Welcome to “Road To Undisputed,” a series where I look at every weight class in boxing, look at the champions and contenders and map out a road to crowning an undisputed champion and the chances of it happening anytime soon.
This week, we’ll take a look at the junior welterweights, which is on the brink of crowning an undisputed champion for the first time since 2017.
Here are the divisions covered so far:
- WBA “Super,” IBF: Josh Taylor
- WBA “Regular:” Mario Barrios
- WBC, WBO: Jose Ramirez
- Jose Zepeda
- Regis Prograis
- Arnold Barboza
- Ivan Baranchyk
- Subriel Matias
- Viktor Postol
- Jack Catterall
- Pablo Cesar Cano
- Kiryl Relikh
- Batyrzhan Jukembayev
- Shohjahon Ergashev
- Ismael Barroso
- Alberto Puello
It’s been almost four years since Terence Crawford dominated Julius Indongo in Omaha, Nebraska to become the undisputed 140-pound champion. Crawford would move up to welterweight the following year, quickly ending his run as undisputed champion. When Crawford left the junior welterweight division, no one knew who would step up and be the division’s new top dog.
The World Boxing Super Series halfway answered that question with Josh Taylor walking away with two world titles on his waist. Taylor’s tournament run, which includes wins over Ivan Baranchyk and Regis Prograis, was nothing short of stupendous. On the flipside, Jose Ramirez captured the WBC title at Madison Square Garden in 2018 and followed it up by beating Maurice Hooker to win the WBO title in 2019.
Taylor and Ramirez are the definitive 1A and 1B of the division with constant debates as to who would emerge victorious in a fight. That’s not to say the rest of the division should be overlooked.
Leading the list of contenders at 140 pounds is none other than former title challenger Jose Zepeda. Zepeda was very close to capturing championship gold when he lost a majority decision to Ramirez in early 2019. Since that loss, Zepeda has been on an incredible run of fights, winning his last three bouts. The 31-year-old Zepeda beat two-division champion Jose Pedraza, once-highly-touted prospect Kendo Castaneda and more recently, Baranchyk. The fight against Baranchyk is the one everyone’s paying attention to these days as it was one of the most insane and violent five-round fights in recent boxing history. That bout, which featured a total of eight knockdowns, gained universal acclaim and has been voted on as the best fight of 2020 by many outlets.
The rest of the contenders are also an interesting bunch. The one that has a guaranteed title shot is Jack Catterall, who is likely Ramirez’s next opponent. Catterall is a sound boxer with a 26-0 record and has even scored solid wins against the likes of Ohara Davies and Tyrone McKenna back in 2018. However, Catterall would likely be a heavy underdog going up against Ramirez.
Other fighters who are knocking on the door for a big fight include Pablo Cesar Cano, who famously beat Jorge Linares in less than three minutes in 2019. Injuries slowed Cano’s momentum since that win, but he is still one of the more dangerous contenders at junior welterweight. Mario Barrios holds the WBA’s “Regular” title at junior welterweight, but doesn’t factor much into the undisputed title picture.
That’s not to say Barrios isn’t a good fighter. Barrios is a tall boxer with plenty of length and power to knock out most non-elite fighters. His future at 140 pounds is undecided given that he has hinted in the past that he might move up to welterweight as well. There’s the possibility of a potential fight against Prograis, who has been looking to get back in the title picture. Prograis is still regarded as an elite 140-pound boxer by some and his ability to punish fighters is still one that is feared by many in the sport.
What will it take to get an undisputed champion?
Crowning an undisputed champion at junior welterweight is literally as easy as getting Taylor and Ramirez in the ring with all four of their titles on the line. The roadblocks to making that fight are minimal at this point. The only thing that is delaying it is the mandatory title defenses both fighters have to fulfill.
Taylor pretty much has resolved his mandatory with a first-round KO win over Apinun Khongsong late last year. Ramirez already defeated Postol (WBC mandatory) in Las Vegas months ago and only has Catterall (WBO mandatory) remaining. If and when Ramirez vs. Catterall gets made and finished, little stands in the way of making a true unification fight a reality.
The planned Taylor vs. Ramirez fight is the primary reason Top Rank signed Taylor to a promotional deal after the World Boxing Super Series. Both fighters have shown plenty of interest in facing each other and that interest appears to be genuine. Promotional entities and network politics won’t be a problem as a result.
However, boxing is still dealing with COVID-19 leaving behind plenty of changes. The UK shut down boxing for the month of January and it doesn’t look like it will be a great idea having that fight take place in the UK under the threat of COVID-19 shutting it down. The United States has a similar issue, but states like Florida and Texas have been more than happy to allow big fights take place. Texas is even allowing certain fights with a crowd, with some surpassing 10,000 in attendance.
Even with the difficulties of organizing fights due to COVID-19, there’s not much that will get in the way of making Taylor vs. Prograis a reality. Expect that fight to happen in the second half of 2021 if it does get made.
Chances of there being an undisputed champion in the next 18 months: 60%