The best of times, the worst of times
In an entertaining, fan-friendly battle on Saturday night, at the Theater, at Madison Square Garden, in New York City, Jose Ramirez out-fought the game Amir Imam to win the vacant WBC junior welterweight title in the Big Apple.
Many didn’t know if the “Pride of the Central Valley” would ever reach these heights. Yeah, he’s certainly a draw in the Fresno area (with the tireless hustle of his adviser and “Mr. Do-It-All” Rick Mirigian) but there were many pundits who wondered aloud if he was more about local marketability than actual ability.
Yet he is now a legitimate beltholder in an interesting division whose belts were recently vacated by unbeaten two-division champion Terence Crawford.
Ramirez is just the latest product of the Top Rank developmental machine. For the past few decades, no promotional outfit has been as consistently as good as Bob Arum’s company at nurturing young boxers into world-class fighters and attractions.
But Arum stated on Sunday,”All the props are for (Ramirez). The kid is somebody who is so determined and so disciplined and has worked so hard for what he has developed into that I’m not surprised. I’m surprised that he was able to be as disciplined and as determined as he’s been to achieve what he’s achieved, yes, but if you look at the body of his work and the kind of training that he does, the discipline, I’m not surprised with the outcome.”
As we head into the future, Ramirez will be further cultivated into a major league draw in his home region (there is already talk of a title defense at a minor league ballpark in the summer) and there is a Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini/Youngstown, Ohio, vibe with this young man. The victory for this 25-year-old, from Avenal, California, wasn’t just a win for himself but for the business of boxing.
Ramirez is a legitimate franchise, one the sport and business of boxing can bank on for years to come. There isn’t anything special about Ramirez’s tangibles; he isn’t a sublime once-in-a-generation talent but he’s a fighter who’s greater than the sum of his parts. What sets him apart are his intangibles. His work ethic and commitment match the migrant workers for whom he continues to advocate.
A few hours before Ramirez reached new heights on ESPN, former blue-chip prospect Felix Verdejo hit rock bottom against Mexican Antonio Lozada Jr. on the Watch ESPN undercard stream. Yeah, did you think, just a couple of years ago, that on any card in New York, the kid from California would be headlining and the Puerto Rican would be fighting in the late afternoon?
Verdejo has now officially been downgraded to being a penny stock.
Like Ramirez, the telegenic Verdejo came out of the 2012 Olympic Games, signed with Top Rank and was so highly regarded, many believed he would carry the torch that had been passed from Felix Trinidad to Miguel Cotto. The early returns were promising, as he scored highlight reel knockouts and had the charisma and smile that was “Tito”-esque. He looked like a can’t-miss prospect and he was given early opportunities to shine on HBO, while Ramirez was featured on UniMas.
But Ramirez made the decision to train full-time in Hollywood, under the guidance of Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Boxing Club, taking his lumps early, as he sparred Manny Pacquiao. Even then, Roach would tell anyone Frankie Gomez(remember him?) was his best prospect but he would also note Ramirez never made it easy on him during their sparring sessions.
Meanwhile Verdejo saw his progress as a prizefighter plateau in 2015. In his HBO debut versus Ivan Najera (on Puerto Rican Day Parade Weekend), he was less-than-spectacular in winning a 10-round decision. From that point, on his performances became uneven and downright unimpressive and concern grew with the Top Rank brain trust, who hoped Verdejo would leave his comfortable confines in Puerto Rico (where he trained at Ricky Marquez’s gym) and go to a tougher environment, with a higher quality of sparring.
Verdejo remained a big fish in a small pond.
And against Lozado – a prohibitive underdog – he was taken into deep waters and drowned.
After a quick start, in which he threw flashy, fast power punches that didn’t dissuade the tough Mexican, Verdejo found himself expending an abundance of energy, utilizing lateral movement in the middle rounds. As he didn’t have the requisite inside fighting skills, coupled with an underdeveloped body attack and just generally uncomfortable inside the pocket, Verdejo was put on roller skates for much of the bout. While he built an early lead on the cards, as the fight headed into the late rounds, it was evident that Verdejo was trying to run out the clock and play a bit of four corners in what ended up being his own version of “March Madness.”
Going into the late stages of the fight, not only had Lozada come on, he began to visibly hurt Verdejo, whose boyish, handsome face had become a bruised and battered visage. He wasn’t so much boxing, at this point, but playing a game of survival. With less than a half-minute remaining in the 10th and final round, Verdejo, who had already been knocked down that stanza, was stopped. What bandwagon there was (and admittedly I was once its the driver) is now completely empty.
This is un-“Wepa!”
Not only did Verdejo suffer his first professional loss, he looked like a guy who simply didn’t have much of a future in the sport. As for the future prospects of Puerto Rican boxing, well, Top Rank recently signed former 130-pound world champion Jose Pedraza and Christopher “Pitufo” Diaz (who has improved vastly since leaving the island to hone his skills), who both notched victories over weekend on this card. Along with them it will be up to WBA junior lightweight titlist Alberto Machado, WBO flyweight beltholder Angel Acosta and featherweight Jesus Rojas, among others, to carry on the proud Puerto Rican lineage of pugilism.
Sadly it won’t be Verdejo.
”There’s no question Verdejo was more talented than Ramirez, coming out of the amateurs,” stated Arum, who has a vested interest in both boxers. “Verdejo didn’t exhibit the same determination that Ramirez or (WBO featherweight titleholder Oscar) Valdez did.”
– Be honest, leading into Imam’s loss to Adrian Granados, in November of 2015 – when he was very highly regarded at that stage – did you think Ramirez (who was being matched with Robert Frankel, Ryusei Yoshida and Johnny Garcia) would ever defeat him?
At one point in time, the “Young Master” was considered a sure-fire future champion.
It goes to show you that sometimes we really don’t know all that much and things can change drastically.
To go even further, did you think, while Ramirez is a world champion that his former sparring mate Frankie Gomez would be in Bolivian? Seriously where is he?
Also did you think Pitufo Diaz and not Verdejo would be the guy with a future a few years ago?
– Ramirez-Imam was for the vacant WBC 140-pound title and, looking forward, the talented Regis Prograis, who recently destroyed former unified champion Julius Indongo is its interim titlist. This basically means he is Ramirez’s mandatory challenger. Arum says he would like to have Ramirez make a voluntary defense in the summer, with Prograis as the co-feature.
“We’re looking at that ballpark (in Fresno). Rick Mirigian has made an arrangement at a baseball field that we can put 20,000 people in and do his first title defense this summer,” said Arum, who said he met with Lou DiBella (who represents Prograis) over lunch to discuss his plan.
“I met (Prograis) last night at the fight and I wouldn’t have known who he was and I’m in the business,” stated Arum,, “so I feel let’s get them both on the same card in Fresno and then, later on in the fall, we can have them fight each other at the Forum in L.A.”
Whether or not that comes to fruition remains to be seen but there will be some fun fights to see at 140 in the future. By the way, Ramirez-Imam and Ramirez-Prograis are two fights that will have been mandated by a sanctioning body (So yeah…#BeltsMatter).
– I heard some people grousing that Michael Conlan was the ESPN “main event” because his bout versus David Berna was the final contest of the broadcast. Really, I’d label it the “anti-walkout bout” because the fact is, if Conlan would’ve been placed earlier on the show, there would’ve been entire sections of empty seats at the Theater because he was the big ticket seller on St. Patrick’s Day. It wouldn’t have mattered if a Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier Hot Tub Time Machine bout was scheduled; many of those patrons would’ve left the venue after Conlan’s fight.
Seriously I’ve actually seen this before, when a group of fans would leave before the main event after their guy performs. For them, the guy whom they bought tickets to see IS the main event. Seanie Monaghan’s followers were famous for this.
But there’s no doubt that “St. Conlan’s Day” at MSG is the newest yearly boxing tradition moving forward.
– Looking at the future of 140 (and I’m not sure if that includes Mikey Garcia or not), you have the Ramirez, Prograis, Alex “Cholo” Saucedo, Josh Taylor and Ivan Baranchyk. Yeah, this could be fun.
Maybe it’s just me but Oleksandr Gvozdyk is more solid than special…Speaking of Conlan, I thought he looked pretty good on Saturday…Speaking of Puerto Ricans, I think Joseph Adorno is worth watching…Michael Dutchover got all he could handle from Ricardo “Not Finito” Lopez on the Thompson Boxing Promotions private show, in Orange, this weekend…When are we getting our warm weather back in Southern California?…Now that North Carolina has been eliminated from the tourney, their fine student-athletes can go back to concentrating on their studies and earning their degrees…Yes, seeing a Jose Ramirez fight in Fresno is absolutely on my bucket list for 2018…I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.