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What happens to Josh Taylor’s belts if he vacates undisputed championship? A look at likely title matchups

Josh Taylor probably should have lost his belts two weeks ago, but now it seems he’ll vacate them. What happens next?

Josh Taylor’s four title belts could go vacant soon. Who will fight for them?
Josh Taylor’s four title belts could go vacant soon. Who will fight for them?
Photo by Steve Welsh/PA Images via Getty Images

For most people, Josh Taylor should have lost his undisputed 140 lb championship last Saturday against Jack Catterall. But when a controversial split decision went Taylor’s way at home in Scotland, the belts stayed put — for the time being.

Now, Taylor appears set to move up to 147 lbs and vacate all four major world titles at 140. What will happen with the belts, and who will fight for them?

Let’s take a look at the rankings and try to figure out what’s most likely. I want to stress that these are far from guaranteed matchups, because boxing is boxing, and even more than that, boxing’s sanctioning body rankings are boxing’s sanctioning body rankings.

WBC

This one may be the most clear-cut, and it’s also likely the biggest and maybe best fight we’ll get of the four. Following Jose Ramirez’s win over Jose Pedraza on Friday, Ramirez (27-1, 17 KO) should keep a firm grip on his No. 2 ranking with the WBC, and likely head for a rematch with Jose Zepeda, who holds the No. 1 ranking at the moment.

The only roadblock, you’d guess, is Zepeda (35-2, 27 KO) losing a planned Mar. 19 tune-up fight with Francisco “Verdugo” Perez. This is not likely, as Perez is an 18-12-1 fighter, a pure tune-up/stay-busy sort of opponent for Zepeda, who will want to be sharp for a rematch with Ramirez or whatever other vacant title fight there could be. Zepeda last fought in October, and that only lasted a minute and 45 seconds before Zepeda put Josue Vargas away.

Ramirez won a majority decision over Zepeda in Feb. 2019, and that was the fight that kind of put Zepeda on the map as a legitimate contender. He’s proven that night was no fluke, winning five straight since then and raising his profile even more. Ramirez-Zepeda 2 is a good fight and a worthy title-filler.

WBA

Unlike in some other divisions still, the WBA don’t have a “world” champion at 140 who could just kinda be recognized with Taylor vacating, as has happened at 130 with Roger Gutierrez being the one recognized WBA titlist (that’s a whole other story) after Tank Davis vacated the “super world” belt there.

So they have a true vacancy. They do have No. 1 and No. 2 ranked contenders, and those are Alberto Puello (20-0, 10 KO) and Ismael Barroso (23-3-2, 21 KO). You’re probably saying, “Hey, that’s no Ramirez-Zepeda 2,” and you’re right, it isn’t. Puello’s No. 1 ranking is absurd given his resume, and Barroso really doesn’t have much business being ranked No. 2, either.

But the WBA have their bases covered here. Puello, a Dominican fighter now based in the U.S., holds the WBA’s interim belt, and Venezuela’s Barroso won the WBA’s “gold” belt — which like the “interim” is a fake belt nobody cares about, but it matters for rankings purposes — when he upset Yves Ulysse Jr in late 2019.

I don’t think anyone’s gonna get super stoked about Puello vs Barroso if that’s the fight, but those two guys did what they were tasked with doing to be in the positions they’re now in. The root issue that the WBA’s rankings are terrible is what it is, but the guys did what they had to do. As these things go, it would be fair. On that note, since it’s the WBA, we will also note that their top five rounds out with, at the moment, Ohara Davies, Sandor Martin, and Batyr Akhmedov. Of these five fighters, two will accept and make a fight, surely.

IBF

The IBF have a pretty clear fight to make, too, and that’s a fight between Argentina’s Jeremias Ponce (29-0, 19 KO) and Subriel Matias (18-1, 18 KO) of Puerto Rico. While this also isn’t exactly a Ramirez-Pedraza 2, it could be a hell of a fight.

Ponce went over to Newcastle in June 2021 and beat up on Lewis Ritson, and has had one tune-up fight since then in Germany last November. Matias has won three straight since an upset loss to Petros Ananyan in 2020, including stopping Ananyan in a rematch in January.

Both fighters are on good form, and it was expected they’d fight a final FINAL! eliminator next. Instead, with Taylor likely to vacate, the bigger potential option is in play for them, a vacant title bout.

WBO

Here’s the one where Jack Catterall will likely get a chance to claim at least one of the belts he should have won a week ago. He fought Taylor because he was WBO mandatory, and while he officially lost to Taylor, the WBO would probably face some pretty harsh backlash given the situation if he didn’t maintain a top ranking and get an order to fight for this vacant belt.

Catterall (26-1, 13 KO) could face No. 2-ranked Liam Paro (22-0, 13 KO), an unbeaten Australian southpaw who struggled a bit in a win over Yomar Alamo in his U.S. debut last December, but got his hand raised all the same. Catterall would definitely be the favorite there, but I wouldn’t count Paro out completely, and I doubt Catterall would overlook him, either. Frank Warren would likely love to make that fight if it presents itself.

Creeping at No. 3, though, is Teofimo Lopez, who has a very high ranking despite never having a serious fight at 140 before and losing his last fight at 135. It may not be by the books smart to put Lopez in with a good fighter like Catterall right away going to 140 and coming off of a loss, but if Lopez has confidence he’d win, it would also be a great way to bounce back for him, claiming another belt right away. If Top Rank want that fight, maybe there’s a deal to be made with Paro to allow it, but maybe not. The WBO could also shaft Catterall entirely, but I do expect he’ll get a shot at the vacant belt, and he deserves it. He deserves more than that, honestly, but “more than that” is not an option.