Jack Catterall and Jose Ramirez figured to eventually fight for a junior welterweight title once the belts become available in the near future.
Both now find themselves fighting through their legal team to challenge their respective positions in the latest WBO rankings.
Attorneys for Catterall and Ramirez submitted separate letters of protest, largely questioning their placement outside the top two contender slots in the 140-pound division. Both specifically challenged the idea of former lineal/WBA/IBF/WBO lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez (16-1, 12KOs) advancing to number-two in the March 2022 update without having ever fought at the weight and while coming off a loss.
The debate comes amidst speculation that undisputed junior welterweight champion Josh Taylor will soon move up to welterweight, at which point the WBO belt will become one of four junior welterweight titles up for grabs. Not questioned by any of the aforementioned parties was the placement of Australia’s Liam Paro (22-0, 13KOs), who is the number one ranked contender. Paro advanced to the top spot in the wake of Catterall’s controversial points loss to Taylor in February, as the unbeaten Aussie contender is coming off a ten-round win over Puerto Rico’s Yomar Alamo in a WBO-sanctioned eliminator last December 18 in Tampa, Florida.
The sanctioning body has now placed the responsibility on Catterall, Ramirez and Taylor to plead their case as to who most deserves the number-two position.
“Please be advised that on Thursday, March 24, 2022, the WBO confirmed email correspondence by Attorney Mr. Jeffrey Benz on behalf of WBO Jr. Welterweight Participant Jack Catterall, challenging his client’s position as per the March 2022 WBO World Ratings and requesting information relevant thereto,” WBO president Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcarcel noted in an official letter to the teams for Catterall, Ramirez and Taylor, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “On March 25, 2022, the WBO confirmed receipt of email correspondence by Attorney Mr. Peter Aguayo on behalf of Jr. Welterweight Participant Jose Carlos Ramirez, who also questioned his client’s rating and requested the applicable explanation and rationale.
“Considering that Teofimo Lopez, Jack Catterall, and Jose Carlos Ramirez are indispensable parties to this matter, it is hereby ordered that the parties herein submit in writing to the WBO within 72 hours upon issuance of this notice their respective arguments and supported evidence as to why the WBO Ratings Committee shall grant your requests.”
The latest update from the WBO was rightly met with confusion and criticism. England’s Catterall (26-1, 13KOs) served for more than a year as the WBO mandatory challenger to one of the titles now held by Taylor (19-0, 13KOs). Catterall agreed to wait out a May 2021 four-belt unification clash between then-WBA/IBF champ Taylor and WBO/WBC titlist Ramirez (27-1, 17KOs), which was won by Taylor via twelve-round, unanimous decision.
Catterall was due to challenge for the undisputed championship last December, only to be met with a two-month delay after Scotland’s Taylor suffered an untimely injury during training camp. Their bout was rescheduled for February 26 in Glasgow, where Catterall floored the regional favorite in the eighth round and appeared to have done enough to pull off the upset. Two of the three judges disagreed, with Taylor taking a highly questionable twelve-round, split decision win to defend the title.
The outcome was met with industry-wide outrage, along with an investigation by the British Boxing Board of Control. The verdict remained intact, though judge Ian John-Lewis—who scored the contest 114-111 in favor of Taylor—was demoted from A-Star Class to A-Class Official, which will affect his ability to land premium assignments.
The appointment of John-Lewis and Victor Loughlin—who scored the bout 113-112 in favor of Taylor—was met with resistance by the WBO, who pointed out that neither were WBO-certified after neglecting to attend and complete mandatory sanctioning body seminars. Still, the WBO fell miserably short in providing any justice for Catterall. Not only was an immediate rematch never ordered, but Catterall slipped to number-three in the most recent rankings.
Both were challenged by Catterall’s attorney, Jeffrey Benz who requested on March 24 that the WBO “please provide answers to the following questions:
1. A written explanation of the WBO’s ratings criteria, the WBO’s rating of Mr. Catterall, and the rationale or basis for its rating of Mr. Catterall;
2. A specific explanation of how Teofimo Lopez (a lightweight) came to be rated higher than Mr. Catterall (a light welterweight), in a different weight class than in which Mr. Lopez was previously ranked, when Mr. Lopez lost his last fight, in the lightweight division, handily in November 2021, while Mr. Catterall lost his last fight, in the light welterweight division, in March 2022, in a controversial decision (where an official was demoted as a result and where sustaining Mr. Catterall as the division’s mandatory challenger was supported by the licensing body for the fight (the British Boxing Board of Control));
3. A list of the names, email addresses, and business addresses of the WBO’s officials who vote on the ratings of boxers;
4. Identification of all communications between the WBO and any third parties, including but not limited to any promoters, in particular Top Rank and Bob Arum, and any other Top Rank principals or employees, concerning the ranking of Messrs. Catterall or Lopez in the past 60 days, whether written, electronic, or verbal; and
5. The written process by which Mr. Catterall may appeal the decision of the WBO in respect of his ranking.”
Responses to the aforementioned questions were sought by no later than Monday. The WBO’s actions have instead placed the onus on Catterall to further plead his case.
Ramirez slipped to number six following his loss to Taylor last May, dropping to number seven once Lopez (16-1, 12KOs) was inserted into the number-three slot in February. Lopez was ranked upon his announced intention to campaign at junior welterweight, which will be his first fight since losing his WBA/IBF/WBO lightweight titles to George Kambosos Jr. (20-0, 10KOs) via split decision last November 27 in New York City. Lopez complained of severe health issues hampering his performance—despite maintaining the belief that he was robbed of a victory—and has undergone two separate surgeries for an injured left elbow and right hand in recent weeks.
Lopez was spotted wearing a cast on his right hand while ringside for a recent ESPN show in Las Vegas, while confirming that he will not be ready to fight until June or July at the earliest.
Meanwhile, Ramirez bounced back from his loss to Taylor with a convincing twelve-round win over former two-division titlist Jose Pedraza on March 4 in his home region of Fresno, California. Pedraza was ranked one spot above Ramirez prior to their ESPN+ main event, with Ramirez since advancing to the number-four slot in the most recent ratings update.
That’s not good enough.
“Jose Ramirez questions the World Boxing Organization’s (WBO) March 14, 2022 rankings, placing him as the number 4 contender under the 140-pound junior welterweight division,” Peter Aguayo, lead counsel for Ramirez, noted in a March 25 letter to the WBO, citing the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act. “Based on the WBO’s criteria, Ramirez should be in the top two of the rankings, if not number one.
Ramirez’s team cited ten separate points of criteria to plead the boxer’s case. Included in their protest was Ramirez’s greater experience than Lopez both at the championship level and overall fights (28 to 17), along with Ramirez coming off a win at junior welterweight while Lopez’s last fight ended in defeat and having yet to campaign at the new weight.
“[U]nder the criteria laid out by the WBO, Jose Ramirez should be ranked in the top two of the WBO rankings,” insists Aguayo. “He has represented the WBO and its belt with the utmost respect that it deserves. If the belt is vacated by Josh Taylor, Ramirez meets the criteria to be among the two Best Classified Contenders Available and negotiate a contract for the World Championship as described under section 20 of the WBO regulations.”
The arguments to be presented by Catterall, Ramirez and Lopez will be forwarded to the WBO Ratings Committee, which is now headed by newly appointed chairman Samuel Viruet. The committee will then vote on the matter, ultimately determine who will be first in line to meet Paro in the event the WBO junior welterweight title becomes available.
Ramirez is also ranked number-two by the WBC, one spot below Jose Zepeda who he barely outpointed in a February 2019 WBO junior welterweight title defense. A rematch could be ordered should the WBC title become available, though there is greater speculation of Zepeda facing former WBA titlist Regis Prograis in a vacant title fight, with Prograis having recently scored a knockout win over Tyrone McKenna in a WBC title eliminator on March 19.
Catterall is ranked number four by the WBC and number nine by the WBA. Dominican Republic’s Alberto Puello is the WBA mandatory challenger and awaits a response from Taylor, who has until April 2 to confirm whether he will proceed with a WBA-ordered title fight or if he will vacate the title.
The WBO remains Catterall’s best shot at a much deserved second title shot. His fate is now in the hands of the Puerto Rico-based sanctioning body, who could have done much better for the British southpaw than to force him to fight outside the ring for what he has already earned.
Lopez remains ranked at lightweight by the WBA and the IBF. The WBO is the only sanctioning body to insert the 2016 Honduran Olympian and former lightweight champion in its junior welterweight rankings solely on the strength of his announced plans to move up in weight.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox