Unified junior welterweight titleholder Jose Ramirez's path to a shot at the undisputed championship cleared a difficult and final hurdle on Saturday night.
Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) defended his WBO and WBC titles at 140 pounds by edging former champion Viktor Postol (31-3, 12 KOs) via majority decision inside the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas. Two judges scored it 115-113 and 116-112 for Ramirez while the third had it 114-114. CBS Sports also scored it 116-112 for Ramirez.
Although the fight was a mandatory title defense, it proved equally as tough on paper and inside the ring for Ramirez as the long and polished Postol, 36, used his jab to control distance and frustrate the aggressive champion throughout many close rounds. The bout capped a year-long whirlwind for the two fighters after twice seeing the fight postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I went in there a little too cold," Ramirez said. "I impressed myself that I'm so much more stronger than I sometimes think. I just have to not lose confidence in myself and stick to what I do best, which is let my hands go and not hesitate too much. There was a little bit of hesitation in this fight and I would shake it off at times and I would hurt him."
The victory puts Ramirez on track to face WBA and IBF champion Josh Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs) to unify all four titles for just the second time in the division's history. Taylor, a native of Scotland who signed with Ramirez's promoter Top Rank in 2019, must first defeat mandatory challenger Apinun Khongsong on Sept. 26.
What was unclear as the fight progressed was whether the 28-year-old Ramirez was a bit flat following a 13-month layoff or if it was Postol's technique that gave him fits. Ramirez responded well to challenges from trainer Robert Garcia throughout the fight to pick up the pace yet appeared other times content to allow Postol to outwork him.
"It was a new experience. It was like sparring and I had to beat him pretty much with a jab," Ramirez said. "You get tested sometimes and it's part of learning. You are adapting and you stay focused.
"It happens and it has been a long time since I have been in the ring. A lot has happened in my personal life and it was a long training camp. I guess I work off of a crowd for that spark and motivation. It felt like I was just in a sparring session. These aren't my favorite [without crowds] but we live and we learn."
Ramirez outlanded Postol by a margin of 156 to 147 over 12 rounds. But it was a key adjustment before Round 7 that proved to be a game-changer for Ramirez to halt Postol's biggest stretch of momentum in the fight.
After getting an earful from Garcia about the potential of him being down on the scorecards, Ramirez let his hands go with much more urgency in Round 7 and appeared to hurt Ramirez with a left hook.
Postol staggered back into the corner in Round 8 after eating a stiff jab before Ramirez followed up with flurries. Although the remainder of the rounds were close, Ramirez stay focused on the body and remained the aggressor.
"It was a good fight but both men were impacted by going through three training camps and the whole situation with COVID 19," Top Rank CEO Bob Arum said. "That being said, I thought Jose clearly won the fight."
The post-fight scorecards showed Ramirez win six of the final seven rounds according to two of the three judges.
Postol, a native of Ukraine, continued his trend of having only lost to elite foes after being outpointed by Terence Crawford in a 2016 unification bout and proving to be competitive against Taylor two years later despite losing wide on the scorecards.
Given Ramirez's disinterest in fighting in empty arenas amid the quarantine, he shared interest in potentially heading to Taylor's backyard in the United Kingdom in order to fight in front of an audience.
"Just go back to what I do best and be myself," Ramirez said. "I think I could show more. When I come across Josh Taylor, I'm going to show that. The fight deserves fans so if I have to go to the U.K. for that, I will."