of hardware, bestowed on the winner.

The fight was expected to be highly entertaining and it overachieved. The noted historian Matt McGrain called it “the inarguable 140lb fight of the decade.” At the end both fighters were marked-up, especially the victorious Taylor who sported a beauty of a shiner over his right eye. “I have never been prouder of an injury,” Taylor told this reporter.

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His relationship with the McGuigans unraveled after this fight. Shane McGuigan took it hard. “I’ve invested four-and-a-half years of my time and energy in someone who just doesn’t deserve it,” he said. “If you want loyalty in boxing, buy a dog (a saying previously credited to the late British boxing promoter Mickey Duff).”

“Don’t buy a dog and then put it in the kennel,” replied Taylor, noting that he had been left alone for long periods by Shane McGuigan when training in England and that he wasn’t provided a key to the gym when his trainer was out of town.

Veteran British boxing scribe Colin Hart took the McGuigans’ side in a story that ran in the Sun, faulting Josh for his disloyalty. What Hart failed to note is that in every deal that Taylor has signed, he has insisted that his amateur coach be included. McCormack assisted McGuigan in the corner and continues in that role under Davison, the young trainer who reinvigorated Tyson Fury before their amicable split.

“I have never been so happy as I am now,” says Taylor. “I am content and relaxed.” And he insists that he harbors no hard feelings toward the McGuigans. “I’m grateful for what they did for me.”

This olive branch, of sorts, stands in stark contrast to his pal Carl Frampton whose break from the McGuigans was scarred with unbending acrimony. (Shane McGuigan’s latest protégé is Lawrence Okolie who turned in a sensational performance while blasting out Krzyzstof Glowacki to win the WBO world cruiserweight title on March 20. There’s no question that Shane is one of the sharpest young trainers in the sport, but if he were a physician, one might say that he needs to work on improving his bedside manner.)

The Taylor-Ramirez fight will be held at the Virgin Hotel (formerly the Hard Rock which was closed for 13 months while the new owners of the property, in their words, “reimagined” it). The winner will be the undisputed 140-pound champion, holding all four meaningful belts. If that be Taylor, who is a small favorite, that would put him on the same pedestal as Ken Buchanan who became a national hero when he won the world lightweight title from Ismael Laguna in 1970, a diadem he lost on a controversial punch to Roberto Duran who refused to give him a rematch.

Now 75 years old and residing in an assisted living facility in Edinburgh, the city of his birth, Buchanan was among the first to predict that Taylor would become a world champion. The two are well-acquainted. Buchanan pops in occasionally at McCormack’s gym. He has visited Taylor at his family home where, Josh notes, his mother welcomed him as she would any honored guest, meaning she put on a spot of tea.

Taylor vs Ramirez is a sellout. The bout will be televised free in the United States on ESPN. It’s a very compelling attraction.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

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