By Cliff Rold
Jr. welterweight might be headed towards a showdown.
After impressive quarterfinal victories in the World Boxing Super Series, there are more than a few with fingers crossed that we might eventually see undefeated Regis Prograis (23-0, 19 KO) and Josh Taylor (14-0, 12 KO) in the tournament final. Both have serious fights ahead of them before they get there.
Prograis will face WBA titlist Kiryl Relikh (23-2, 19 KO) while Taylor faces off with IBF titlist Ivan Baranchyk (19-0, 12 KO). It’s an exciting field. Not a single one has hit the age of 30 yet though Prograis will in January. Four men, in the flush of their prime, will face off with two of the four major titles unified by the end.
It won’t present as complete a picture of the Jr. welterweight division as the first WBSS at cruiserweight did in unifying all four titles or as the current bantamweight title will with three. However, with Prograis and Taylor already rated 1-2 in the division by TBRB and Ring, and 1-3 by ESPN, we could be inching closer to a consensus leader at 140 lbs.
How much that consensus builds will have a lot to do with what happens on the other side of the division. The other half begins its study in contrast this Friday night. 29-year old WBO titlist Maurice Hooker (24-0-3, 16 KO) attempts his first defense of the title he won in June against 24-year old Alex Saucedo (28-0, 18 KO).
It’s a big opportunity for both men. Dallas’s Hooker, who went overseas to win the then-vacant belt and upset undefeated former lightweight titlist Terry Flanagan, will have the national spotlight (ESPN, 12 AM EST). Saucedo has a chance to explode from a fan making war with Lenny Zappavigna over the summer into the upper echelons. Both men can make a statement to the world that everything interesting at Jr. welterweight isn’t confined to the WBSS.
Can they lay the groundwork for more than that?
Being that this fight is airing on ESPN, the network’s relationship with promoter Top Rank has extra significance to the division in this fight. Top Rank already promotes WBC titlist and 2012 US Olympian Jose Ramirez (23-0, 18 KO). They have Saucedo in their tent. If Saucedo wins, one can hope that it is only a matter of time until the other half of the division could also be unified.
That would draw the battle lines nicely in the division and give us a potential future course once the WBSS is over. Last weekend, Oleksandr Usyk followed up on his WBSS win by defending all his belts the man who never lost the WBC title in the ring, Tony Bellew. A Jr. welterweight division evenly divided would create a potentially even more compelling showdown late in 2020 with all the belts on the line.
Hooker probably isn’t interested in that course of events. Hooker is promoted by Eddie Hearns’ Matchroom Boxing, a co-promoter in the WBSS. A win this weekend would put him in an enviable position. A Ramirez unification would be the best fight that he could hope for in the next eight or nine months. It might pay better because of the WBSS. He could also be held in abeyance to see what happens with the tournament and play for a paycheck against the winner.
Ramirez is a fighter whose options mare interesting if Saucedo doesn’t win this weekend. There is no guarantee his promoter would make a unification fight immediately but take a look at the WBC rankings. Prograis is their ‘diamond’ champion, which is really another way of saying interim. Taylor is rated number one. They’re both taken.
So is number two contender Adrien Broner, locked in for a welterweight fight with Manny Pacquiao next year.
Behind them are Jorge Linares and Viktor Postol. Linares bounced back from a loss to Vasyl Lomachenko in September while Postol rebounded from a loss to Taylor earlier this month. Both are solid veterans but things get thin from there. Either of them would be, on paper, the best opponent of Ramirez’s career. Neither would be seen as the sort of validating win that whoever emerges from the WBSS will have picked up.
One of them and a unification battle would be as close as he could get and enough to at least raise some doubt that the winner of the WBSS would still have business to attend to in order to be full embraced as the king at Jr. welterweight.
What that leaves us with is one half of a division that is set in stone, another that is hard to predict, and the possibility of a longer story for the division to tell. It adds intrigue to Hooker-Saucedo this weekend and demands that both side of the Jr. welterweight division keep our attention going forward.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]