Saturday was arguably the biggest day of boxing since the sport was brought to an abrupt stop in mid-March. Two world title fights each set the stage for potential unification bouts down the line, as Jose Ramirez defeated Viktor Postol to line up a possible unification fight against Josh Taylor, and Erislandy Lara kept himself in the running for a shot at the winner of the September fight between Jermell Charlo and Jeison Rosario with a decision victory over Greg Vendetti.
But it wasn't just a night for champions and top contenders. Blue chip prospect Elvis Rodriguez continued to show off dangerous power with another early KO, and schoolteacher Gabriel Muratalla overcame an early knockdown to win his third consecutive fight inside the Top Rank bubble in Las Vegas.
A night with stakes of this magnitude merits a deeper look into the fallout, and Steve Kim and Ben Baby are here to break it all down.
Does this Jose Ramirez beat Josh Taylor?
Baby: As of now, I'm taking Josh Taylor. Viktor Postol is a common opponent between Taylor and Ramirez. Taylor knocked down Postol and handled the Ukrainian in a lopsided unanimous decision. Also, Taylor's recent fights have been more impressive. Taylor narrowly defeated Regis Prograis last year in London in one of the best fights of 2019. Meanwhile, Ramirez beat an overconfident Maurice Hooker to earn his share of the 140-pound belts.
Ramirez did a good job of fighting through Postol's long, straight punches to find success on Saturday night. Ramirez shouldn't have to worry about being kept at distance against Taylor. However, Taylor has plenty of pop and will be ready from the opening bell. If Ramirez comes out like he did on Saturday, Taylor could be the future owner of all four junior welterweight belts.
Did the scorecards reflect the Ramirez-Postol fight as you saw it?
Kim: Well, the cards of Dave Moretti (who had it dead even at 114 apiece) and Tim Cheatham (115-113 for Ramirez) certainly did. The card turned in by Steve Weisfeld (116-112 for Ramirez) seemed a bit wide.
But yes, this was a close fight. It wasn't by any means particularly exciting or overly entertaining, but given what was on the line, there was a lot of tension to the proceedings that were unfolding between Ramirez and Postol.
You could make an argument that each man won at least five rounds, because many of the rounds were close. Postol was boxing and moving well, controlling the pace and tempo, while Ramirez was putting on consistent -- if not always effective -- pressure, landing the harder punches of the two. So a swing round here or there sways the fight to one fighter or the other. In this case, it seems the judges gave a slight edge to the aggression of Ramirez.
Judging boxing is a subjective art in which the arbiters must be objective. Sometimes that doesn't always happen, but what took place inside the Top Rank bubble on Saturday night wasn't a robbery by any means. Ramirez eked out a majority decision on what was certainly not his best night, and that's still a win.
Has Elvis Rodriguez become a top-10 prospect after his past three fights and with his KO power?
Elvis Rodriguez obliterates Cody Wilson with must-see KO
Welterweight prospect Elvis Rodriguez cracks Cody Wilson with a stiff left hand for a third-round TKO.
Kim: You can't name 10 better prospects than Rodriguez. To steal that line from the late football coach Bum Phillips, he might not be in a class by himself as a prospect, but it doesn't take long to call roll.
It's not just Rodriguez's power, but his delivery system -- the way he sets up his punches, and the variety. And it's not just the lethal left -- Rodriguez understands how to create and exploit openings by throwing uppercuts, followed by right hooks around the corner. and he has a long frame that will allow him to box from the perimeter.
There's a reason why Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach is so bullish on his future.
Before we crown him and induct him into the halls of Canastota, we still have to see if Rodriguez can take a punch as well as we know he can throw one, which will tell us if he has some real staying power. It will be interesting to see whom Top Rank matches Rodriguez up with in the future. Matchmaker Brad Goodman has said it's becoming increasingly difficult to find opponents for Rodriguez.
Baby: Rodriguez produced another impressive performance. The young prospect kept his knockout streak alive after dusting a very game Cody Wilson with a vicious straight left hand that slumped Wilson in his corner. In case his record doesn't make it apparent, Rodriguez has plenty of power and is a promising prospect.
However, I'm hesitant to include him on the list of boxing's top prospects. The sport is littered with so many intriguing up-and-coming fighters, and Rodriguez appears to be destined to be one of them. But there's one major problem -- Rodriguez hasn't really faced anyone of consequence since he made his pro debut in 2018. While it's fun to watch Rodriguez blast dudes through the ropes, beating some notable names will be more impressive. Once he beats a fighter of higher caliber, then we can start talking about Rodriguez as one of boxing's brightest prospects.
How impressive is Gabriel Muratalla's improvement since his debut inside the bubble in June?
Muratalla brothers shine in respective bouts
Preschool teacher Gabriel Muratalla and his brother Raymond Muratalla both earn victories on the same card.
Kim: In overcoming an early trip to the canvas against Justice Bland, it wasn't Muratalla's skills that were impressive but his ring character. In a four-round contest, knockdowns are very difficult to overcome. Things were made a bit easier for Muratalla in this case, as Bland was penalized a point for hitting him while he was down.
But Bland is a tall and rangy fighter, with hand speed and quickness. Muratalla had to grind away quickly by getting to work diligently on the inside. Instead of folding his tent, Muratalla gritted his teeth, showed off some good combinations and earned a solid victory.
This was a real gut check for Muratalla, and he passed.
Baby: Muratalla deserves a ton of credit for making progress in his game since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It always helps to have someone like Robert Garcia, one of the top trainers in boxing, in your corner. The preschool teacher should also be praised for his resilience on Saturday night against Bland. Muratalla overcame a first-round knockdown to win via unanimous decision, which isn't exactly easy to do in a four-round fight.
The older brother of Raymond Muratalla, who also won on Saturday's Top Rank card, has been one of the feel-good stories of the pandemic. In a time where good boxing stories are few and far between, Muratalla has capitalized on his opportunities inside the Top Rank bubble. If he continues to make progress, Gabriel could snag a couple more victories before the end of the year.
Can Arnold Barboza Jr. compete with the top fighters at 140? What's a good step-up fight for him to get him into contention?
Kim: Yes. He has developed into a solid all-around fighter. While Barboza might not be great in any one area, he has really developed his tools. When he began his career in small club shows in Southern California, Barboza was a rugged, hard-nosed fighter, but now he has some real craft to him. He has the ability to go southpaw, and he operates very comfortably on the outside behind his jab.
Barboza can box on the outside, and he can mix it up from close range.
At age 28 he's in his physical prime and seems to be boxing with great confidence. A proposed bout with Alex Saucedo would be a great measuring stick to see just where Barboza is. Saucedo is a big junior welterweight who will keep bringing the pressure to him. Whoever wins this contest in October becomes a legitimate title contender in 2021.
Erislandy Lara is very good as a fighter, but is he good for boxing? Can he get the big fights with his defensive style?
Baby: Lara had no problems with Greg Vendetti in a relatively easy win. However, the way Lara won is a little concerning. Lara landed 13.4 punches per round, according to CompuBox data. A fighter of Lara's pedigree should be able to win in more commanding fashion against Vendetti, who tried his best to push Lara but was unable to crack his defense.
Because Lara is in the Premier Boxing Champions stable and manager Al Haymon has several 154-pounders at his disposal, Lara will get a notable opponent. But for Lara to be a compelling draw, he needs to be more active in the ring. Now, to be fair, Lara was engaging in the loss to Jarrett Hurd -- a fight that turned on a 12th-round knockdown that proved to be the difference. However, the lack of excitement has been a knock against Lara throughout his career. While winning is great, prizefighting should be entertaining. And on Saturday, Lara wasn't that.