Column: Stage Is Set For Boxing's Next Undisputed Champion After Jose Ramirez's Brilliant Performance

For decades, the idea of "marinating a fight" (waiting for a big fight to take place later rather than sooner in order to build it up to an even bigger event) has been a source of frustration for many pundits and fans.

Of course, the most recent example is the heavyweight title situation that has deprived fans of seeing Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder face each other in what was considered a superfight. There are a number of other fights in the past couple of years that have been highly sought after, including one in the junior welterweight division between champions Jose Ramirez and Regis Prograis.

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Both men are currently holding three of the four major titles at junior welterweight titles and now the desire to have them face off in a massive unification bout is at an all-time high, just a little more than a year after their respective first fights of 2018.

When Terence Crawford unsurprisingly vacated all four of his world titles at 140 pounds in late 2017, it opened the rest of the division’s rising stars to make a name for themselves and fill the hole left by the Omaha native. Within the first months of 2018, both Ramirez and Prograis already picked up big wins against Amir Imam and Julius Indongo, respectively. It almost seemed natural that the two unbeaten fighters would face each other sometime soon, but the World Boxing Super Series’ second season arrived.

Instead of joining Prograis and entering the eight-man tournament, Ramirez stayed put and decided to continue fighting on ESPN in his hometown of Fresno, California where he is a massive draw. It almost seemed like that fight, like many big matchups prior, would be lost and never see the light of day.

But then came perhaps Ramirez’s biggest win of his career on July 27. Traveling to his opponent’s backyard in Texas, Ramirez beat Maurice Hooker in an action-packed bout to unify the WBC and WBO world titles. It was a masterful display of power and aggression that ultimately resulted in Ramirez stopping Hooker in the sixth round. Meanwhile Prograis, now the WBA champion, is headed for a unification bout of his own later this year when he takes on IBF titleholder Josh Taylor in the tournament finals.

In a perfect world, those that have been waiting to see Ramirez and Prograis fight each other since early 2018 could potentially see it next year. After all, the stage is basically laid out for this potential superfight: If Prograis beats Taylor, then a long-awaited showdown with Fresno’s most popular boxer will be all for the undisputed 140-pound crown.

The gamble that comes with marinating big fights is quite clear: you don’t give fans the big fights right this second in the hopes of maximizing profit, exposure and stake. It almost seems like more often than not, this practice fails, like with any gamble, but with this fight between Ramirez and Prograis, it seems like a sure bet that it will be everything fans hoped to see last year.

Yet even as it seems like it is almost a foregone conclusion that it will happen, there’s still the matter of Prograis’ fight against Taylor. This fight is most definitely the biggest, and toughest, of Prograis’ career and it is about as close to a 50/50 fight as we’ve seen in some time.

There’s no guarantee Prograis beats Taylor and in fact, some people are willing to confidently say that Taylor will defeat Prograis. But if Prograis emerges victorious, then there is something that fans can anticipate with excitement and wonder unseen in a lot of fights in today’s climate.

Unlike in 2017 when Crawford beat Julius Indongo in two rounds to become the undisputed champion, Ramirez vs. the Prograis-Taylor fight will promise to be as competitive and exciting as any fight one can hope for with the stakes involved.

And when the dust settles and a new undisputed champion at 140 pounds is crowned, whether it be Ramirez, Taylor or Prograis, how compelling would it be for that champion to follow in Crawford's footsteps and move up to 147 pounds and have a battle of unbeaten former undisputed champions? That right there might be the real prize at the end of the tunnel.

But then, all of that will be for naught if no one is willing to pull the trigger or decides it is best to let it build up even further. That’s the problem with marinating. You got to know the right time to serve what you’re marinating or else you will leave your patrons completely unsatisfied and disgruntled.

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