Imagine you’ve had a goal since childhood. It doesn’t matter what it is, but it becomes the critical motivator in your personal and professional life. Now, imagine you acheived it. And imagine if you failed. Beyond the elation and heartache in the immediate aftermath is a central question that no one can answer but you: What do I do now?
Last Saturday night at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas, junior welterweights Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez met in a bout televised on ESPN to determine who was THE champion. Had they not previously collected all the alphabet straps, the bout would lose no meaning. The clear #1 and #2 fighters were meeting, and between them had defeated the rest of the top five. Taylor emerged victorious by triplicate scores of 114-112, a pair of knockdowns sealing his win.
There’s little to say about the fight itself that hasn’t been covered ad nauseam by now. It was close for many rounds. It was thrilling in brief pockets, but overall just very good. Taylor inexplicably gave a few away after convincing himself, and Ramirez, he was truly the superior fighter. The knockdowns were the deciding factor on the cards, in the ring, and holy hell were they perfect. Referee Kenny Bayless was utterly hopeless: as officious as in Floyd Mayweather fights, but with a reticence and disconnect from the action reminiscent of Robert Byrd over the last decade and change.
Ok. Now what?
That’s the question with which both men are faced. If there isn’t to be a rematch, and despite the tight cards it doesn’t seem necessary, what do they do next? You can attain your highest goals, or fail at the zenith, and the question remains.
In this case, it’s the loser who may have an easier time answering the question. Ramirez now has a loss on his ledger (a blemish only in the eyes of marketing and morons), but his ambition is likely unchanged. To be the undisputed champion. And he’ll have a number of things to fix in his craft with trainer Robert Garcia that he may not have known existed before now. Ivan Baranchyk would be an eminently beatable comeback opponent who would also put on a helluva show. A rematch with Jose Zepeda makes plenty of sense. A fight against Regis Prograis, on the other hand, would settle who is second best at 140 and likely provide plenty of fireworks along the way. That’s without leaving the top five. With the exception of Robert Easter, sign me up for Ramirez versus anyone in the top 10. He could even move up to welterweight, he’s plenty big enough. He has multiple options, all of which are in service of his goal. He gets to hang onto that and let it keep lighting the way.
Taylor has now cleaned out a division and become lineal champion. The only fighter currently ranked in the top five by the TBRB he hasn’t beaten is the aforementioned Zepeda. He was able to match the achievement of his hero, friend, and countryman Ken Buchanan, who was lightweight champion from 1971 to 1974. In a country as proud and small as Scotland, that will not go unnoticed.
There will be alphabet mandatories to consider, should Taylor choose to keep the straps. It seems unlikely that simply keeping what he’s won will be enough for him, though. If it were, he wouldn’t have won it. The most eye-catching possibilities are lineal lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez moving up to 140, or Taylor moving up to 147 to face Bud Crawford. Either of those is a legitimate super-fight in terms of talent and accomplishment. Lopez is a gigantic lightweight and Crawford is a small welterweight, so they’re similarly sized too. Ramirez and Taylor fought because they had the same ambition, and the other was the only thing standing in their way. Taylor may not find such a perfect set of circumstances again.
No matter what happens next, we should appreciate Taylor and Ramirez. They were both willing to have to answer “What do I do now?” There’s a lot to be said for that in a world full of people who were too afraid to fail or too afraid to succeed because that question was looming.