After two cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic, WBC/WBO junior welterweight unified titlist Jose Ramirez will finally meet Viktor Postol on Saturday in the main event of a Top Rank card at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas (ESPN+, 7:30 p.m. ET).
The winner could have a chance to unify all four major belts against Josh Taylor — who owns the WBA and IBF belts — in 2021.
Ramirez and Postol were initially scheduled to fight on Feb. 1, but that fight, which was scheduled to take place in China, was canceled just days before the fight and eventually postponed to May 9. The bout was again postponed and rescheduled for Saturday.
Will the postponements and long layoffs affect the fighters? Who has the best chance to win and then unify the belts?
Steve Kim and Nick Parkinson share their thoughts on the fight, Daniel Dubois’ future, Erislandy Lara’s place in the junior middleweight division and the return to the bubble for school teacher Gabriel Muratalla.
Who wins the Ramirez-Postol fight and how?
Kim: I look for this fight to go the distance, as Postol will be his usual difficult and durable self. Ramirez will eventually press forward and get past Postol’s long jab and outwork him by fighting on the inside. The key for Ramirez will be setting a quick tempo and not let Postol get into a groove by boxing from the perimeter of the ring. Ring rust for both boxers might be a factor, and keep this in mind — Postol is now 36 years old while Ramirez is in his physical prime at age 28.
While Ramirez has not fought since last July (when he unified the WBC and WBO junior welterweight titles by stopping Maurice Hooker in Round 6), Postol hasn’t been in the ring since April 2019, when he scored a 10-round decision over Mohamed Mimoune.
It will be interesting to see who will be affected more by the long layoff.
Parkinson: Ramirez. Postol, a former WBC world titlist, has twice been beaten by elite opponents (Josh Taylor in June 2018 and Terence Crawford in July 2016), and after fighting just once in the past 21 months, he is not expected to be sharp enough to trouble Ramirez. Delays due to coronavirus have kept Ramirez out of the ring for just over a year, but he was mightily impressive in his most recent fight when he finished Hooker. Ramirez’s relentless pressure will see off Postol in the middle rounds, just as he did against Hooker.
Who will unify all four titles in the junior welterweight division, the Jose Ramirez-Viktor Postol winner or Josh Taylor?
Kim: Taylor is the most well-rounded 140-pounder at the moment. And while Ramirez is certainly a formidable junior welterweight himself, Taylor has just a few more dimensions to his overall game — most importantly, his ability to be mobile and slick. He showed against Regis Prograis in 2019 in the World Boxing Super Series that he is more than willing to stick his nose inside and get to work.
Taylor is a blossoming pound-for-pound talent. In just 16 professional fights, he has become a unified titleholder at 140, and in his past three bouts — against Prograis, Ivan Baranchyk and Ryan Martin — he has defeated fighters who had a combined mark of 65-0.
But going beyond the statistics, his multifaceted skills give him the advantage over any junior welterweight on the planet.
Parkinson: Ramirez-Taylor is a close matchup, and if Taylor fights like he did against Prograis, he will be hard to beat. However, if the unification fight takes place in California, and with Ramirez benefiting from more meaningful activity over the past year, the Californian could edge past Taylor in a close, technical fight. Taylor was relentless with his pressure against Prograis, but without a home crowd, he might struggle to replicate that against Ramirez, who is a good pressure fighter himself. Ramirez also showed in his most recent fight that he can produce a knockout against an elite-level opponent. But before deciding whom I fancy to unify the belts at junior welterweight, I want to see how Ramirez performs against Postol, 13 months after his last defense. Taylor dropped Postol on his way to a unanimous decision two years ago.
Who would be a good step-up opponent for Daniel Dubois if he defeats Joe Joyce?
Kim: That depends on just how quickly his handlers want to move him. Dubois is ranked seventh at heavyweight by the WBC, and he is ranked third by the WBO. They obviously want him to move fairly fast, despite him being just 22 years old. My view is that he’s among the very best young heavyweights in the sport. He’s got natural power in both hands, and he moves very well for a big heavyweight. Dubois has greatly improved his balance and technique in the past year.
If the plan is to solidify his standing as a contender, should he take care of Joyce in the fall, I’d say a guy like Oscar Rivas, who’s an experienced veteran, would be a good choice for Dubois to face next. Rivas has just one loss in 27 professional fights (a hard-fought affair against Dillian Whyte last summer). But again, that’s if they want to fast-track Dubois’ career.
Parkinson: Joyce, whom Dubois is scheduled to face Oct. 24, is likely to be the hardest fight of Dubois’ career, and it could be dramatic enough to warrant a rematch. Joyce, a silver medalist at the 2016 Olympics, could even beat Dubois in a shootout of unbeaten English heavyweights. Get past Joyce, and I think Dubois would really benefit from boxing in the United States with the exposure and experience that it brings. A former world title challenger like Carlos Takam would be a good step forward for Dubois in 2021, but if he is fighting in the U.S., then Michael Hunter (18-1-1, 12 KOs) or Charles Martin (28-2-1, 25 KOs) would generate interest.
Where does Erislandy Lara rank among the 154-pound titleholders?
Kim: ESPN has Lara ranked No. 5 behind Jermell Charlo, Jeison Rosario, Julian Williams and Jarrett Hurd, which is probably about right.
It was just a couple of fights ago, in 2018, that Lara dropped a close split decision to Hurd in a unification bout. Then he battled Brian Castano to a draw in 2019.
Even at 37, while he doesn’t have quite the same life in his legs as he did several years ago, Lara is still a solid, sound boxer who will always understand how to use his southpaw stance to his advantage.
Parkinson: Lara trails behind rival titleholders Jermell Charlo and Jeison Rosario, but he should be rated above Patrick Teixeira for his experience. Charlo and Rosario meet in a clash to decide the division’s No. 1 next month and both have better recent wins on their records than Lara. So, too, do Julian Williams and Jarrett Hurd, who beat Lara by split decision in 2018. Lara, 37, needs to prove he is not in decline.
Whom are you looking forward to seeing fight inside the bubble on Saturday more — top prospect Elvis Rodriguez or school teacher Gabriel Muratalla?
Kim: Muratalla is a great story and a fighter on the rise. He made the most of two opportunities this summer. But it’s hard to ignore the ceiling of Rodriguez, who keeps scoring one eye-opening knockout after another, as he did against Danny Murray and Dennis Okoth recently. This is a true power-hitting left-hander with solid technique.
Rodriguez has been a bit of an under-the-radar prospect, but that ended with his latest KO victory.
Parkinson: Muratalla’s story of juggling his boxing career with teaching at a preschool is an interesting story that generates interest beyond boxing fans. A first-round knockout in his first fight inside “the bubble” also helped the 26-year-old bantamweight from California broaden his fan base, and there will be more interest when he fights again.