To refer to former junior welterweight titleholder Viktor Postol as hungry entering Saturday's title bout in Las Vegas against unified 140-pound champion Jose Ramirez would be nothing short of an understatement.
At 36, Postol (31-2, 12 KOs) has referred to his mandatory shot at Ramirez's titles as his "last chance" to be a champion, knowing that the prize is very likely a showdown against Scotland's Josh Taylor -- one of just two fighters to defeat Postol -- in a unification bout to crown an undisputed four-belt champion.
But even more from a literal sense, Postol is hungry. The road to this fight has been something neither fighter (nor their respective big-name trainers) have ever seen before thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, which twice caused the bout to be canceled on multiple continents over the past six months.
Although his chiseled physique might suggest he has no vices as it pertains to food, Postol estimates it has been more than a year since he was last able to eat for any reason other than performance. He began a strict diet six months before the original fight date of early February and was forced to stay in the gym for the rescheduled date in May that also came and went.
"I just know that the fight is going to happen [this time.] I know it and I'm just waiting for it," Postol told CBS Sports' "State of Combat" podcast on Thursday. "There is nothing special you can do. You just wait and keep yourself disciplined and be ready."
Postol also racked up plenty of frequent flyer miles along the way as he and trainer Freddie Roach didn't find out the original date was postponed until they landed in China during fight week and were forced to turn around and fly back to camp in Los Angeles. The second time, when the fight was moved to Ramirez's backyard of Fresno, California, Postol arrived in Los Angeles from his native Ukraine only to be told once more he would have to wait.
"We spent a total of like 30 hours in China. We had one training session and then we had to go home," Roach told CBS Sports. "It's unusual but it's part of life. We just took it as it came and [kept] training. I know his opponent very well and I think I know how to beat him."
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Roach's history with Ramirez (25-0, 17 KOs) remains a popular storyline entering the fight. The 28-year-old Ramirez was once a rising star in Roach's famed Wildcard Gym in Los Angeles until the two suddenly split in 2018.
Both Roach and Ramirez speak fondly of each other when prompted and speak in polite generalizations when asked about competing against each other for what will coincidentally be the third time in Ramirez's last four fights that Roach will be the trainer game-planning against him. But Ramirez's new trainer Robert Garcia dug a little deeper Thursday as to why the breakup took place.
"We had already been talking and [Ramirez] had actually already been training in my [Riverside, California] gym for two weeks before he became champion," Garcia told CBS Sports. "He told me, 'Look Robert, this is where I want to be and I'm going to come back after I become champion but I think I owe that title to Freddie Roach.'"
Ramirez retained Roach's services for his 2018 decision win over Amir Imam to capture the vacant WBC junior welterweight title. When he joined forces with Garcia shortly after, Ramirez's next two fights saw him defeat the Roach-trained Antonio Orozco and Jose Zepeda, with the latter ending in a disputed majority decision.
"From what I understand, it was just more of [Roach] not having the motivation anymore," Garcia said. "[Ramirez] feels very comfortable in my gym with everybody around him, supporting him. He gets to spar Vergil Ortiz [Jr.], my brother Mikey [Garcia], Josesito Lopez, Brandon Rios, you name them. He gets that motivation from all the fighters around him and supporting him. He said he wouldn't get that with Freddie Roach anymore.
"It came to a point where Freddie Roach wasn't really giving his full effort. [Ramirez] knows and we all know how good of a trainer Freddie Roach is but there's that moment when the fighter just doesn't feel comfortable anymore and we have to make a move. It wasn't that he wasn't with the best. Freddie Roach is one of the best in at least the last 20-30 years."
While Ramirez is 2-0 opposite Roach, Garcia has also faced off against the Hall-of-Fame trainer on five occasions. Even though Garcia leads 3-2 after wins in the Steve Luevano-Bernabe Concepcion (2009), Abner Mares-Jesus Cuellar (2016) and Lopez-Zepeda (2019) fights, he has lost both pay-per-view opportunities against a Roach-trained Manny Pacquiao with Antonio Margarito (2010) and Rios (2013).
"This is the third fight [against Roach] and it's part of the game," Ramirez told CBS Sports. "I respect every single fighter who steps in the ring and I respect every single coach who dedicates their lives to improve a fighter and show them. I owe a lot to [Roach] too for making me who I am now. Robert Garcia has just added some things, as well.
"I'm focused what I'm going to bring to the table. Obviously, Freddie's job is to motivate his fighter and let him know that he has a big chance and encourage him. But I know once I'm in the ring, it's only me and Postol. Freddie is not going to be in there."
As far as whether Roach can use his knowledge to edge Ramirez this time, his statement that whomever "outboxes the other is the one who wins" is undoubtedly a loaded one considering Postol is the pure boxer in this matchup against Roach's aggressive and hard-charging former pupil.
Ramirez referenced Postol's one-sided 2016 loss to Terence Crawford in their 140-pound unification bout as proof Postol can't handle constant pressure from an elite foe and believes he will overwhelm his opponent by coming forward.
"I hope so," Roach said. "If he wants to come to us, that's a beautiful thing and we will outbox him all night long with the right hand.
"Box, box, box. Just outbox this guy, that's all you have to do. [Ramirez] is a puncher, he swings from left field. He's a good body puncher in close, yes. But if you keep him on the end of the jab, you will outbox him easily."
Ramirez admitted he would rather be preparing for his long-awaited undisputed fight against Taylor (who must first defeat Apinun Khongsong in September) and an eventual move up to welterweight to chase Crawford if it wasn't for Postol's mandatory status. But he expects to defeat Postol by making him uncomfortable and taking away his control of the terms of the fight.
"[Postol] is a very awkward fighter. He's crafty and clinches a lot if someone puts on pressure," Ramirez said. "He makes it seem like he's not the one clinching so he's very tricky on the inside. He's very, very long so he's obviously a very complicated and experienced fighter. He only lost to Josh Taylor and Terence Crawford. Other than that, he has always been in control.
"You are going to see a very explosive and technical fight to show him something he has never seen before."
This may not be the deepest card that Top Rank has put out in the last few years, but it still has some interesting storylines to follow. Arnold Barboza Jr. is back in action when he takes on Tony Luis at junior welterweight. Barboza is an undefeated prospect under the Top Rank banner with 10 knockouts to his name. He's looking to add another in Luis, but he's proven to be a tough customer of his own. Luis hasn't been beaten since 2015 and has a solid record at 29-3 in his professional career.
Fight card, odds
Jose Ramirez (c) -650
Viktor Postol +475
Junior welterweight title
Arnold Barboza Jr.
| Elvis Rodriguez||Cody Wilson||Welterweights|
- Date: Aug. 29
- Stream: ESPN+
- Location: MGM Grand "Bubble" -- Las Vegas
- Start time: 7:30 p.m. ET
As far as mandatories go, Ramirez is facing as tough a customer in this one as he can find at 140 pounds. Although his youth and aggressive style have made him a comfortable betting favorite, Ramirez will need to contend with the stiff counterpunching of "The Iceman" and will need to prove he can get inside his opponent's accurate jab.
As Postol proved in his biggest win when he dismantled an aggressive Lucas Matthysse in 2015, he can be a surgical technician when opponents come at him in a straight line and refuse to respect his voluminous counter attacks. The potential problem here for Postol is that Ramirez is far more technical as an attacker than Matthysse with more tricks to be able to land clean as he's pressing forward.
Given Ramirez's stamina and proven ability to surge late, it's not out of the question that this fight will be won or lost for Postol in the opening rounds.
If he's able to discipline Ramirez and make him alter his attack with accurate shots, his size and advantages as a pure boxer could be enough to lead him to a decision. Just the same, if he is unable to prevent Ramirez from setting the pace and terms of this title fight, he simply isn't the type of fighter who has proven, on the elite level, an ability to rally back and threaten a stoppage.
Pick: Ramirez via UD12