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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Junior Welterweight Division: An in-depth look

Junior Welterweight Division: An in-depth look

Who do you think emerges on top?
Publish Date: 07/27/2019
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

Prelude

The ambidextrous pound for pound superstar from Omaha left the division at the top. The undisputed Junior Welterweight World Champion seamlessly cleaned out the division, beating all comers from around the world. Terence Crawford officially vacated all the belts by October 2017. He was the first undisputed world champion in any division since Jermain Taylor in 2006. Kostya Tszyu was the preceding undisputed junior welterweight world champion albeit with only three trinkets (WBC, WBA & IBF) and this was back in 2004. Predictably the division was now wide open, with all the alphabet soup belts now scattered, as the sanctioning bodies looked to capitalise with fights ordered for vacant belts.

After about two years in the wilderness, the division is finally in the position where we may be able to see a new crowned king. We wait in anticipation. It’s a rarity to have two undisputed world champions within possibly 2/3 years. Considering we had to wait more than a decade for one before, pinch me and wake me up, the sport of boxing might just be heading into the right direction, maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In this piece we look under-the-hood at the current four world titlists of the division who are locked into somewhat unofficial semi-finals, which will lead us to what we hope, an undisputed unification fight in the future. Additionally, I give my opinion on how I see the unifications play out.

The Current Landscape

Regis Prograis – WBA World Champion – 24-0, 20 KOs

Connected to francophone culture, the Rougarou is legendary mythical creature of folklore that represents a werewolf. Hailing from the city of New Orleans which was once the territorial capital of the former French colony, the present-day US state of Louisiana, this explains why Regis “Rougarou” Prograis pays homage to his grandparents and his Louisana Creole background. Ring-walks compromise of Prograis dressed in his ostentatious Rougarou-Werewolf attire, and you can sense he means business.

An unconventional comparison, Italian football (soccer) player Andrea Pirlo knows how to pull the strings in the midfield, similarly Prograis really knows how to dictate the pace of a fight as he can can really slow it down and suddenly accelerate the pace whenever he wishes. A slick southpaw, he fights like he is in total control during the fight. A clear example of this was his fight vs. the aggressive Belarusian banger Kiryl Relikh, where Prograis showcased a complete performance to beat the champion. Relikh was to provide a stiff test having previously beaten the crafty Rances Barthelemy and winning the belt vs. Eduard Troyanovsky. Prograis was adamant to silence critics to demonstrate he had boxing nuance. By using his jab he effectively measured the distance well and he kept Relikh at bay, he consistently slipped the counter-punch, like an artist painting the canvas with a brush. Yes, colour me impressed. When he found the opening in the first round through a body shot, Prograis jumped on the chance like a predator to knock him down. In round 6, he continued to batter the bruised up face of Relikh in an emphatic performance to bring the curtain down.

Prograis also carries respectable power with a KO ratio of 83% thus far. Indongo was a step-up fight and he attacked Indongo’s weak body repeatedly. Hard work paid off, once he had Indongo hurt, he toppled him with an overhand left to ensure Indongo tasted the canvas. With his herky-jerky style where he is always moving his head constantly to slip punches, that will make it difficult for any of his opponents to catch him clean. When he fights to his pace, that can work against him and he can sometimes can become sluggish when throwing his straight right, he lunges in, this opens him for the counter.

Josh Taylor – IBF World Champion – 15-0, 12 KOs

Benny Lynch, Ken Buchanan, Jim Watt and more recently former three-division world belt-holder Ricky Burns are just some of the best Scottish boxers that have graced the ring. Josh Taylor is the latest name and I for one believe he will supersede these legends. Bold statement I know, but there are rational arguments for this proclamation.

Like his fellow World Boxing Super Series finalist Prograis, Taylor is a highly skilled and poised southpaw, and has built up a credible resume in just 15 fights, taking the scalps undefeated prospect and contender in Ohara Davies, Ryan Martin, as well as former/current world champions in Viktor Postol, Miguel Vasquez and Ivan Baranchyk.

The “Tartan Tornado” had to dig deep to win in the semi-final of the WBSS against the hard-hitting and supremely athletic Baranchyk, who brought the fight to him. An astute fighter, Taylor used his lateral movement to evade the power punches of Baranchyk whilst matching the same formidable work rate and intensity as his foe to cruise to a decision. Furthermore, against veterans Postol and Vasquez he has shown maturity. Vasquez had never lost via a KO (retired vs Mbenge) and Postol had only been defeated once against Crawford. Both were very comfortable victories where he showed excellent boxing ability, worked on the inside via body punches and the outside via his jab and movement. An all-around versatile boxer that possesses an extensive array of tools to his game and is the one to dominate in the future. However, I must say he does enjoy a tear-up and can be railroaded into slugfest and this opens the door for getting caught too often. It’s when Taylor is patient is when we see his best performances.

Josh Taylor vs Regis Prograis – IBF/WBA Unification, Ring Magazine & Lineal titles

A fascinating matchup of two different southpaw styles, it is a solid pick to make. Both have brilliant resumes at this point and have looked very good with top level opposition. Taylor has unrelenting work-rate; compare that to the Prograis slow-paced fight. It would not surprise me to see either fighter get the win, though it all comes down the tactics for me. I expect this fight to be a chess-match with a battle of wits and which fighter has the best boxing IQ. Taylor will struggle with Prograis’ immense head movement, but can Prograis dictate the pace of this fight like he has done previously? Regis will have to tailor his game plan for Josh Taylor. See what I did there. The gulf in class and skill between both is minimal. If one had to choose who would win, it would be Taylor, primarily because we have seen him overcome adversity in difficult situations. We have yet to see Prograis fight in stern tests like Taylor. This is the biggest challenge for both fighters at the biggest stage in the scheduled World Boxing Super Series Final.

Whoever is victorious will be likely be crowned #1 in the division.

José Carlos Ramírez- WBC World Champion – 24-0, 16 KOs

A toe-to-toe pressure fighter that stays in the pocket with a crushing left hook. Former 2012 Olympian José Carlos Ramírez who represented the US is a traditional Mexican-American fighter that puts on entertaining performances for his hometown crowd in Fresno, California. The son of Mexican immigrants who worked tirelessly along with other immigrants on the farms in the Central Valley. A proud fighter that never forgets his roots and heritage, dedicated his world title to all immigrants in the USA. A tough upbringing, before becoming a professional boxer, he picked bell peppers for $7.50 an hour for ten hours a day for three sweltering summers in high school, Ramirez brings the same work ethic to the ring.

Ramirez has a rhythmic pace where he bops and jumps and levitates to his left hook from his hip, this is all initiated from the jab, followed up by either the right cross or his colossal left hook to the body. For the vacant WBC belt against Amar Imam, he out-landed, outworked and maintained the pressure all night to win a decision victory. Ramirez landed 282 of 799 (35%) of his total punches, and a great 44% connect rate (228 of 536) on his power shots. Imam landed 182 of 653 (29%) of his total punches, and 108 of 372 (29%) of his power shots. With great amateur and Olympic pedigree, Ramirez can box well, however, his passion is to fight, and in his last outing vs Jose Zepeda, he was in a tough fight and won via majority decision, with one judge scoring it a 114-114 draw. Zepeda boxed well and kept catching him, but even he couldn’t keep up with the insatiable pace of Ramirez.

A fun fighter to watch who has the innate desire to brawl, boxing fans are never disappointed with an individual who fights for his people. That craving to be in all-action battles come with certain issues, a boxer with very good movement, jab and ring IQ could pose a problem for Ramirez’ up and close style.

Maurice Hooker – WBO World Champion – 26-0-3, 17 KOs

Dhalsim-like extended arms with sharp and accurate counter punches on the button, his promoter Eddie Hearn describes him as the road warrior. It’s Dallas, Texas native Maurice Hooker. Matchroom head honcho is correct in his assessment, as Hooker’s road to the world championship and subsequent defences have all been away from home. Hooker has shown he has the “dog” in him, winning the vacant WBO title in Manchester, England against previously undefeated former world champion Terry Flanagan in tough bout. Next stop, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma due to a purse bid win by Top Rank, Hooker had to face another undefeated contender Alex Saucedo in his own backyard.

To put it into perspective, “Mighty Mo” has fought four undefeated fighters in a row, Ramirez will be his fifth fighter, and this alone should be commended. Flanagan (33-0) was moving up from lightweight for the vacant WBO belt, a southpaw that can really make it jagged for anyone. Hooker utilised his long arms with stiff jabs on the moving Flanagan to exploit the gash that was open on Flanagan’s forehead in between his eyes. A tight and competitive fight, Hooker displayed true grit and refused to be roughed up in clinches to get the split decision. Now world champion in his opponent’s territory vs Alex Saucedo (28-0), a former sparring partner from 2011. After dominating the first round he got caught by counter over-hand right in the next round. Hooker stayed resilient and recovered from the second round knockdown. He remained focused with the jab and counter straight right and then progressed to knocking the tired Saucedo out in round 7, releasing a vicious flurry of punches.

Maurice Hooker vs Ramirez – WBO/WBC Unification

This has the makings of a very entertaining fight, a cross-promotional venture between Top Rank and Matchroom and Hooker finally fights again in front of his home crowd in Arlington, Texas. I believe it’s the type of fight where Ramirez will force the action and will puncture the body and look to finish off with his signature left hook. Hooker is susceptible to get hit with his little head movement, but his 80” arm reach will be key in nullifying Ramirez’ assaults. I expect a war in large parts of this fight. Hooker is calm and collected under pressure, with that discipline he can win, Ramirez will have to keep coming all night.

I edge Hooker to win in a close decision fight with the better experience and resume.

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